Outdoor clothing and equipment retailer The North Face is expanding its efforts around sustainability to incorporate more planning for the eventual reuse of the products it sells—part of an overall shift in the apparel and other industries toward a more circular economic model, according to panelists in a recent Coresight Research webinar.
The North Face is training designers to think about how to create products with their eventual recirculation into the economy in mind. The company’s The North Face Renewed program focuses on repairing and restoring used products and reselling them.
“We are seeing great results from it,” said Dan Goldman, global vice president of strategy at The North Face, of the Renewed program. “It keeps more products out of the landfill and helps more people enjoy the outdoors.”
While the initiative generates incremental revenues for the brand, it’s also a valuable source of goodwill and brand equity among consumers, he said.
The big switch was going from having a sustainability strategy and a brand strategy to having the sustainability strategy built into the heart of the brand strategy.
Dan Goldman, global vice president of strategy, The North Face
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Goldman said sustainability has been an ongoing evolution at The North Face, but it has accelerated in the last few years.
“The big switch was going from having a sustainability strategy and a brand strategy to having the sustainability strategy built into the heart of the brand strategy,” he said. “What we found is that you really can’t be successful driving the change you want when it’s being driven by one team off to the side. It’s got to be everybody’s job in everything they do.”
Sustainability is fast becoming the price of entry for companies in the apparel business, which has struggled with the disposable nature of its products and the resources required to make them, panelists said. Consumers, especially younger shoppers, are looking for companies to take steps toward becoming more sustainable throughout their operations.
“There’s a growing expectation among consumers that all brands will eventually get there,” said Goldman.
A key challenge for companies seeking to advance their sustainability efforts is ensuring that their products and services are both sustainable and affordable, he said.
“The majority of consumers are not going to be willing to pay more for that sustainability,” said Goldman. “So, how do you create a scenario where there are no tradeoffs required — no tradeoffs around price point, but also no tradeoffs from a performance standpoint?”
With The North Face Renewed initiative, the company has found that there are different cohorts of consumers interested in the products that have been repaired or restored. Some customers are attracted to the sustainability of the products, while others are attracted to the quality and value, and still others seek out the items because some are truly unique in their new incarnations.
The sharing-economy factor
The program, one of several initiatives at The North Face that focus on sustainability, is part of an overall trend in apparel and other industries around the shared use of products, and around extending the life of products through their reuse by others, the webinar panelists said.
It’s yet another expression of the multibillion-dollar sharing economy that traverses businesses from transportation and hospitality (think Uber and Airbnb) to retail and fashion.
In apparel, for one, consumers have become more comfortable with the concept of renting or buying and selling used clothing, for example, and in fact several trendy, digitally based companies have emerged that help consumers do just that. These include ThredUP, Rent the Runway and The RealReal, among others. [For more on the resale market, see CO—’s deep dive on the trend here.]
“There’s this phenomenal ‘product as a service’ model that’s really catching on,” said Shari Diaz, director of innovation, strategy and operations at IBM Sterling, which offers supply chain solutions for businesses. (IBM was a sponsor of the webinar.)
Consumers are familiar with the concept of leasing cars, for example, but leasing is also gaining traction in other product categories, including furniture, she noted.
Goldman said consumers are looking for companies to be transparent about their efforts around sustainability, even if they haven’t achieved their goals.
“Nobody expects you to be perfect from day one, but they do want to see you making progress,” he said.
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Published September 23, 2020