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Why We’ve Invested in Sustainability as a Retail Franchise Brand

Sustainability has become an increasingly important aspect of the way businesses operate. The resale franchise concepts within the Winmark Corporation® network of brands have pushed the idea of a sustainable business forward not simply because consumers feel good about buying from environmentally-friendly businesses, but because owners also feel great and reap financial rewards.

In the apparel industry, sustainability initiatives are increasingly important to help combat wasteful practices. Between 2000 and 2015, the amount of clothing produced every year roughly doubled. A primary factor in the growth of the apparel industry was the rise of fast fashion, which is typified by low-cost clothing produced on shorter manufacturing cycles more frequently throughout the year.

Already a resource-intensive industry, fast fashion aggravated many of the existing issues caused by apparel manufacturing. For example, the industry produces 20 percent of global wastewater and 10 percent of the total carbon emissions around the world, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

An apparel factory.

Meanwhile, research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation highlighted the fact that the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is incinerated or sent to a landfill every second. In addition to the negative environmental impact this practice propagates, it also affects consumers’ wallets. Since much of this clothing isn’t worn more than a few times, people are spending money on – albeit inexpensive – apparel with greater frequency. The cost-savings of fast fashion is often mitigated by the volume of clothes they purchase.

With that in mind, we’ve made a concerted effort to reinforce business practices that have a positive impact on the environment and local communities particularly through our clothing concepts, such as Once Upon A Child®, Plato’s Closet® and Style Encore®. Instead of heading to landfills or an incinerator, customers are able to bring their gently used clothing into any of our resale apparel stores to receive cash on the spot. And while they’re selling their items, they have the opportunity to purchase the latest fashions at a reduced cost – many times up to 70-90 percent off – compared to the retail price tag.

Being able to rely on customers to act as suppliers also helps franchisees reduce operational risk.

Sustainability in Retail Helps Alleviate Risk and Reduce Environmental Impact

Global supply chains in the apparel industry are intricately interwoven. Rarely is the entire clothing manufacturing cycle conducted within one area. For instance, cotton is grown in one country, shipped to another to become thread or yarn, and garments are assembled in an entirely different area.

And because of how interconnected the supply chain has become, disruption in one part of the process can have global implications. For example, an article for Harvard Business Review highlighted how flooding in Thailand in 2011 impacted garment production and caused prices to increase 28 percent around the globe. Retailers that purchase clothing direct from suppliers are forced to pay higher costs for product and either see their profit margins shrink or increase costs on the customer side and risk alienating them.

The interior of a Plato's Closet store.

Since Winmark franchise owners are able to leverage their customers as suppliers, the impact of disruptions to the textile supply chain is small compared to traditional retailers. In addition, when costs rise at traditional apparel retailers, consumers are more inclined to seek out stores that offer them the same quality of clothing at a reduced cost.

At the same time, franchisees have the opportunity to keep perfectly good apparel from going to waste. In fact, our three apparel resale brands prevented nearly 142 million items from heading to landfills in 2018 alone.

Ensure Sustainability Efforts are Relevant to Businesses

While sustainability is big business for many companies, it’s important for brands to be authentic in their quest to invest in any new initiatives. For example, one fast fashion retailer attempted to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability by installing solar panels at its company headquarters. While this is an admirable investment, it doesn’t do anything to address the environmental impact of the fast fashion segment’s business model, which caused skepticism among consumers as to the brand’s genuine interest in facing the real issue with fast fashion.

The interior of a Style Encore store.

This underscores why Winmark’s sustainability initiatives have been successful in thousands of communities across North America. Our business model is built around the idea of reducing the amount of textile waste by giving consumers the chance to buy and sell gently used items. The concept of recycling clothing and reducing our business’s environmental impact are inextricably linked. The idea is straightforward for both franchise owners and consumers, motivating customers to buy and sell at our locations, and franchisees to open our stores in their communities.

If you’re interested in learning more about a franchise opportunity built around sustainability, get started by downloading any of our franchise reports for free.