WoolOvers: a lesson in green credibility

As we worked through our editorial plan for this edition there was one recurring issue. With all the current sustainability bandwagon jumping and green-washing emanating from the clothing sector, who could anyone place their faith in?

Many global fashion businesses have loudly proclaimed their commitments to cleaning up the pollution they are causing, but very few have actually done anything significant, barring the launch of a few low volume lines released in blazes of publicity. And, as is being proven time and time again, young fashion buyers may speak volumes about their concerns for the planet but those concerns are rarely influencing what they actually buy or do to try and make a difference.

Basic education appears to be distinctly lacking these days, a finding echoed by the research amongst 2000 UK consumers undertaken by WoolOvers in partnership with Hubbub which found that a horrifying number of young ‘fashionistas’ actually throw clothing away for reasons as pitiful as not knowing how to sew on a button. Elsewhere research confirms that the trend amongst the younger generations is still to buy excessively and cheaply, on the basis that nothing needs to last beyond a few occasions, and that wearing the same outfits repeatedly is anathema anyway. This is a generation that will throw away recent purchases rather than bother to wash or iron them for a second outing. It is a salient point that even the nation’s charity shops don’t accept donations of cheap fast fashion. So much then for the younger generation publicly shaming their elders for damaging the environment. Going beyond fashion, it is also the younger generation driving soaring sales of takeaway food, ready meals and over-packaged chemical laden cosmetics.

Back to WoolOvers. This is a home shopping business, selling online and via catalogues to an older generation of customers. It has always specialised in producing knitwear and others garments in sustainable natural yarns, in short the kind of clothing that is made to keep its good looks and last for years when well cared for. WoolOvers had never really pushed its eco-USP but now finds its ranges in far greater demand than ever as the more knowledgeable mature consumers it serves are of the generation which is most actively seeking to steer away from polluting synthetic fabrics and quietly spending their money to ensure they are not part of the growing global problem. In other words, they are living more sustainably, buying less and of better quality, and are far more likely to repair clothing so that it lasts.

For WoolOvers this presents a fantastic marketing opportunity. Whilst other retailers, including a number of financially challenged brands which really should know better, have alienated their former core customers by trying to reposition and reinvent their offerings so as to, in theory, appeal to younger customers – WoolOvers is perfectly happy to swoop in and take those customers away. Not that the WoolOvers offering is dull or dated, it is classic and is presented in a colourful modern way.

The business has trialled catalogues in Germany and the USA this year, with strong results and also tested a linen range in Australia. One can surmise from this that there is a definite market for WoolOvers wherever there is a substantial pool of mature customers. Possibly harder to define is what constitutes a mature customer these days given the more active lifestyles and aspirations of customers in the 50+ age group, who are also considerably better off financially than younger consumers and able to spend. With tests of compostable garment bags and reusable paper despatch bags replacing polythene ones, this business is walking the walk and its customers could certainly teach younger consumers what it means to live sustainably. WoolOvers is now working on encouraging its customers to share skills and advice with younger customers in a bid to help further reduce sector-wide demand for and use of acrylic and polyester (petroleum based) yarns and fabrics which are leaching into the world’s oceans, polluting and destroying the environment.

For WoolOvers the past few years have been transformational in every sense. From a loss in FY18 to £15 million sales with £1 million EBITDA for FY19, and on track now to achieve £2m EBITDA on £20 million sales for FY20., the future is secure.

Weird Fish is first UK retailer to launch eco-friendly grass paper bags

Weird Fish has announced the widespread introduction of grass paper carrier bags throughout its retail network – a major step forward in the company’s ‘The Only Way Is Ethics’ sustainable policy.

The grass paper bags will replace traditional single-use plastic carrier bags in Weird Fish stores and will be provided free of charge to shoppers. Weird Fish is the first UK retailer to implement grass paper bags throughout its entire retail network – with the products offering significant ecological benefits over standard paper bags.

What is grass paper?

Grass paper is a pulp-based product consisting of at least 30 per cent grass fibres. No chemicals are used in the production of grass pulp, and the production process is much more water and energy efficient, using just two litres of water / 136 kWh per tonne of hay in comparison to 6,000 litres / 5,000 kWh per tonne of wood pulp. In total, the raw material production uses up to 75 per cent less CO2 emissions compared to wood pulp.

The Only Way Is Ethics

John Stockton, managing director of Weird Fish, explained: “We’re delighted to announce the introduction of grass paper bags to stores as the latest step in our sustainable policy, ‘The Only Way Is Ethics’; we are proud to be the first UK retailers to introduce this bag alternative. While we appreciate that we still have a long way to go as a company to be able to say we are a completely sustainable brand, by continuing to take these relatively small but important steps, we become ever closer to reaching our goals.”

The Weird Fish sustainable policy, which was introduced earlier this year, has already seen several initiatives implemented into standard practice, including:

  •  Introduction of sustainable fabrics within the clothing range, including Tencel, bamboo and linen
  • A partnership with Newlife, a charity for disabled children, to reduce the amount of unsold stock going to landfill
  • Provision of fabric offcuts, old trims and spare parts to fashion university departments to recycle into garments
  • Trialling plastic-free alternatives for web packaging
  • Working with new and more sustainable green factories

The grass paper bags, which are fully recyclable and compostable, will be used through the entire network of Weird Fish branded stores, including pop-up shops. Customers are also able to purchase 100 per cent organic cotton reusable tote bags in-store, which are made with no bleaching, dying or printing chemicals, if they wish to opt for a longer-lasting alternative.

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