Retail Forecast: The Pursuit of Purpose (Part 3)

retail forecast: the pursuit of purpose (part 3)

This week, we discuss considered purchases - the last in our Greater Purpose series. The term ‘sustainability’ has been bandied around for decades, with little thought attached other than the introduction of a recycling bin. However, in more recent years, it has transformed into a lifelong commitment to protecting our planet. And the affect on the retail landscape is certainly all-encompassing, altering the way we purchase for good.


Well before the pandemic had altered the shape of retail, we had already begun to change our perspective on where, how and why we shop. We have become obsessed (in the most positive way) with protecting our socioeconomic environment, and we are driven to make better choices which will not see the demise of our planet. From choosing sustainably sourced produce through to selecting pre-loved clothes, there is a high-level of determination when it comes to acting responsibly. And while this passion to become eco-warriors may have begun pre-pandemic, over 70% of consumers state that companies behaving sustainably is more important to them post-pandemic. (GWI)

As well as personal commitments to sustainability, consumer demand for retailers to incorporate eco-friendly strategies into their brand purpose is noticeably growing. Thinking back to 2017/8, the phrase ‘insta worthy’ dominated design briefs as a sole concept for appealing to the Gen-Z shopper. The thought being that if spaces weren’t ‘grammable, they were not worth the visit or the brand loyalty. However, it is this same demographic who are experiencing an ‘eco-awakening’ and becoming increasingly conscious about the footprint they are leaving on the planet. As consumers, they are highly informed, empowered and powerful. They expect brands to adhere to their ethical and sustainable values, and they are not afraid to call them out if they don’t. More importantly, the power that these consumers hold can quite easily ‘cancel’ a brand acting unethically.

HM Garment Collection

The fashion industry is arguably the most thought-of when we consider sustainable retail. With ‘fast fashion’ villainised (rightly so) for poor working conditions and mass-production, many brands have taken it upon themselves to enter the ‘circular economy’. For instance, H&M’s Garment Collection Programme promises to accept unwanted clothing donations (whether they are from H&M or not) and reuse or repurpose them, with zero additions to landfill. Shoppers who donate are then awarded a £5 H&M voucher to spend instore or online. While it may appear to be a marketing ploy, the brand seem genuine in their commitment to sustainability and consumers can feel confident that they are buying into a brand which does not promote wasteful fashion.

In a similar effort to promote circularity, sportswear brand Arc’teryx revealed their ReBird campaign which is wholeheartedly committed to ‘shift away from a take-make-waste economy by continuously seeking to adopt and evolve a circular way of operating’. They opened their first ever Rebird Service Centre in New York, an initiative that connects guests to this commitment in a retail environment. Services include: hands-on education about product care, technical in-house wash service, in-store repairs and renewal of fabrics.

However, fashion brands are not the only sector making efforts to secure a sustainable future. Department stores, beauty and cleaning brands are just a handful of sectors committing to eco-friendly strategies. Selfridges have been reimagining the store of the future for some time, and the launch of their Project Earth campaign in 2020 was entirely dedicated to sustainability. As part of the campaign in-store Adidas ‘Parley for the Oceans’ installed a 3D printing machine to recycle ocean plastic into homeware and clothing, Iris Van Herpen offered made-to-order dresses from recycled plastic and Selfridges themselves partnered with HURR to offer in-store clothing rentals.

And we can’t discuss sustainable retail without discussing products in the beauty and hygiene sectors. For a short while, we felt obliged to create eco-friendly products using what we had in our own homes. However, replacing bleach with white vinegar and lemon, and creating skincare from banana peels, honey and oats did not take off as the ‘future of’ sustainable hygiene. We may strive to be eco-friendly, but we also demand that brands assist us with this and enable guilt-free purchases . For instance, brands such as Smol and Ocean Saver kickstarted the responsible cleaning revolution, steering us away from harsh chemicals and single-use plastics. Since then, larger established brands such as Ariel have jumped on the sustainable bandwagon with FSC-certified cardboard packaging which is fully recyclable. And in similar attempts to reduce plastic and aluminium, brands such as Wild Deodorant offer customers the opportunity to purchase a hygiene product without negatively impacting our environment.

There are, in fact, hundreds of brands across these sectors who can be commended for their commitment to building responsible futures. They may not be able to certify that every aspect of their business structure is sustainable (we’d be fairly certain that few can confirm total sustainability) but there is certainly more intensity around retail sustainability than ever before. If smaller DTC brands can tackle such an all-encompassing issue, we expect the same from larger established brands too.

At the heart of this sustainability conversation is transparency. We may not be eco-warriors in all aspects of our lifestyles, and we can acknowledge that brands are in a similar position. However, our purchases are becoming increasingly more considered. We are on a quest to only make purchases which make us feel good, but also maintain a healthy balance to our planet. Brands such as Asket are the perfect example of how knowledge is truly power in the realms of retail. Their receipts provide a full breakdown of costs associated with the garment purchases, including the cost of fabric production, water-use and energy consumption. An Asket consumer is rewarded with this full transparency, leaving no questions surrounding the environmental impact of purchases.

“The reality is that every garment produced creates an environmental debt, so we wanted to come up with a way to separate the facts from the fiction. That’s when it dawned on us that the degree of visibility we had across our supply chain would allow us to dig deeper and uncover the true environmental impact of our garments.” - August Bard-Bringéus, Asket Co-Founder

It begs the question of whether complete sustainability is our overarching goal, or whether we are happy to uncover the meaningfulness and value of items through brand transparency.

An Opportunity to Reset

To conclude, a brand is often epitomised by three things: products, customer service & brand promises. The pandemic has heightened the importance of these, but has also provided a deeper acknowledgement of 'cancel culture'. With Covid-19 never far from our minds, we are hyper-aware of products, services and communities which do not live up to expectations, whether it is wellness, sustainability or social commitments. And while this may appear to put all brands in a very fragile space, it also unlocks opportunities for brands to commit to their ‘best selves’. It is an opportunity to reset. Now, more than ever, brands must consider a consumer preference for slow consumption, considered purchases and retail with a purpose.

Throughout this Pursuit of Purpose series, we’ve uncovered the three biggest trends which are driving retail forward: authenticity, retail therapy and sustainability. When the phrase ‘the store of the future’ crops up, it is this concept of purpose which should (and will) determine the success of any given retail strategy.

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