Meet the Sustainability Leader: Circular Economy Innovation – Yellow Octopus Fashion

With entries now open for edie's Sustainability Leaders Awards 2020, this new feature series showcases the achievements of the 2019 winners and reveals their secrets to success. Up next: The winner of our Circular Economy Innovation Award, Yellow Octopus Fashion.

Meet the Sustainability Leader: Circular Economy Innovation – Yellow Octopus Fashion

(L-R) Presenter Rob Holdway

In a bid to drive consumer behaviour change and spur a tangible reduction in the amount of garment waste sent to landfill in the UK, Yellow Octopus Fashion has developed a truly innovative digital app.

The global fast fashion problem is huge and growing, with more than 100 billion garments and 20 billion pairs of shoes produced worldwide every year. The majority of these items will be worn just a handful of times before being disposed of, with the ReWear Project estimating that 85% – equivalent to 16 million tonnes – ends up in landfill or incinerators annually.

The UK has no small part to play in driving this problem, with the average consumer buying 26.7kg of new clothing every year – more than any other European nation – and spending more than £1,000 per year on fashion. Indeed, Brits are estimated to send 300,000 tonnes of textiles to landfill annually.

While leading fashion brands move to use more sustainably sourced materials and launch repair, resale and rental services championing the circular economy, sustainable solutions firm Yellow Octopus’ fashion arm has developed a solution to the consumer piece of the puzzle. Called ReGAIN and developed by the company’s in-house IT experts, the digital app uses GPS mapping and tracking to let users know where their nearest clothing take-back or drop-off points are.

There are an estimated 20,000 of these facilities nationwide, with the majority hosted by charities, local authorities or retailers such as H&M and Marks & Spencer (M&S). Once garments are collected in these facilities, they are typically sorted, with items in wearable condition sent to charitable causes within the UK or abroad. Clothing which is not in a wearable condition is usually used to make rags or shredded for recycling into insulation or fillers.

In order to incentivise the use of the app, users are rewarded with a coupon of their choice for making a clothing donation. Coupons entitle the holder to a discount at retailers including Superdry, New Balance and Asics. Alternatively, users can opt for vouchers that can be redeemed for holidays with Expedia or, or lifestyle products and services from brands such as EVE Sleep, Gusto and Our judges praised this reward method, noting that it is “highly likely” to incentivise both awareness and action – even among the most disengaged consumers of fashion.

While some retailers have developed incentivised take-back schemes in their stores in recent years, Yellow Octopus Fashion claims that ReGAIN is the first multi-brand take-back scheme with a cash incentive – and the first with a digital app in the UK.

The app launched in the UK in spring 2018 and has already received praise from Dame Ellen MacArthur, founder and chair of circular economy organisation The Ellen MacArthur Foundation. ReGAIN is recognised under the Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular Initiative, which works with innovators and fashion retailers in order to create a “new normal” for waste and resource management in the fashion sector. It is also a participant in the Fashion For Good programme, the Textile Recycling Association’s circular economy initiative and a signatory to WRAP’s SCAP 2020 commitment, which helps industry stakeholders work together to transition away from cradle-to-grave business models.

The app notably spurred the diversion of 45,000kg of garments from landfill and incineration within its first five months of operation, with retail supporters including ASOS, Primark, Boohoo and Missguided. Logistics firm DPD is also a partner of the app and uses its courier service to transport donated clothing from take-back facilities to UK recycling plants.

Our judges were impressed both with the strong focus the app places on fostering long-lasting behaviour change from users, and its potential to vastly improve the resource efficiency of a large sector.

The fashion industry is believed to employ almost one in every seven working-age people worldwide and accounts for around 10% of global emissions. Experts have continually warned that without ambitious action on resource efficiency, the sector could account for a quarter of global carbon emissions by 2050. This is, therefore, no small sector to abate, and while brands have made progress to address the industry’s waste problems, judges praised ReGAIN for offering a “joined-up” solution which unites consumers and retailers for a common goal.

Looking to the future, Yellow Octopus Fashion told edie that it would like to advertise the app on online fashion retail websites as big-name brands begin to tentatively explore new business models which encourage garment reuse, resale and repair.

What the judges said: “The Yellow Octopus Fashion app recognises the importance of social engagement, incentivises behaviour change and targets a large industry in which waste is high,giving it a huge impact potential.

“It also targets new groups, including those who are disengaged with sustainability, making Yellow Octopus the standout winner of this category.” 

edie’s 2020 Sustainability Leaders Awards

Now entering their 13th year for 2020, the RSA-accredited Sustainability Leaders Awards are sure to be one of the biggest nights of the year in the sustainability and energy space, with some exciting new categories added to recognise excellence across the spectrum of sustainable business.   

The 2020 Sustainability Leaders are now OPEN for entries. The entry deadline is Friday 27 September 2019. The Awards will then take place on the night of 5 February 2020 at the Park Plaza London, Westminster. 


edie staff

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