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End-of-life strategies: How fashion brands can effectively handle the conclusion of the product life cycle

Managing the end of the product life cycle is a thorny issue that fashion brands must somehow begin to consider.

In a market where customers are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their purchasing choices, with institutions pressing for manufacturers to become more responsible, the fashion industry must find solutions to better manage the end of product life cycle and avoid clothing to end up in landfills.  

Circular economy as a reference point

A circular economy is an approach to circularly manage resources, products, and services rather than follow the traditional 'take-make-waste' linear business model. It seeks to reduce waste by designing out pollution, keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible, and then recovering or recycling them once they have reached their end of life. This is achieved by circular production models such as product leasing, repair, and maintenance services, upcycling, or product-as-a-service schemes. In short, a circular economy is an effective way to close resource loops while providing economic growth opportunities. By shifting the current linear consumption model towards circular approaches, all industries can create a sustainable future where resources are managed more efficiently and with less environmental impact.

Within the circular economy is circular fashion, which is based on five actions that are the solution to end-of-life product management:

- Reuse

Reuse is not only for consumers, who can use old garments for other purposes but also for companies. For example, fashion brands can use pieces of fabric from used garments to assemble new ones. 

- Reselling

There is surely someone ready to love a garment that its owner no longer wants! Reselling can be done in two ways: directly by the owner, who puts the garment on reselling platforms, or by the company, which retrieves the garment and offers it back to the market.

- Recycle

Items can be broken down into materials that can be used for the production of other garments or completely different products. For the production of new clothes, fashion brands can also use waste materials from other industries since recycling textile fibers is not always easy.

- Repair

Fashion brands can offer garment repair services to extend the life of garments as much as possible. This solution applies especially to those garments that are affected by the passing of time but which owners would like to continue wearing. Often, the consumer is the first one who does not want to end the life cycle of the product, but in the absence of instructions or tools to repair it, they are forced to throw it away. 

- Renting

Renting makes it possible to extend the product life cycle of some special garments, such as formal dresses, which are generally used only once or a little more. The same is true for garments in particular styles that consumers would like to try on but are not convinced about. Space in closets is not infinite, and these garments risk being bought and then quickly thrown away. With rentals, consumers can have special clothes when they want them without having to buy them. But rental is becoming popular for ordinary clothes as well, and companies can take advantage of it to place on the market, for example, garments from past collections that would otherwise be disposed of.

The obstacle behind reuse, reselling, and recycle

So, the solution to end-of-life product management may lie in the basic principles of the circular economy. However, to be successful, all of these avenues -rental aside- require that the consumer not throw away the old garment but return it to the company or decide to resell it. How do brands convince customers? And if so, how do they collect the garments? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Loyalty programs
    Companies can reward consumers for returning old garments with a discount or an accumulation of credits, which they can exchange for new products.
  2. A convenient collection system
    Brands can provide easy and convenient collection systems for customers to return used products, such as a pick-up service. Brands can also place collection containers in physical stores so that customers who want to participate in circular product life cycle management can return their clothes easily.

  3. A free repair service
    Just as with the collection system, the repair service must also be easily usable and preferably free of charge. The focus of these activities is that they should require the least amount of time and effort from the customer.
  4. Proprietary reselling platforms
    Fashion companies can create their own reselling platforms, where customers can resell or buy branded used garments. The important thing is that the platform makes it as easy as possible for customers to upload photos and information about the garment they want to resell. For example, the fashion brand could develop a mobile application that uses AI and machine learning to assign product information and photos automatically.

The role of connected products 

The keyword for incentivising consumers to use the tools seen above is the ease of use. This is where connected products come into play. Connected products are those garments with embedded technology that enables fashion brands to communicate directly with consumers in real-time.

In other words, connected products can bring to the smartphone all the services that we have seen above. Brands can inform customers directly about what to do when they want to discard a garment, they can offer incentives or organise collection systems that engage customers with the simplicity of a single click - the system already has all the information about the garment in question. Even in case they want to resell it, through connected products and apps it is easy for them to create a listing for the garment, without having to waste time filling out descriptions. 

Connected products can offer the advantage of guaranteeing the authenticity of the garment. This is especially useful in the case of reselling fashion and luxury items, for which people always are fearful of buying second-hand online. When a product can prove its authenticity, buyers don’t need to apply a discount to account for the risk of buying a fake, and the seller is able to obtain a higher value for their listing. This creates a virtuous circle where consumers feel safer buying used products and prolongs the lifecycle of the product.

The advantages are also for companies

Finally, connected products allow companies to better track their product life cycle. This allows companies to measure circularity, meaning the number of products that have been sold or used in a certain period. It also improves inventory management and reduces the volume of unsold items.

In conclusion, fashion brands can make the end of the product life cycle easier to manage for both customers and themselves.  This will not only benefit the environment but also help improve customer experience and engender consumer loyalty toward circular fashion. Connected products are the essential tool that brings it all together and makes it feasible.​

14 Mar 2023

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