Welcome to this column within our broader sustainability section which focuses on what retail is doing to address the issues in its industry. It’s exciting times for anyone involved in this area as technology and retailers try to keep up with customers’ demand for all things ethical. From palm oil to fur farms, fast fashion to one-use plastic, excess packaging to food waste – this is where the real action is.
In this climate conscious time it comes as no surprise that eco-aware fashion brands and retailers are trying to incorporate recycled materials in their clothes. Many have been doing it for years already but there is an even more targeted way of connecting with the consumer coming through which uses the trend towards ever greater personalisation to good effect.
Several months ago The North Face launched a new collection called Bottle Source. The fact that it was produced with post-consumer plastic waste was not the unique selling point, it was the very specific location of the waste that intrigued consumers.
Bottle Source was manufactured from 18,000 kg of plastic bottles that had been collected specifically in the Alps range. The T-shirt entitled Recover therefore appealed directly to people with an interest in mountain climbing or an emotional attachment to the Alps or even an interest in protecting the last wildernesses on earth.
Rather than just producing the Tee with an unidentified stock of used plastic bottles this zoning in on mountain detritus might produce an even tighter bond of brand and consumer. And for a brand so associated with mountain climbing the move is a clever one. The bond is cemented by the donation of one Euro to the Summit Foundation for each Tee sold.
However, The North Face is not the only company micro-targeting its offer. Closer to home the British swimwear brand Batoko produces eye-catching marine themed swimsuits using ocean-derived plastic.
The obvious circularity of using plastic found in oceans to produce something beautiful that goes back into the ocean (or as the company puts it “sea trash to sea treasure”) is increasingly popular with customers. Like most good ideas there is also an element of self-interest embedded within it – clearly people who swim are often going to be also concerned about the state of the sea that they are swimming in. It’s a win-win.
Batoko also uses partnerships with environmental projects to good effect, for example it recently launched a lobster-design, ex-plastic swimsuit to tie-in with its natty slogan “Buy one, set one free” referring to a scheme to set a lobster hatchling free from a nursery to replenish stocks with every lobster suit bought.
Likewise, several years ago Volcom launched its Simply Solid Swim collection, which uses Econyl made from ghost (discarded) fishing nets. Econyl is now used by many different designers on multiple kinds of product but it seems most fitting in anything destined for water-use and will appeal especially to those swimmers with an interest in conserving marine life from damage caused by lines left in the sea.
Is it even conceivable that in these customised times of on-demand production it might even be possible for a consumer, one day in the future, to be able to specify the kind of damage they want to prevent, or the location of their preferred waste stream or the kind of plastic they wish to utilise in the production of their garment?
Well, that’s probably fanciful for now but brands, it seems, are learning fast that consumers might be as happy to identify with a particular kind of habitat or pollutant as they are with a celebrity-endorsement. Hopefully many more will follow in The North Face’s footsteps to realise that there’s gold in them thar hills.