In mid-2017, we launched the world’s first Gold level Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM T-shirts in Europe, followed by launches in Brazil and Mexico. The T-shirts are made of 100% organic cotton with safe materials and chemicals, and produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Even the T-shirt stitching is made from organic cotton and the dyes are 100% non-toxic.
During the summer of 2018, we introduced Gold level Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM jeans in Europe, followed by Brazil, making us the first retailer to offer certified jeans at this level. Developing Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM jeans was even more complicated than T-shirts because of the complexity in the processes involved as well as with the number of components present in jeans. Working closely with suppliers, we were able to ensure that all components and ingredients used in our new Certified jeans are safe to humans and the environment.
For both the T-shirts and jeans, we are working with manufacturers who share our vision for a circular economy and worked closely with us to make the products a reality. We are continually launching additional Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products for Men's, Ladies’, Teens’, and Kids’ collections. In addition, we continue working to identify more producers to join the Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM journey in the regions where we operate.
The Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM product standard is the only holistic, third-party standard able to certify circular products. It certifies all aspects of product manufacturing, from the sourcing of raw materials through the chemicals, water, or energy used in manufacturing and how the product is designed for material reutilisation, to the social conditions in the value chain.
The standard is organised around five criteria, each of which is assessed at a particular level:
At C&A, a Gold level-certified product goes beyond the standard’s minimum requirement, as Platinum level is achieved for some criteria. As a result, our Gold level Cradle to Cradle Certified products are made with:
Our goal is for all C&A Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products to achieve the highest possible level of certification and we trust that the Gold level represents a product optimised for circularity.
Expanded Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM options
To date, we have brought almost 4 million pieces of Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM apparel to market. This includes T-shirts, jeans, and other items, and underscores the importance of sustainable fashion to our customers. Following our initial launch of certified T-shirts in 2017, we have worked with suppliers to source additional sustainable elements and finishings that allow designers to diversify our styles, colours, and cuts, providing customers with even more choice in Certified items.
The world’s first Gold level Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM jeans
Building on the success of our certified T-shirts, in 2018 we launched a collection of Gold level Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM jeans. In so doing, C&A became the world’s first retailer to offer Men’s and Women’s jeans made completely from sustainable materials – from fibre to buttons to hem – which can be recycled at end of use. In Europe, the jeans have been offered at an affordable price of €29 as part of the family company’s commitment to making sustainability the new normal. The jeans are also available in all C&A stores in Mexico and in Brazil, where the Ladies’ jeans are priced at R$109 (approximately €25) and Men’s at R$119.99 (approximately €27).
Creating the world’s first Gold level Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM jeans was not without its challenges, such as:
It’s important to note that our aim is to offer circular fashion products at affordable prices. The production of Gold level certified jeans requires that we use a specific cotton sewing thread, which has a significant impact on production cost, and hence on the selling price. Therefore, we have decided to produce a smaller volume of Gold level certified jeans that we sell online and a larger volume of Bronze level certified jeans to maintain the price level our customers are used to.
The difference between C&A’s Gold level certified jeans and the Bronze level certified jeans is rather small. The Bronze level certified jeans actually have been certified Gold in four of the five certification areas. The use of a polyester sewing thread, however, reduces the overall rating to Bronze.
We will continue to seek solutions to scale the production of Gold certified jeans at reasonable production cost and use the opportunity of our Gold level certified jeans to further explain the certification benefits to our customers.
Sharing our learnings with the industry
We recorded our journey and lessons learned as we overcame these challenges and we are now sharing these learnings publicly so other brands can determine how to change their own practices and make environmentally and socially responsible fashion the norm. Fashion for Good has developed three resources, drawing from the experience we learned while developing the first Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Gold products:
These freely available resources comprise the world’s first comprehensive toolkit for developing Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM apparel for clothing manufacturers and fashion brands. They cover all the elements of the Cradle to Cradle Products Programme, from chemicals to social fairness, as well as a roadmap and a complete list of materials. Together, they can enable fashion brands, retailers, and manufacturers to get started on the development of truly circular products. Since they were made available, these resources have contributed to momentum in our industry.
We are encouraged by the global coverage our Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM jeans have received in the media and from other stakeholders, indicating strong interest in Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM items. These new jeans, along with the resources for use by others, mark a milestone for fashion and another step forward in our leadership towards making real change in the industry, from the farmer to the customer.
To learn more about our Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM clothing, view this video.
External recognition for our Cradle to Cradle work
For the launch of these products, C&A has been recognised by various organisations.
Fashion for Good
Fashion for Good is a global initiative that aims to transform the fashion industry from the linear ‘take-make-waste’ model to a circular approach that is restorative and regenerative by design. Fashion for Good convenes apparel producers, suppliers, retailers, non-profit organisations, innovators, and funders. The initiative offers practical action in the form of support, funding and roadmaps, and fosters a sector-wide collaboration.
Following its initiation by C&A Foundation, C&A was one of the first corporate partners of Fashion for Good, joining the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and IDH, the sustainable trade initiative. Since then, adidas, Bestseller, Galeries Lafayette, Kering, Otto Group, PVH Corp, Stella McCartney, Target, and Zalando have joined Fashion for Good.
In 2018, the initiative focused on supporting innovators through its Fashion for Good-Plug and Play Accelerator and Scaling Programme. Going forward, the Good Fashion Fund will catalyse access to finance where required to shift the industry to more sustainable production methods.
From its first hub in Amsterdam, Fashion for Good houses a Circular Apparel Community co-working space, creates open-source tools like its Good Fashion Guide and Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM guides, and welcomes visitors to join a collective movement to make fashion a force for good. In October of 2018, Fashion for Good opened the doors of its Experience, a consumer-facing museum focused on changing the hearts and minds of visitors and equipping them with practical actions to have a positive impact on the industry.
In 2018, we collaborated with Fashion for Good and others on a traceability pilot that is continuing in 2019. The innovative Organic Cotton Traceability Pilot uses new technology to trace organic cotton in textiles through the value chain to help making sure it is not blended with conventionally grown cotton at any stage.
Other collaborations towards circular fashion
In 2018, we joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular, which aims to accelerate the transition to circular fashion by driving collaboration between industry leaders and other key stakeholders. Its ambition is to ensure clothes are made from safe and renewable materials, new business models increase their use, and old clothes are turned into new. We are contributing to the Make Fashion Circular initiative through working groups where we share our knowledge and lessons learned implementing our circularity strategy, and where we also have opportunities to hear from others to inform our own strategy going forward.
Additionally, C&A participates in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation CE100, a global platform that brings together companies from multiple sectors, innovators, and regions to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.
A call to action for the supply chain
Through the process of creating the first Gold level Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM T-shirt and later the jeans, we recognised that in order to increase the uptake of this holistic approach in the apparel value chain, we needed manufacturers to embrace the basic concepts of a circular economy and how it translates into standard requirements. As a result, Fashion for Good created a self-assessment tool for suppliers to use on their journey toward creating Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products. When used along with the other freely available Fashion for Good resources, this tool can change how raw materials are grown, made, and sourced, and how clothing is produced — for the benefit of society and the environment.
Expanding specific materials and components in circular fashion
We know there’s a long way to go to make circular fashion the norm. As ever, the first step in our journey has been to pilot our own flagship programmes across our network.
Along the way, we have identified several roadblocks to Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM apparel, which we are working to overcome by collaborating with Fashion for Good and other partners. Today, we are encouraged by the steady growth of available materials and components for use in developing circular fashion.
Two years ago, we began helping the apparel sector evolve towards making circular fashion the norm, working with partners to develop nearly 200 Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM or assessed dyes, inks, and process chemicals; fibres such as modal, lyocell, or elastane; and trims and embellishments such as buttons, zippers, and rivets. With these components now ready for commercial use, in 2018 we evolved our Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products from plain T-shirts to include:
We also continue engaging producers and suppliers to grow our toolbox of certified materials, which will allow us to further diversity our Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM offerings in the future, and we continue to make the information public for use by others.
Knowledge sharing among C&A regions
We are exploring new sourcing regions so that we can offer more certified products in more C&A stores around the world. In Brazil, for instance, where 80% of what we sell has been produced within the country, we conducted a feasibility study in 2018 to determine whether certified products and components could be produced there at a scale sufficient to meet our needs. Results are promising, and we will continue evaluating the possibility of sourcing and producing certified items in other countries to make Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM commercially relevant and scalable across our regions. Being able to produce certified apparel domestically supports local growers and producers, and prevents overburdening a small number of overseas suppliers.
In-store take-back programmes
Our vision is restorative circular fashion, where nothing is wasted in the creation or disposal of our clothing. Of course, the transition to a fully circular apparel industry will be challenging and time intensive as the industry shifts its entire operating model to adopt a more holistic systems approach. One of the most important steps on this journey is the development of an effective collection and sorting system to increase the collection rate of used garments, which stands at just 25% worldwide [SOURCE: Ellen MacArthur Foundation].
The industry must develop a strong collection system if we are to build a circular industry, and our in-store and online take-back programmes are important steps on this journey. In 2018, we continued doing our part by expanding our in-store take-back programme to new geographies globally. A 2019 pilot take-back initiative at some stores in Mexico and 2018 roll-outs in Portugal and Spain and launch of an online take back in Germany will expand take-back opportunities for our customers to eight countries: Belgium, Brazil (where the programme expanded from 31 to 80 stores in 2018), Germany (online take-back only), Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. This not only makes it easier for more customers to take care of their unwanted clothes responsibly through our stores, but helps to shift our industry from a ‘take, make, use, and dispose’ model to a circular approach.
In Europe, where our take-back programme is known as ‘we take it back’, we collaborate with I:CO, a global solutions provider for clothing, footwear, and other textiles collection, reuse, and recycling. For every full bag of clothes and shoes they bring back, customers receive a 15% discount on their next C&A item. Since 2012, the programme has collected more than 945 metric tons of used garments in five European countries, with the majority sold as second-hand items. Particularly absorbent textiles are used for the production of cleaning cloths while others are used to make insulation materials and stuffing for furniture.
In Germany, we launched a convenient online take-back programme in September 2018.The ‘we take it back’ collection programme operates in concert with PACKMEE, a service provider specialising in the collection and marketing of still-wearable clothing, footwear, and household textiles. The system gives consumers the ability to easily hand over discarded clothing online. Of every donated and sold kilo of wearable items, a portion of the revenue goes to Save the Children.
In Brazil, our in-store take-back pilot launched in 2017 more than doubled in 2018, expanding from 31 to 80 stores. As of 2019, the ‘we take it back’ programme is no longer a pilot and is slated to expand to 130 stores during the year. To help customers connect their actions to our larger #WearTheChange initiative, we updated the collection boxes for in-store take-back to reflect #WearTheChange. In-store-take-back training was also provided for customer-facing and back-office employees, as well as managers. To date, our stores in Brazil have collected 15,332 garments weighing over 2,831 kg. Most of the garments, 72%, were in good condition and donated to local organisation Centro Social Carisma for reuse. The remaining are recycled in partnership with Retalhar. The growth of ‘we take it back’ shows that Brazilian customers are already engaged in the reuse and recycling of their clothes.
As we look to the future of circular fashion, we will continue to make sure our offerings are customer-relevant and commercially viable throughout our regions. C&A Mexico is offering Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM jeans and T-shirts in early 2019. Determining how to make Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM products domestically, such as C&A Brazil is exploring, will be important as well.
In addition, C&A Mexico is launching a pilot take-back programme in 10 stores during 2019.
Further innovation to create ‘good fashion’
We will continue our close involvement with Fashion for Good and other partners, participating in various pilots to develop proof of concept. Within its Innovation Platform, Fashion for Good will keep focusing on:
Fashion for Good will act as a convener for change by:
Refining our Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM approach globally
Globally, we have delivered almost four million Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM pieces to date, alongside campaigns showcasing the products. After the successful launch of our Cradle to Cradle CertifiedTM items, we are reviewing product positioning to determine where it is most commercially relevant and important to our customers. This includes looking at customer interest and scalability across our regions. In 2018, we continued monitoring our campaign results across markets to understand if and when we need to revisit and refine messaging to sustain enthusiasm and customer awareness.