Sustainable practices that were put on pause due to the Covid crisis are seeing a resurgence.
Just ask Marks & Spencer, which is relaunching its popular “Shwopping” clothing recycling program after months of inactivity. On Oct. 1, the British retailer will revive the 12-year-old upcycling and resale scheme after shutting it down in March amid the retail lockdown.
Shwopping has found a new home or use for 35 million clothing items since its inception, M&S says. Apparel is donated through bins at 287 of the company’s retail stores and sent to charitable collective Oxfam, which brings together more than 20 global charities in an effort to alleviate poverty.
The charity resells the clothing in one of its shops or on the web, while some donations are sent to its social enterprise in Senegal. Unsalable merchandise is sent to M&S’s Wastesaver facility to be recycled into new materials, like filling for mattresses. Since 2008, Shwopping has raised 23 million pounds ($29.5 million).
The company’s decision to stop accepting donations this spring stemmed from a need to focus on enacting safety measures across its store locations. And like most retailers, M&S has faced hardship because of declining foot traffic. In August, the retailer announced that it would be slashing about 7,000 jobs over the ensuing three months, in addition to the 950 positions eliminated earlier this year.
But as U.K. shoppers have spent more time holed up at home, many have become desperate to clear their wardrobes of unwanted shoes, apparel and accessories.
“At M&S, our goal is to source all our products with care and ensure nothing we make goes to waste,” said Carmel McQuaid, head of sustainable business for the British chain. “We want our customers to be confident that the clothes they buy at M&S are made to last, but if they finish wearing their old favorites, we make it easy to give them a new purpose through Shwopping.”
The effort should prove particularly timely for shoppers who have been anxious to declutter their closets, McQuaid added.
Fee Gilfeather, head of audience and strategic planning at Oxfam, said the program was designed as a simple solution for customers and the general public to donate unwanted garments, and that Shwopping “helps to extend the lifecycle of clothes and reduce the number of items of clothing going to landfill.”
“The return of Shwop drops to M&S stores means that there are more ways for people to donate to Oxfam and support our work fighting poverty and helping vulnerable communities around the world,” she said.
The pandemic has forced the program’s evolution, however, and new processes have been put in place to ensure the safety of those who come in contact with the garments and accessories. All items donated through M&S stores will be quarantined for 48 hours before being sent to Oxfam to lessen any risks of infection.
The retailer has also taken steps to support a more sustainable shopping journey online. M&S has begun including details about the eco-friendly raw materials it uses on its product pages, totaling 4,000 so far, and touts itself as the first major U.K. retailer to publish information about each of its factory partners, available through a web-based interactive map.
Shoppers also have an opportunity to make a donation to one of the retailer’s charity partners—including Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, Breast Cancer Now, and NHS Charities Together—each time they check out online. The M&S distribution center in Leicestershire is powered fully by renewable energy—one-quarter of which comes from solar panels on its roof.
Products are shipped in bags made from recycled plastic, which can be recycled at any of the company’s stores, and the company is phasing out paper delivery slips in an effort to save 140 tons of paper each year.