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TheIndustry.fashion LIVE! BFC CEO Caroline Rush on how innovation will help minimise returns...

Sophie Smith
22 June 2023

During TheIndustry.fashion LIVE! ‘Gain a return on returns’ in partnership with Bleckmann on Tuesday, a crowd of fashion industry professionals spent the day learning about how returns can be transformed from a profit drain to a profit driver.

About 30% of e-commerce fashion orders are returned, according to global strategists Roland Berger, and in 2022 some £7 billion worth of online-purchased fashion was returned by UK consumers. With the true cost of returns estimated to be around £20 for a £30 item, and many returned items ending up in landfill, this is a problem that cannot be ignored. But it’s also a problem that can be turned into a huge growth and efficiency opportunity.

To finish the day's content, Caroline Rush CBE, CEO of the British Fashion Council, spoke with Lauretta Roberts, Editor-In-Chief at TheIndustry.fashion about how returns can be minimised, the innovation coming from the next-generation of designers, and why we all need to work together to create a more sustainable industry.

Earlier this year, the British Fashion Council launched a report on the environmental impact of returns in the fashion industry. Titled Solving Fashion's Product Returns, the report presents two target outcomes to reach the target state of minimised returns.

As part of this, the report emphasised that product returns need to be  mitigated at the point of sale. This means businesses need to help consumers make the right choice straight away.

"The main reasons why consumers return so many items are usually to do with incorrect sizing and fit, the quality of a garment not meeting expectations, and the idea of buying multiple sizes to keep one and return the rest," explained Rush.

The BFC believes brands and retailers need to encourage shoppers to buy correctly by leveraging data and digital solutions, with in sizing calculators and digital avatars becoming an industry norm.

"There's an opportunity to really think about avatars for sizing and fit. If consumers have a really accurate avatar of their body, they shouldn't need to try-on lots of sizes because they could digitally see what would fit and just order that," said Rush.

"Also, there is so much data that ordinary artificial intelligence (AI) could help with in terms of informing a consumer what's best."

The report also shared that product returns need to be handled more efficiently, so that businesses can make returns operations more efficient, cost-effective, and less carbon intensive.

TheIndustry.fashion LIVE! BFC CEO Caroline Rush3

The BFC's work centres around promoting British fashion designers. Its events and initiatives, including London Fashion Week, aim to support and strengthen the UK fashion industry.

Usually dealing with a variety of designer brands, Rush shared her thoughts on the next-generation designers who are introducing more circular initiatives and innovations to tackle the issue of returns and dead stock.

"The designer approach is changing and a lot of younger designers are now the ones using things like dead stock materials. We have these brilliant young designers that are challenging the norms and stopping fabrics from going into landfill," she enthused.

"There's incredible innovation coming from many companies too. For example, there's a place in Nottingham that takes post-industrial textile waste and turns it into bricks and flooring. However, projects like this need investment to be able to scale and make an even bigger difference.

"So, thinking more optimistically, we have challenges but there are also many demands for research and development on how we can deal with returns and how this could be scaled within a business.

"There's definitely an education element to think about too. We're all consumers and we need to be encouraged to change our habits. However, in order to do this, we also need the correct systems in place to make sure that we're confident that the garments we recycle are not going into landfill.

"Ultimately, everybody needs to feel that everyone's playing their part - so the industry is playing its part, the governments are playing their part, and then we as consumers will step in and play our part as well."

Read more about the BFC's Solving Fashion's Product Returns report here.


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