Across its three-day run, NRF’s “Big Show” listed six sessions with “sustainability” billed in the title, including ones on how women are advancing sustainable development, company best practices and circular business models that truly do come full circle, echoing supply chains of the past.
TerraCycle’s chief executive officer Tom Szaky, wearing the innovator’s uniform of a black zip hoodie and jeans, took to the stage to share the benefits of closed-loop supply chains. Throughout his presentation, he asked the retailers and brands in the room to reckon with the idea of thicker plastic, steel or aluminum packaging designed for durability and recycling — but also aesthetics — instead of the single-use norm.
“Everything can be recycled, it’s just a question of whether it’s profitable to do so,” said Szaky. One of the New Jersey-based company’s first retail partners, Carrefour, now produces 60 private-label brands through the “recycling agnostic” Loop platform, with Procter & Gamble, Häagen-Dazs, Colgate and Unilever as early brand partners.
In the same session on Monday, Phil Graves, the head of corporate development at Patagonia, together with Andy Ruben, the ceo and cofounder of Yerdle, posed an aggressive case for repairs and worn wear.
“Worn Wear” is the name of the branded recommerce platform operated by Yerdle for Patagonia, as WWD has reported. Although those principles like repair, resale and recycle have been in place for the last 50 years at the company, the more recent partnership with Yerdle has warranted some key insights.
To the naysayers, “Buying used is in,” reiterated Graves.
He said Patagonia’s Worn Wear business has seen 40 percent growth in revenue and profitability since it launched, attracting customers that are on average 10 years younger than the typical Patagonia customer.
“I certainly would have been more aggressive with e-commerce knowing then what I know now,” Ruben said. Prior to Yerdle, he was former chief sustainability officer at Walmart. While Ruben obviously sees the potential in branded re-commerce, he doesn’t see brands taking the same initiative.
At a separate session on Sunday, sustainability beginnings were retraced by executives from Lush and William-Sonoma-owned West Elm.
Jennifer Walsh moderated the discussion. As an early adopter of omnichannel and wellness principles, having founded Beauty Bar in 1998, her latest path is growing her media company Walk With Walsh, communicating the benefits of nature therapy while traversing Central Park.
WWD asked Walsh post-NRF if she felt sustainability was highlighted enough, to which she said: “I truly believe that we are just starting the conversation. I know it has been a part of the NRF, but every conversation that I did have both on- and offstage was about the bigger picture of what it meant to each brand and how it will be even bigger next year.”
Just this week, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched its Circulytics tool, which was developed and tested by more than 30 companies so that brands can use the free tool to benchmark their circularity progress against the industry. But circularity, in true scale, is still a distant reality for traditional retailers and brands.
As to whether the industry is aggressive enough in its adoption of circular models, Walsh said: “No, I don’t think the industry is bullish enough yet. I still believe that there is going to be a bigger shift in hyper-localized use of ingredients, etc.,” speaking to beauty, specifically.
Wrapping the overall programming was a fireside chat with Goop’s ceo and founder Gwyneth Paltrow, which could be viewed as a lighthearted lesson in pioneering a white space in the luxury wellness market (and capitalizing on it with contextual commerce), despite recent controversy.
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