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Real sustainability will not be optional and will be the next big thing in retail overtaking as it will ‘omni channel’.

You don’t have to do much research on retail to understand the trials and tribulations facing what might be termed the traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ retailer. The news most of the time is glum and this is probably an understatement.  Employees at Beales, Mothercare and before them BHS and Woolworths to name but four retailers have joined the heavenly throng, would probably use stronger language.

Some retailers (putting aside Amazon which is growing like a lailandi on steroids) are doing well. Despite having differing business models (one bricks and mortar only the others online only) Primark, Missguided and Boohoo are thriving, their success powered by the demographic that would once have been frequent visitors to Top Shop/Top Man; that is younger folk with disposable income.

However, as the most famous of the Newtons said (in his 3rd law) ‘every action has an equal and opposite reaction’. The ongoing success of those organisations just listed is now facing a challenge that will affect their long-term success. The buy, wear once, get a picture on Facebook, dispose of, whilst good for sales is becoming bad in relation to ethical and sustainability drivers. Real sustainability will not be optional and will be, the next big thing in retail overtaking as it will ‘omni channel’.

Which brings me back to Marge Simpson. In one episode Marge visits an ‘off price’ (think TK Maxx) store and buys a pink designer skirt and jackets for next to nothing. As the story proceeds, Marge and the rest of the family start entering the elite social circles of Springfield, the concept being if she is wearing that suit she must be one of us. Of course it is not long before the social elite start noticing Marge has worn the same suit on a number of occasion. Overhearing some snide remarks at one event, Marge goes home and alters the suit (a number of different times) so she can continue her stay in the Country Clubs and salons occupied by the women who lunch. I suppose it is a version of make do and mend that Marge was engaged with but the lesson is relevant in a world where sustainability is becoming the number one issue that retailers will need to address. Who would have thought Marge was a futurologist?

The good news for those unskilled in the use of scissors, thread and Singer sewing machines is that there are funky solutions emerging that help resolve the problem of what to do with unwanted clothes. The ability to swap clothes or trade (like gold or silver) is being enabled by technology. For those of my generation perhaps Noel Edmonds got it right all those year ago. Primark, Missguided and Boohoo could go back to the future and seek out clips of the BBC’s Swapshop. Or they could simply seek out these funky solutions; I can’t wait to see who does what.

About this author


Ray Ffrench

Director, Construction and Social Housing

In a career spanning over 30 years, Ray has endeavoured to deliver solutions to customers that are ‘original, stylish and add value’. He has worked across multiple sectors including automotive, transport & logistics, gaming, telco, retail and leisure. In his current role at CGI he ...

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