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Why ‘Recirculating’ is Stuffstr’s Answer to Apparel’s Sustainability Problem

For decades, there were three big R’s in sustainability: reduce, reuse, recycle. As brands become more aware of their ecological impact, however, one word is poised to overshadow all three: recirculate. Such is the goal of Stuffstr, a London-by-way-of-Seattle startup that helps retailers buy back used clothing from their customers in a way that’s both convenient and transparent.

Customers can use a participating retailer’s website or app to find eligible garments to exchange, check how much each one is worth and tally up the value of their offerings. Once a certain threshold is reached, they can send for a courier to pick up the unwanted clothing from their home. In exchange, Stuffstr sends them an email with an e-gift card from the relevant retailer.

The model represents not only a unique incentive for consumers but also an immediate revenue stream for the retailer, which can resell the garments or recycle them into new products, depending on their condition, according to John Atcheson, Stuffstr CEO and co-founder.

The company is planning to offer users the option to track their garments once they’re returned and processed, so they can witness firsthand what happens after the product is recirculated. Clothing waste is a growing problem for the United Kingdom. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, landfilling clothing and textiles costs the U.K. economy 82 million pounds ($103.8 million) every year.

“Given that the number of fashion purchases has doubled in the past five years, our platform is necessary now more than ever,” Atcheson said. “Our biggest challenge has always been to figure out a way of changing consumer behavior.”

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Atcheson isn’t at liberty to divulge many details, but he did reveal that a pilot program with British department store John Lewis last summer provided plenty of insight into customer motivations. Happily for Stuffstr, the program was the first John Lewis pilot to boast 100 percent customer satisfaction.

Stuffstr, Atcheson said, was born out of a desire to extend the lives of goods by giving them second, third, and perhaps even fourth or fifth lives as they move through the circular economy.

“I thought there must be a way to to bring to people’s attention that 70 percent of their household items were going directly to landfills, or that 80 percent of these belongings were being used less than once a month,” he added.

In what areas has the fashion industry made the biggest strides in sustainability in the past five years?

“My sense is that most of the progress in the past five years has mostly fallen within the supply chain. We feel in general that there has been very little attention to the post-sale side, and ultimately we feel that that is where the biggest impact reductions lie. Hopefully, the next five years will mark sustainability gains in the area of recommerce and recirculation.”

Sourcing Journal’s Sustaining Voices celebrates the efforts the apparel industry is making toward securing a more environmentally responsible future through creative innovations, scalable solutions and forward-thinking initiatives that are spinning intent into action.

See more of our Sustaining Voices honorees and their stories, here.