How Polarn O. Pyret is leading the way in resale with PO.P Second Hand
Swedish childrenswear brand Polarn O. Pyret has always intended for its clothes to be passed down and re-used. Established in 1976, the brand set out with the philosophy that its garments should be durable enough to be enjoyed by at least three children.
If any brand is suited to the resale model then, it's this one, and it's customers clearly think so too. There's already a healthy resale culture around Polarn O. Pyret with certain limited editions of its signature rain jackets selling for more secondhand than they cost brand new.
To make the process of reselling more streamlined for its customers, and as an integral part of its strategy to produce fewer new clothes in the future, the company has just launched a "PO.P Secondhand" service.
Unlike others to have launched resale, Polarn O. Pyret has retained complete control of the process and has not outsourced it to a third party. The generally accepted approach of fashion brands to date has been to hire a third party to handle the processing of pre-loved clothing and offer a credit for a discount on the purchase of new clothes. For a pioneer such as Polarn O. Pyret this approach is not sufficiently sustainable (after all this is the brand that launched its first organic childrenswear line in 1987 before most of us had ever heard the word 'organic').
Equally, it wouldn't be a profitable approach and it doesn't value the sale of secondhand items as highly as it does new, and that, says UK managing director Mats Nilsson, was crucial. "We've always believed in producing good quality clothes, that wash well, that can be handed down. Sustainability has always been at the core of our brand," explains UK managing director Mats Nillson. "Unless we run this [secondhand service] profitably it can’t be part of our strategy moving forward, which is to reduce the production of new clothes."
Furthermore it would effectively see the brand surrender control of a sales channel that is likely to provide much of the fashion industry's growth as early as the mid-point of this decade. According to global strategy consultants Roland Berger, the fashion industry is at a tipping point. By 2025, more than half of the growth from the mainstream fashion industry will come from sustainable models, such as resale, rental and repair. If you are serious about long-term survival, says Roland Berger, then paying "lipservice to these channels" is simply not enough.
Polarn O. Pyret (affectionately known as PO.P) can't be accused of that. PO.P Secondhand has been launched in partnership with Clipper Logistics and Tern Eco, which has produced an app to enable seamless secondhand trade-ins from PO.P customers.
Creating the service in partnership with a logistics company (in this case Clipper which has been fulfilling e-commerce orders for PO.P for 10 years) was important for the clothing brand not just when it came to control of the process but control of the emissions. "We recognise that even though we are going to be 100% sustainable in the materials we use by next year, most of the impact comes from the logistics," he explains.
Now, no matter where customers have bought a PO.P item and no matter what state it is in, they can log on to the brand's website and return it. Purchases that were initially made directly from PO.P are listed in your shopping history already and the customer simply needs to check a box to request the trade-in. Or if they purchased the items elsewhere, they can simply upload the details and send it back.
PO.P offers a fair trade-in price for the item (for instance a shell jacket might be bought back at £15 and resold for £25) or customers can receive a discount on any further purchase, be it new or secondhand. Clipper carries out cleaning of trade-ins using the Ozone process and also carries out any necessary repairs, quality checks and photography, to enable an item to go back on sale. If an item is truly unsaleable, it will be recycled. What's more all the usual high levels of service and delivery options are equally applicable to secondhand sales.
Other companies have shied away from taking this hands on approach because the supply and demand is erratic and dealing with the return and resale of single items might be too logistically onerous, but neither PO.P nor Clipper, which handles logistics for some of the biggest names in fashion and retail in general, shied away from the challenge.
"Clipper are ideally suited to this in some ways because they do a lot of repair for big players," explains Nilsson. "They’ve got elements of a capability that we can reuse and they believe in sustainability so much that when we came and said that we wanted to do this, we got the highest level of commitment from the business."
To pull off such a service, it really does help to have sustainability and durability built in to your garments from the outset of course. PO.P produces its garments from fabrics woven in its native Sweden which can withstand repeated washing (its famous brightly-colour striped garments do not run in the wash) and items such as babygros are designed and engineered to support a baby's growth through adjustable poppers on the body and extendable sleeves.
It also uses sustainable materials such as recycled PET bottles, recycled marine plastics (such as fishing nets) and coconut husks for buttons, for instance.
"We've already achieved three children or more in half of our collection, with this we could achieve five children or more," says Nilsson. "We genuinely believe that this could grow our business."
Since the trial service went live, demand has been 10 times higher than predicted, so it looks very much like he's right about that.