Jessica Cederberg Wodmar has worked on sustainability issues for over 30 years. She has written books on sustainability and describes herself as a sustainability nerd. She is currently the Global Sustainability & Innovation Director for the premium clothes brand GANT and has developed their circularity strategy which was launched in 2020.
GANT actually launched seven sustainability strategies in 2020, under the tagline “It’s complicated, but not impossible.” The seven sustainability strategies cover issues that include combating the climate crisis, transparency, water stewardship and circularity.
“As a key component of sustainability, we felt that circularity needed its own strategy. It is through circularity that we need to change the business and therefore elevate and escalate the sustainability work.”
- Jessica Cederberg Wodmar
“We believe that sustainability is the foundation for having a continually profitable business,” says Wodmar. “So we have seven strategies for this, which of course all work together. But as a key component of sustainability, we felt that circularity needed its own strategy. It is through circularity that we need to change the business and therefore elevate and escalate the sustainability work.”
Underlying GANT’s circular strategy are seven rules, which themselves form the basis of seven new business models. The seven rules are: Refresh, Repair, Reuse, Rent, Regive, Remake, Recycle. “They include everything from using recycled materials in our products, to offering lifelong repair and rental services,” says Wodmar. “And all of these require completely different business models.”
They all also involve, in one way or another, giving new lives to products. “I am very passionate about clothes,” says Wodmar. “And I know the amount of effort and energy it takes to make even the simplest garment, from dirt to shirt. So when I look at circularity I see that we have the capability to take care of an item and give it as long a life and as many lives as possible.”
For Recycle, for example, as well as being committed to using recycled materials in its own products, GANT wants to give its customers the chance to help recycle garments. “It is our responsibility,” Wodmar says. “Our business put it out there. We made it. But we need to help customers help us. At our stores therefore, consumers can bring in GANT garments that they no longer want or need. If it is in good condition we will sell it second hand and if it is broken we will recycle the material.”
“We will never become a circular business if we don’t involve the consumers”
- Jessica Cederberg Wodmar
“We will never become a circular business if we don’t involve the consumers,” Wodmar continues. “And helping them get involved is key, because they want to help. They want to be part of this. When it comes to circularity you can’t be focused on only business to business, you need to think about business to consumer as well.”
Another one of GANT’s new business models is its new rental service. “We know that we have new people who would like to buy GANT, but that it is sometimes out of their reach,” Wodmar explains. “So we would love for them to come in, rent something, wear it and then return it. We will clean it and rent it out again. This is also great for people who are going to an event or a party or an interview and who want to have something smart but don’t want to buy it. You just want to rent it for a couple of days and then return it.”
The recycle and rental business models are service offers, Wodmar reiterates, which gives garments extra lives. And, she adds, they are business models that have been calculated and are seen as essential elements in the future of the business.
“It is all about what business you want to be,” she says. “And we are a premium brand, so we want to give our customers a premium sustainable experience too. This is part of that premium sustainability journey. So that is why we say yes, this is a business case that we support. But it needs to be business focused. Then you can decide that it doesn’t need to carry its own costs from the start, because it can still be profitable for the business overall.”
As well as involving the consumers, Wodmar also stresses that working with others is also essential for circular business models. “We are a small company, so we need to work together with others,” she says. “And for the recycle offer we have found an end-of-life partner who are specialists in sorting through what can be reused or what needs to be recycled, and how to take care of the fibres to give everything as long a life as possible.”
“We can be fierce competitors with others when it comes to design and all of those things, but when it comes to sustainability, this is where we can learn from everyone.”
- Jessica Cederberg Wodmar
Wodmar also believes in learning from others. “We can be fierce competitors with others when it comes to design and all of those things,” she says. “But when it comes to sustainability, this is where we can learn from everyone. And if you look at trends and other companies and industries, we can see that renting and repairing and recycling, for example, are done globally in all industries, so why should it be any different with ours? And it is going to be profitable, even if it isn’t right now.
“I also believe that partnerships are important, which is why we are members of Textile Exchange, Sustainable Apparel Coalition and The Fashion Pact, to make sure that we are not the only one calling for a change. To ensure that we are part of a bigger positive vocal bunch of companies that have the same goals, to make sustainable products.”
“Consumer demand and expectations are key drivers towards circular business models.”
- Jessica Cederberg Wodmar
Consumer demand and expectations are key drivers towards circular business models, says Wodmar, as is legislation. “You need to be ahead of the legislation, otherwise it will be very costly to catch up.” She has also learnt the hard way that offering services online is essential.
GANT started working on their sustainability strategy in 2018 and it was launched at the beginning of 2020, just before the pandemic. And while five of the seven circularity components have hit the ground running, with the closure of many physical stores around the world, the launch of the rental and recycle service offers has been delayed.
“It is not enough to have in-store services,” she says. “You also need to do it digitally. That is a hard pandemic lesson. And it is a key learning. Another key insight is that this needs to be one joint effort, all teams need to be aligned, it is not something that the sustainability team can do alone, you need to have everybody involved.”
Having the design teams involved is especially important, which is why, as part of its circular strategy, GANT is training its design teams for circular design. “By the end of 2021, all the design training should be done,” says Wodmar. “This will be key to achieving some of our key goals around the use of sustainable materials. BY 2022, for example, GANT will use 100% sustainably sourced cotton. And by 2025, all of GANT’s key materials will be sustainably sourced. This is a challenge for us, as recycled materials often don’t give us the durability we want. Recycled materials are good, but if they don’t have the durability then the sustainability equation doesn’t add up. Learning how to design for circularity will help”
Like many other circularity experts though, Wodmar points out that nothing is fully sustainable. “We are on a sustainability journey,” she says. ”And we are working every day to assure that we are reaching our goals. But you are never really finished with sustainability. It’s a non-stop learning process. You just have to get started. And we are on that journey.”