Fashion 4.0, No. 17: Cos & The Renewal Workshop Spotlight Circular Fashion

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Last week, Swedish retailer COS debuted its Restore Collection stateside at Westfield Century City. The COS Restore Collection comprises 800 men’s and women’s pieces that have been damaged in the supply chain or returns process, and repaired into like-new condition by The Renewal Workshop. The merchandise retails for 30 percent less than regular pieces.

Taking part in the in-store panel discussion were The Renewal Workshop cofounder Nicole Bassett, COS Global Head of Sustainability Nopor Stuart, sustainable lifestyle influencer Jenny Ong, and moderator Kat Collings, editor-in-chief of Who What Wear.

Bassett, who worked in the fashion industry for 15 years at brands such as Patagonia and Prana, finding more sustainable ways to make clothes, said she co-founded The Renewal Workshop to enable true circularity in fashion.

“I realized that even if we make everything in the world sustainable, we are still just making more stuff, and thought there was a lot of opportunity to innovative in the circular economy. So the idea came out of how can we help brands move out of a linear model of making and selling to a circular one of using products over and over again. And, how to engage consumers to want to increase the longevity of their clothes,” she said. 

Cos Restore Collection Renewal Workshop event 

Above: Shoppers at COS Century City check out the Restore Collection. Courtesy of COS.

The Renewal Workshop builds “impact data” into its business model to show the difference made by saving damaged products, thereby cutting down on the energy and carbon spent to produce new ones. “Every time we renew a piece, this ‘lifecycle data’ helps inform customers of the impact it’s making,” explained Bassett.

The company’s team of repairers can fix everything from a broken stitch to old or missing buttons or zippers. Often the results are so like-new that it’s hard to tell what’s actually been repaired.

Ong said her clothes-buying strategy includes choosing pieces that she knows she can wear on multiple occasions, and when she tires of a piece, she will alter it or have it customized with embroidery to make it feel new again.

Stuart pointed out that COS’ timeless designs lend themselves to longevity, such as the 10-year-old coat she was wearing. Both she and Bassett stressed the importance of proper garment care to extend the life of clothes.

Above: Nicole Bassett and Jenny Ong. Courtesy of COS.

Said Stuart, “Brands put care labels in clothes for a reason. A lot of people don’t know that the washing machine symbol with the line under it means ‘gentle wash cycle,’ especially for knits. My advice is don’t wash it–spot clean it, air dry it, or use refresher spray. Literally, to stop washing your knitwear is the best thing you can do."

When it comes to spending, Bassett said, “Vote with your wallet, take micro action. It’s more than theory, it’s what’s changing the world right now. When I first started working in sustainability  there were just a handful of companies who cared and invested in it. Now we are starting to understand our impact and it’s because all of us as people have asked for something different and have decided to put our dollars towards it.”

One of the most commonly asked questions is still, “What does ‘sustainably sourced’ mean?” when it comes to clothing. Stuart defined it as such: “Something that is recycled or organic, or a third party has verified it has had a lesser impact on the environment. That could be the Better Cotton Initiative or the Responsible Wool Standard. We as brands can choose to buy those fibers versus the conventional ones.”

Above: Jenny Ong, Kat Collings, Nicole Bassett and Nopor Stuart. Courtesy of COS.

The Swedish H&M Group, which owns COS, may produce a lot of clothing, but is also leading the change for more sustainable manufacturing. It has already met its 2020 goal to use 100 percent sustainably sourced cotton, including organic cotton for its entire denim range.

Its 2030 goal is to use all sustainably sourced fibers. Its 2040 goal is more ambitious: to become “climate positive” which means to give back more than they consume in the value chain, including teaching customers how to care for and keep their garments longer and have lesser impact on the climate

“It’s becoming the norm as people like Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, whom we’re very proud of, change conceptions of what a customer wants. It’s also a challenge because sustainable is a very subjective word and a lot of brands and people have their own version of it, so it can be confusing. It relies on the customer to do a little research, too.”

We hope this bit of news inspires you to do more, buy less and buy smarter.  Please keep following us to learn more about what other fashion and technology innovators are doing to move forward into the new decade. 

With Gratitude,

The Variant Team

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