ESG Outlook is Sourcing Journal’s discussion series with industry executives to get their take on their company’s latest environmental, social and governance initiatives and their own personal efforts toward sustainability. In this Q&A, Rhyanna Taylor, chief product officer of returns solutions company Newmine, explains how the industry is finally waking up to the environmental hazards of retail returns.
Name: Rhyanna Taylor
Title: Chief Product Officer, Newmine
What do you consider to be your company’s best ESG-related achievement over the last five years?
Our biggest achievement was making the decision to tackle one of retail’s most pervasive problems: product returns. The overall result of reducing returns is minimizing waste all around, which of course has a positive impact on the environment. We targeted returns reduction as an opportunity because of our experience in omnichannel transformation. Seeing the gap in the industry we focused our efforts on evangelizing returns reduction and developing a technology to make returns reduction not only possible, but easy for retailers.
What is your personal philosophy on shopping and caring for your clothes?
I tend to lean toward high-quality, classic items that will last me for years. When I shop, I can’t help but think about what happens when I throw something away or where that item comes from. I tend to avoid fast fashion and trends and choose to build a good base in my closet that can be updated each year.
On the other end of the clothing lifecycle, I will always donate or re-purpose. With a background in fashion, I can’t bear to throw away fabric. I once converted an old dress into a cute bag!
It’s important to remember that when you get rid of clothes they don’t magically disappear; they end up in landfills. The same is true for product returns. As a rule, I don’t think there’s a reason to throw clothes away unless they’re degraded to the point that nobody can benefit from them.
How much do you look into a brand’s social or environmental practices before shopping?
I have been in the retail fashion industry my entire career and have an awareness of the major players. I stay tuned into the news about brands and focus on positive information. When I hear about a brand doing good work, I tend to gravitate towards them. Similarly, when I hear negative news about a brand or learn that they are not focused on sustainable or social practices, I avoid them. I don’t shop completely unfamiliar retailers and marketplaces; I shop brands that I trust.
What would you say is the biggest misconception consumers have about sustainability in fashion?
Sustainability is becoming more and more important in the industry. The biggest “misconception” so to speak is the blind spot customers have about all the work it takes to get a product from concept to their closet. I don’t think the average customer realizes the depth of the entire process and how much of an impact each step makes on the environment.
Part of our mission is to shine a light on the back end of returns. We’re having these great discussions about returns with all types of retailers. These conversations spark further interest into understanding the full picture of where a product comes from and how the stages of development and/or delivery impact whether a customer will return keep their purchase.
What was your company’s biggest takeaway from the Covid crisis?
In the simplest way, the need to pivot. Our biggest learning was that we had to be united and agile—we had to adjust quickly to meet the needs of both our business and our customers (retailers). We were always continuing to drive forward to the same goal, but we had to adjust how we were getting there.
Truthfully, Covid—and the resulting boom in e-commerce—accelerated our mission. Returns are finally getting a seat at the table in discussions about retail transformation. We went from being the only ones talking about returns to having it magnified. I guess you could say we were talking about returns long before it was cool.
What is your company’s latest sustainability-related initiative?
Our biggest effort right now is educating and enlightening the retail industry about the full cost of returns and how they impact retail business, consumers, and our planet. We’ve recently released an Incisiv State of the Retail Industry report and a report with Coresight about the environmental impact of returns.
Research has shown that many C-level executives don’t know how to measure their returns problem. And if you can’t measure it, you can’t solve it. That’s where Chief Returns Officer® and returns intelligence comes in: You can reduce returns and get clues into areas for efficiency and improvement across the entire business. If we can shift even a portion of retailers to pay attention and minimize returns, we’ll be moving in the right direction sustainably.
What do you consider to be the apparel industry’s biggest missed opportunity related to securing meaningful change?
The biggest roadblock in the retail industry is that we are continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done in a world that is more different than it has ever been. Retailers are actively missing opportunities. The accelerated speed that retailers move to fulfill consumer demand has magnified with the growth of e-commerce. There is so much data, but never enough time to turn that data into insight.
This is why we focused on making Chief Returns Officer as easy to implement as possible. New advancements in automation and AI have made it possible for us to diagnose why returns are happening and prescribe measures to prevent and reduce returns, so retailers can focus on making more informed decisions and taking corrective action. With a new tool comes new perspective, and visibility is key.