After last year's breaking news that Burberry, the British upmarket brand burned unsold clothes, accessories and perfumes worth almost 30 millions pound just from 2018, was an evidence for the changing of the retail market. This shocking news were backed up by the company reporting a total of almost 90 millions pounds of consumer goods burned in the last five years just to protect the brand's name and the products from being stolen or sold cheaply and effecting the brand's image.
When more and more people start questioning themselves about the purpose of the products they buy today it is definitely a meaningful turning point for the retail industry worldwide. Consumers understood after the Burberry incident that they can't be moved by a brand or a product, if the brand itself doesn't care about the value of their own products.
This article summarizes some of the main ideas, examples and discussion around the topic of retail expressed by people from all around the world taking part in Neonyt –the global hub for fashion, sustainability and innovation–. Neonyt is a trade show and conference held during Berlin Fashion week twice a year. It contains different content areas with speakers from all around the world holding different positions in different industries connected to the textile and fashion industries. This piece is focused on the future of retail or the place of sustainability within the retail experience. This topic definitely took a big part of the program.
From many consumers surveys that have been done in the last years trying to figure out what moves consumers purchasing choices it is clear that sustainability is not a trend anymore. This was also seeing clearly in the survey done by Facit (a consultancy agency based in Germany focusing innovative market research and holistic consulting services) and presented in Neonyt. According to their survey sustainability is the third aspect after fitting and look to take into account before purchasing. For 69% of consumers surveyed sustainability is a buying decision factor. The notion of sustainability being a motif or a purpose driven aspect when purchasing leads businesses (mainly SME's) to develop some new retail models and expand their perspective on what is sustainability for a business operating in the consumer goods sector.
The first opening keynote was by Sabinna Rachimova, who is the founder of Sabinna –a contemporary concious fashion brand producing in Europe–. Sabinna talked about sustainability beyond the product and all the efforts her and her team do to create a full sustainable and authentic experience for the brand's clients. Sabinna's team create a positive impact in everything that surrounds their product from an original printed tissue paper printed using soy-based ink and completely acid free and FSC certified. It is 100% compostable but also aesthetically appealing to wrap the ordered products and bike shipping in London.
At some point the team started analyzing their previous orders and consumers locations and they understood that they have a decent precentage of clients in central Europe that they need to use aviation to ship the products from London to Europe. This data collection led to opening another production site for knitwear in Austria to shorten shipping to Europe. Another interesting action Sabinna's team developed was creating accessories from pre-consumer waste and offcuts to eliminate their material waste. Besides all of these steps, that maybe some other sustainable brands do Sabinna's team created in their website an archive of all the fabrics they used since the brand was established in 2015. In this section in the website consumers can find care instructions of all fabrics from every collection including tips to prolong the life span of the garments they own. Sabinna is using the communication channels she has with her consumers to also talk about feminism, migrant issues in our globalized world and of course sustainable issues to also have a meaningful content to open a discussion with her audience and expand the awareness to other related topics.
Last part of Sabinna's sustainable strategy beyond the product are the events the team organize, upcycling workshops with consumers to teach them how to do it by themselves and not throw away a garment with a small hole but also networking events for professionals from the industry and some panel discussions the share knowledge and exchange ideas, feelings and opinions between the fashion industry and the consumers. All of these steps create a special retail experience that is far more then a beautiful dress.
Meaningful retail experience seems to be what some consumers are looking for these days and probably what many more consumers will look for in the upcoming years. There is a rise in the last decade with brands offering period underwear, vegan condoms and period products like Einhorn and Kora Mikino, that communicate alongside their products messages like body positivity, health and authenticity, power to the period that this is not something to be ashamed of and of course working with sustainable materials and minimizing waste.
The current retail model and education system is rooted as an outcome is that consumers can order to their home whatever they want and return whatever doesn't fit them as if they are in the fitting room in the store in another main reason for over production. In the last years there are more and more brands implementing models that are based on demand. In a panel discussion in Neonyt focused on the future of retail in demand there were two different approaches to this topic. Luca Traian from Gemini, a CAD systems company, focused on creating a product based on CAD technology that could bring higher efficiency and more resources savings. By using the company's algorithm the consumption of water and energy can be reduced as well as lowering the levels of pollution and saving 2% of the global fabric absorption each year as a result of the technology the company developed.
In the panel there was also Patrick Duffy, the founder of Global Textile Exchange, an "ecopreneur" and consultant for sustainable fashion who shared a new line of customized garments that are fully circular. The garments are made from thread waste woven into a fabric in Vietman by indigenous artisans who then produces the final garment fit to the consumer's mesures. In contradiction to Gemini this process creates slow fashion while supporting artisans but still achieve an on demand retail model. Both speakers mentioned the importance of consumer's involvement in the process of creating the product or offering a made to mesure product so that consumers feel unique and this would probably mean a better fitted product which may lead also to less returns and could be used for longer time.
It is important to understand what consumers want, especially the future emerging shoppers will need and what is important to them. This group of consumers are more demanding of brands when it comes to their customer journeys and they walk into the store and worry about global warming, GMOs and packaging. The fears of our shopper are an opportunity and not an hussle.
After also visiting Seek trade show and seeing there many sustainable brands as well and even talking to them few main points are important to highlight. Many of them believe that sustainability should become a norm and it would become a norm at some point and this is why they decided to present at Seek and be integrated among conventional brands and be present in conventional stores. Most of them mentioned that the fact that they are sustainable creates bigger interest and respect for the buyers side. Most of them definitely created a more unique and meaningful trade show experience in their booths without offering free ice-cream or different merchandise, just because of authenticity and strong storytelling.
The responsibility to reach this positive change and achieve also sustainable retail sector is on brands, NGO's and governments to act now towards this goal while communicating honest massages that create meaningful and valuable experience for the consumer.
+ Words: Danielle Keller Aviram
Danielle Keller Aviram is a sustainable jewelry and fashion researcher, consultant and designer. She graduated an M.A focusing on sustainability in fashion at AMD Berlin after doing her B.A in jewelry and accessories design in "Shenkar" Tel Aviv. After her B.A she had her own international fine jewelry brand operating for 5 years.