A circular fashion first  Circular fashion for everyone

In June 2017, we launched the world’s first GOLD level Cradle-to-Cradle Certified TM T-shirts in stores in Europe, followed by September launches in Brazil and Mexico. These garments are made of 100% organic cotton with safe materials and chemicals, and produced in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Even the stitching is made from organic cotton and the dyes are 100% non-toxic. The T-shirts are therefore fully compostable in a home composting heap.

Since then, C&A has launched additional Cradle-to-Cradle Certified TM products in both Men and Ladies in Europe, Mexico and Brazil. All these products are made by two Indian manufacturers, Pratibha Syntex and Cotton Blossom, who share our vision for a circular economy and worked closely with us to make the products a reality.

Read more about our work on sustainable supply

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.

Read more about the Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM Standard 

The standard is organised around five criteria, each of which is assessed and certified. GOLD certification requires that: 

  • Products are made of 100% organic cotton using chemicals optimised for safe recycling.
  • Products can be recovered via composting, reuse or recycling.
  • 100% of the energy used in the production of the products has been renewably sourced. 
  • Suppliers completely recover and recycle waste water.
  • The product manufacturing facility protects all of its stakeholders, by operating to the highest national social and labour standards available and by conducting programmes to benefit workers and community.

Our goal is for all C&A Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM products to be of the highest possible level of certification and trust that the GOLD level represents a product optimised for circularity. Currently, some of the T-shirts in our stores have achieved SILVER certification because of the inks we use in all over prints, which had not yet been optimised. We have worked hard during 2017 to bring these inks in line with GOLD certification, and this will come into effect in 2018.

Our 2017 performance

Bringing Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM products to market

As the first brand to bring affordable Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM products to market, we recognise the importance of the way in which we communicate this new concept to customers – not only for C&A, but for the apparel industry as a whole. Our launch campaigns in Europe and Brazil included in-store material, a dedicated window, video, PR and media activity, and social media campaigns. In addition, our European stores produced a brochure while our Brazilian stores featured the products on in-store audio and video.

The response to the products has been very positive. Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM T-shirts sold well, particularly in countries where it was promoted through window displays and brochures. It was also good for sales, driving an increase of 10% in average basket size during the campaign. Survey results also showed that the Cradle-to-Cradle Certified™ campaign had a very strong positive impact on customers’ intention to visit C&A and on its overall brand image.

Our key learnings from this launch were that although customers reacted well, our messaging and storytelling could be improved. Customers also told us that they would like more choice in terms of styles, colours and cuts – something we have been focusing on in the more recent collections.

Case study: Launching the Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM T-shirt in Brazil

In 2017, we launched the first Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM T-shirt collection in Brazil. The launch event generated over 100 articles in newspapers, magazines and online and reached 14 million people. Our customer service and store employees were trained to explain the environmental impact of the T-shirt. An internal communication to employees and training sessions on the T-shirt generated a high level of engagement and pride in working for our company. Launching the Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM T-shirt alongside an in-store take-back programme in 31 stores helped to amplify our circular message to customers.

External recognition for our Cradle-to-Cradle work

For the launch of these products, C&A was awarded the prestigious Sustainable Innovation of the Year Award at the 2017 Ethical Corporation Responsible Business Awards in London. In addition, C&A was selected as a Finalist for The Circulars 2018 in The Accenture Strategy Award in the Circular Economy Multinational category.

In addition, we have shared our experience and learnings from the development and launch of Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM products with the wider industry, at events and through press coverage and case studies.

Partnering to accelerate change in the fashion industry

Fashion for Good is a global initiative that 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. Its goal is to reimagine how fashion is designed, made, worn and reused so that people, companies and the planet can all thrive.

C&A was one of the first brand partners of Fashion for Good, joining the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and IDH, the sustainable trade initiative. Since then, brands including adidas, Zalando, Kering, Galeries Lafayette and Target have joined Fashion for Good.

In 2018, the initiative will focus on supporting start-up innovators through its start-up accelerator operated by Plug and Play from Silicon Valley, California. 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, creating open-source tools like its Good Fashion Guide and welcoming new visitors to the Experience to join a collective movement to make fashion a force for good.

Good Fashion Guide: An open-source roadmap to Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM products

As part of our ambition to move towards sustainable fashion, we’re supporting and promoting Fashion for Good's Good Fashion Guide, which helps suppliers understand what it takes to make Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM products. The open source guide is the first of its kind to make information on how to develop circular fashion products freely available. It covers 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.

The roadmap has been available online since March 2017 to help other organisations comply with the Cradle-to-Cradle Products Programme requirements. The learnings from producing our Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM GOLD level T-shirt form the basis of the guide; we think it is important to share our learnings to support the acceleration of Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM concepts across the apparel sector.

Read how to replicate our Cradle-to-Cradle T-shirts here

A call to action for the supply chain

Through the process of creating the first GOLD level Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM T-shirt, we recognised that in order to increase the uptake of this holistic method in the apparel value chain, we needed manufacturers to embrace the basic concepts of a circular economy. 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.

Learn more about the Fashion for Good Cradle-to-Cradle Self-Check



Specific material and component challenges 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 learn from others and then pilot our own flagship programmes across our network. Along the way, we have identified several roadblocks to Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM apparel, which we will work to overcome by collaborating with Fashion for Good and other partners. 

In 2017, to help evolve the apparel sector toward making circular fashion the norm, we worked with partners to develop:

  • Nearly 200 Cradle-to-Cradle Certified TM or assessed dyes, inks and process chemicals.
  • New Cradle-to-Cradle-assessed fibres such as modal, lyocell or elastane.
  • More Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM or assessed trims and embellishments such as buttons, zippers or rivets.

Many of these new products are now ready for commercial use.

In-store take-back programmes

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 around the globe to increase the collection rate of used garments, which currently stands at just 25% worldwide [SOURCE: Ellen MacArthur Foundation]. If the industry doesn’t develop a strong collection system, we will not be able to build a circular industry.

In several countries, we offer an easy way for customers to dispose of their unwanted clothes responsibly through our stores. By reusing or recycling garments, we aim to take responsibility for our products beyond their first product life. Offering consumers a return option is grounded in the idea that we must shift our industry from a model of ‘take, make, use and dispose’ to a circular model where every apparel product is designed with its second life in mind.

In Europe, our take-back programme is called WeTakeItBack and is run in collaboration 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, our first WeTakeItBack programme in the Netherlands has collected more than 278,000 kg of clothing, ensuring these items will be reused or recycled. Currently, around 60% of collected apparel is reused and 40% is recycled. Particularly absorbent textiles are used for the production of cleaning cloths while others are used to make insulation materials and stuffing for furniture. In 2017, we expanded the programme to around 230 stores in Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

In 2017, we launched Movimento ReCiclo, a pilot take-back programme in Brazil. In just five months, 31 stores in Brazil collected 1,076 garments weighing over 200 kg. Two-thirds of the garments were in good condition and donated to local organisation Centro Social Carisma for reuse. The remaining one-third will be recycled in partnership with Retalhar. We are proud of these early results, which show that Brazilian customers are already engaged in the reuse and recycling of their clothes.

Read more about WeTakeItBack

Read more (in Portuguese) about Movimento ReCiclo

Where next?

Further innovation to create ‘good fashion’

Within its Innovation Platform, Fashion for Good will keep focusing on:

  • Continuing the Fashion for Good-Plug and Play Accelerator Programme to help start-ups grow.
  • Continuing its Scaling Programme to encourage the widespread adoption of good fashion by scaling innovations.
  • Introducing the Good Fashion Fund to help catalyse access to finance to allow a shift to more sustainable production methods at scale.

Fashion for Good will act as a convener for change by:

  • Expanding upon its Good Fashion Guide to share best practices and open-source tools on how good products can be produced at scale.
  • Expanding the active Circular Apparel Community of partners, experts, investors and mentors.
  • Relaunching its visitor-facing Fashion for Good Experience in Autumn 2018 to engage, inspire and activate people from around the world.

More Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM products in-store

In Europe, we will deliver more than two million Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM pieces over the next two seasons, alongside campaigns showcasing the products. We will develop Cradle-to-Cradle CertifiedTM products in more categories during 2018, rolling out production to additional suppliers and production countries.

In Brazil and Mexico, we will develop a Cradle-to-Cradle roadmap to build on the success of the launch. In 2018, we also plan to continue monitoring campaign results across markets to understand if and when we need to revisit and refine messaging to sustain enthusiasm and customer awareness.

Rolling out in-store take-back

In 2018, we will continue to expand the programme to new geographies globally as well as expand our current pilot in Brazil from 31 stores in 2017 to 80 stores.