Make it last: Fashion companies are beginning to explore new business models and customer services, such as rent and repair. How do you think such services can benefit the company apart from increasing its sustainability performance?

Anna Brismar: As you mention, the obvious advantage of launching new services, such as second hand, rent or repair, is an increased sustainability performance and brand value of the company. In addition, these services will also contribute to a more sustainable fashion industry a large, by making clothes and other products circulate longer in society before being incinerated, sent to landfill, or downcycled through industrial recycling. For example, selling clothes secondhand in-store helps to extend their lifetime by letting new customers make use of them. Likewise, letting customers rent a fashion piece as opposed to buying it may bring higher usage to the item than if it stayed with the same owner for lifetime. According to Uniforms of the Dedicated, leasing also makes economic sense, bringing increased revenues to certain pieces as opposed to selling them. Repair is yet another service that has found its way into the fashion world, not only among jeans brands (Nudie Jeans and Levi Strauss) but also among other forward-thinking companies (such as Houdini and Filippa K). Repair services not only help to increase product longevity but can also strengthen the emotional bond to a product, making its owner hold on to it even when it goes out of fashion or looks worn down.

In other words, apart from being good for the planet and adding “sustainability creds” to the company, the general idea behind additional services such as rent and repair is to maximize the number of occasions that each item is used over its lifetime. Simply put, an item can be either maximally used by the same owner during its lifetime (through repair) or it can be used by a maximum number of different users (through rent or second hand).

Yet, there are also additional positive side-effects of these services, on which a company could (and should!) benefit intentionally and strategically. Some of the most interesting questions and valuable input generated by these services are:

  • For Second hand: What special products are often returned as secondhand from the own brand? What do customers have to say about these items? What did they like and not like about them? Anything with the design, fabric, pattern, or fit that was particularly appreciated or not desirable? What clothes seem to last longer in terms of style or material durability? What clothes are returned only after a short time or few uses? What products are reluctantly handed in after many dear uses? Are there any popular secondhand items often asked for by secondhand shoppers? All these questions bring valuable feedback to the company in terms of how to create new collections – considering style, design, fabric, pattern and fit – in order to increase customer satisfaction and minimize unsold stocks.
  • For Rent: What products are most often asked for within the leasing range? What do customers have to say about their user experiences? Anything that customers would like to alter in terms of design, fabric or fit for specific pieces being leased? Such questions could generate useful information as to what types of products are more popular and suitable for leasing, for example outerwear as opposed to innerwear. Also, for certain pieces such as evening dresses, what styles are more popular than others? Leasing can also provide good opportunities for salespersons to engage in dialogues with the customers about washing and caring practices. This in turn could generate ideas on how to improve care labels (washing instructions) and tags.
  • For Repair: What items are most often handed in for repair? Why specifically do they need repair? For example did they break because of frequent wear, poor seams, sensitive fabric, or too tight fit? Does the zipper break easily? Do buttons easily fall off? For trousers and jeans, can the original seams around the knees be modified to facilitate repair? All such questions bring information that could help improve product durability by adjusting the original design, sourcing or tailoring practices.

In conclusion, providing new services such as secondhand, rent and repair will not only strengthen the sustainability performance of the company and help to improve overall sustainability of the fashion industry, but also provide valuable information for the company. If customers’ ideas, suggestions, and experiences are carefully tapped, systematically analyzed and effectively forwarded to the right teams within the company, this information could both reduce unnecessary costs and increase revenues in the short and long term.

This article was originally written and published for Make it last on April 10 (2015). Republished here with permission.