One of my favourite companies is Rapanui, who have been taking back old t-shirts in exchange for money off vouchers for several years. This year they began selling new t-shirts made from the recycled fabric, a pioneering circular economy approach.
They’re a relatively small company that has a history of this kind of innovation. One of the major clothing brands adopting circular economy principles would be a much bigger deal, and this month we got an announcement along those lines from Adidas UK.
Adidas have launched a buy-back scheme for members of their loyalty club. When you buy an Adidas product, their app gives you an immediate buy-back price and keeps track of your purchases over time. Once you’ve got items worth £20 to sell back, Adidas will dispatch a courier and pick them up. Your old items will be cleaned and sold on, repaired if necessary, or recycled if there is no future use for them. You get an e-card in return, to use against future purchases.
This is enabled through Stuffstr, who have developed a platform that can be integrated into retailers’ systems. It was piloted with John Lewis in 2018, and now gets a full deployment with Adidas.
What I like about this system is that it’s easy to use, and the producer takes responsibility for its own stuff. It’s far easier to throw stuff away than to find a new home for it, as the textile waste problem in Britain shows – 70% of clothing sold in the UK ends up in landfill.
On the other hand, tying it into the loyalty club system means that more casual Adidas customers won’t necessarily be able to use it. I reliably have a pair of Adidas trainers on the go, but rarely anything else from the company. I don’t want their app on my phone, and I wouldn’t ever get near the £20 threshold for recovery. So it probably won’t work for me personally.
Keeping a system like this within the loyalty scheme also reinforces the profitable idea that we can buy as much as we like as long as we dispose of it responsibly, rather than the less profitable idea that we should only buy what we need. Obviously a more direct solution to waste clothing is to stop buying things we won’t wear, and that’s not something you’ll hear from the brands themselves.
Still, we need scheme like this, and it’s good to see Adidas making the move. It will be interesting to see if it works. Taking back goods at the end of their lives and processing them is an important circular economy trend. The more companies experiment with it successfully, the easier it becomes for others to give it a go. So if you’re a regular customer with Adidas, try it for yourself.