CHICAGO: Marks & Spencer, the biggest clothes retailer in the UK, believes it can serve business and brand goals by reusing fibres from old garments to make new ones that meet the chain's usual high quality standards.

Adam Elman, the firm's global head of delivery/Plan A and sustainable business, spoke about this topic at IEG's 2014 Sponsorship conference, where he discussed its partnership with Oxfam, the not-for-profit group.

Consumers are able to return clothes they previously purchased but no longer need at stores run by either company. These products are then assessed to see if they might be resold or otherwise put to use by the charity.

"This is not just a philanthropic venture for us: this is really about doing right for the environment, doing right for our customers, doing right for Oxfam, but doing right for us as a business," said Elman.

Indeed, he continued, in many cases these pieces of apparel are not appropriate for resale in Oxfam's stores or for use overseas. Often, at this point, "we can turn them into new fibre, and we can make new products."

Given the volatility in the markets for wool and cotton – which are prone to fluctuation as any other raw material – ramping up that approach in the future could add "resilience" to Marks & Spencer's supply chain.

At the brand level, the organisation can add special labels, like QR codes, to products featuring repurposed fibres. (For more, including details of how consumers view sustainability, read Warc's exclusive report: Marks & Spencer and the story of "shwopping".)

Scanning these codes provides consumers with access to details about how the item was manufactured, the teams of people involved, the innovative technology used, and so on.

"It really gives a whole new life to that product," said Elman. "It's exactly the same quality, so there's nothing negative about it. It comes with a great story."

Most customers, he conceded, do not currently come into stores with the express intention of buying something made from "recycled material".

But that does not mean the same shoppers are not intrigued by such a proposition when they learn more about it.

"Increasingly, our customers are surprised and delighted about finding these sorts of things out," he added.

Data sourced from Warc