Madewell is set on becoming a leader in the circular economy

Jul 21, 2021

Madewell announced on Monday the launch of Madewell Forever, a branded denim resale service.

The program expands on Madewell’s partnership with thredUp, which started with Madewell Archive, an in-store section selling the brand’s denim jeans. Madewell Forever brings the brand’s resale efforts online, as well, making it the first partner utilizing thredUP’s Resale-as-a-Service platform in stores and online.

Madewell is looking to double the average life of its garments with the program.

“We always aim to create quality products that are built to last our customers for years and years,” Madewell’s chief marketing officer Derek Yarbrough told RetailWire. “But we also understand that customers like to trade in the trends and try out new styles, so the best way to reduce impact in the retail industry is to address post-consumer waste by keeping the product in circulation longer.”

Customers looking to go the second hand route can bring their denim to Madewell stores and earn $20 off their next full-price purchase at the chain’s 132 stores or its website. Women’s denim items from Madewell will be sold on the Forever site if they meet quality standards.

High quality non-Madewell denim items will be sold on thredUp’s site. Any items falling short of standards will be recycled for housing insulation.

Mr. Yarbrough said that Madewell’s new initiative is not about driving revenues.

“We believe that sustainability is not about competition,” he said. “Our goal with this launch is to inspire others in the industry to address circularity for their own business; our hope is that we pave the way for others.”

Mr. Yarbrough said the brand’s decision to launch Madewell Forever was informed by feedback from customers.

“Our Madewell Group Chat program, which is a collective of about 5,000 people who have signed up to give us their feedback, found that our shoppers were growing more and more interested in the resale market,” he said.

The brand is targeting its Madewell Forever marketing efforts to younger consumers who are focused on sustainability issues. The company has “partnered with a group of creators who specialize in resale and secondhand with a focus on Gen-Z and TikTok,” said Mr. Yarbrough.

“These content verticals are newer areas for us to play in,” he said, “so we’re excited to reach their audiences and partner with these experts to create engaging posts.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will circular economy credentials be determinant of retail and brand success in the years to come? Is Madewell spot on or way off with its “sustainability is not about competition” approach?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Circular economy credentials will differentiate companies, especially among younger consumers."
"So while perhaps it’s “not about competition” for Madewell, sustainable practices ultimately do provide a competitive edge in today’s market."
"The younger customers being focused on sustainability, I believe, is a myth."

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9 Comments on "Madewell is set on becoming a leader in the circular economy"

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Christine Russo

THIS: “…new initiative is not about driving revenues.” and THIS: “…the brand’s decision to launch …. was informed by feedback from customers.” are strong takeaways for retailers and businesses. These are incredibly important strategies. 1.) Don’t let ROI be the only metric used to make strategic decisions 2.) ASK and then LISTEN to customers. It’s brilliant that they are doing this.

Lisa Goller

Circular economy credentials will differentiate companies, especially among younger consumers. Offering sustainability, accessible pricing, quality products and omnichannel service checks so many Gen Z boxes.

Doing the right thing can be costly yet listening to consumers will earn loyalty for Madewell. It’s a long-term, purpose-driven competitive strategy.

Neil Saunders

Sustainable credentials or participation in the circular economy will not, per se, be a driver of success. The critical ingredients of success are what they have always been in retail – product, price, etc. However where these things are optimal, having a sustainable business is an important consideration that can positively impact how the brand is seen and the loyalty consumers show to it. Madewell currently seem to view this as more of a brand and ethical play rather than a revenue driver. That’s probably the right attitude to go in with but, at some point and on some level – whether through improved loyalty, increased brand equity, or via direct sales – the initiative has to make a commercial contribution.

Liza Amlani
Circular economy credentials and the push for brands to be more sustainable and transparent in their impact on the climate is so important. As customers push for brands to put their sustainability claims in action, this is a great move for Madewell. They should absolutely strive to become a leader in the circular economy as denim production has a detrimental impact on the climate. As per the United Nations, a single pair of jeans requires a kilogram of cotton. And producing this kilo requires 7,500–10,000 liters of water. That’s about 10 years’ worth of drinking water for one person. The importance of customer feedback that is taken seriously will serve the brand and increase engagement and sales. It may not be about the competition but this move will drive profitability. So yes – this is a great move for Madewell and other denim brands but it’s also important to keep brands accountable for how much they produce and pollute in the first place. Brands need to change the way they have been retailing and need… Read more »
Liz Crawford

Smart Move!

At Eileen Fisher, customers bring in their used EF clothing in a decade-old program they call “Circular by Design.” Their customer base is obviously older, showing that consumers across demographics are concerned about the environment.

Here’s how it works:

“For over a decade now, we’ve been collecting gently used EILEEN FISHER garments. We give them an environmentally friendly cleaning and resell those in perfect condition. Our team finds innovative ways to reimagine the imperfect ones, so your clothes never have to end up in a landfill.”

Shikha Jain

The research backs up Madewell’s conclusions that the new generation of shoppers rank sustainable materials and manufacturing highly in determining where they will shop. Younger consumers, in particular, look for and shop at brands that mirror their own values. So while perhaps it’s “not about competition” for Madewell, sustainable practices ultimately do provide a competitive edge in today’s market. This will only become more true as brands work to stay relevant and build consumer loyalty by reflecting their consumer base’s values. Soon enough, brands will all be striving to be the “most sustainable” — and how better to quantify that than with circular economy credentials? The more companies that get on board, the easier it will be for shoppers to choose NOT to shop with those who don’t embrace the sustainable practices they value.

Venky Ramesh

The younger customers being focused on sustainability, I believe, is a myth. A recent poll suggests that apparel production has more than doubled in the past 15 years while the average number of times garments are being worn has decreased by 36 percent. That coincides with the rise of social media and always-on culture which is driving up the need to buy more variety of clothes. A truly sustainable solution would be to find out alternative ways to fulfill the “virtual” demand – like selling virtual clothes.

Ken Morris

In today’s world sustainability should be integrated into every retailer’s brand. This ongoing engagement with ThredUP works well for retailers on several levels. It increases touches and probably encourages more frequent wardrobe changes, because now they can be rationalized by the shopper. And here’s one more use case for RFID: to ensure that the clothes going and coming from ThredUP are authentic and to track their lifecycles.

We have been working with Goodwill who is the ultimate thrifting retailer. That experience has cemented our belief in the circular economy. It is a growing trend that will only increase over time as sustainability, eco-consciousness and value continue to resonate in our new post-COVID-19 world.

Gibron Williams

I recall McDonald’s tapping into the “recycled” market by offering the one-piece swimming suit made from recycled McDonald’s plastic straws.

It’s great to see the classic denim staple being recycled or reused, and the use of customer data to enhance brand integrity/loyalty.

"Circular economy credentials will differentiate companies, especially among younger consumers."
"So while perhaps it’s “not about competition” for Madewell, sustainable practices ultimately do provide a competitive edge in today’s market."
"The younger customers being focused on sustainability, I believe, is a myth."

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