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It’s no secret that the fashion industry is a revolving door of trendy garments that more often than not end up in landfills. The industry has been stuck in a toxic cycle thanks to fast fashion, defined as “low-priced but stylish clothing that moves quickly from design to retail stores to meet trends, with new collections being introduced continuously.” While prices may be affordable, with fast fashion comes pollution and waste, and is often associated with poor working conditions.
According to a recent sustainability report, global consumption of fashion has increased over 400 per cent in the last 20 years and is responsible for as much as 10 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions — a major contributor to the climate crisis.
Reformation is an American “slow fashion” clothing company dedicated to making significant strides in closing the loop in fashion and working towards a more circular economy. Circularity, in the simplest of terms, aims to cut down waste by giving items new life. In support of this cause, Reformation is set to launch its RefRecyling program in Canada in the coming months, roughly one year after the U.S.
We connected with Kathleen Talbot, chief sustainability officer and vice president of operations at Reformation about the upcoming launch, sustainability challenges in the fashion industry and the brand’s plans to become circular by 2030.
Q & A with Kathleen Talbot
Q: What is your role?
A: As chief sustainability officer and vice president of operations at Ref, I’m responsible for conceptualizing and implementing sustainability initiatives across our operations and customer engagement programs. Sustainability is part of everything we do, so my role touches most teams across the business. I spend most of my time setting, reinforcing and executing our sustainability commitments and rallying our team of 1,000+ around our vision.
Q: How do you define sustainable fashion?
A: At a meta level, sustainability means that we’re protecting future generations’ abilities to meet their needs and enjoy a similar quality of life as we do today. The fashion industry has a lot of work to do to become even remotely sustainable and do its part to counteract the climate crisis. At Ref, we focus on taking action throughout our operations that help drive better outcomes for the planet and people. We believe in progress and transparency over perfection, which is why we report on all our efforts in our quarterly sustainability reports.
Q: What is Reformation doing to create a more sustainable fashion industry?
A: Our business is unique in that we’ve been focused on sustainable fashion since we were founded in 2009, a long time before sustainability was a widespread ambition. It’s integrated throughout our business and is part of everything we do.
Right now we’re very focused on our goal to become circular by 2030. This essentially means that we will use as little virgin material as possible in our products, offer a recycling solution for everything we make and reduce waste throughout our supply chain.
You can’t separate sustainable fashion from circularity, which we believe is the future of the industry. To break it down, fashion brands use far too much virgin material to produce new clothing that is thrown away too quickly. It’s a toxic cycle that is terrible for the planet. Our goal is to break up with virgin materials and prove that you don’t need to use new fibres to make new, beautiful clothing and be a profitable company. Critically, our goal to become circular by 2030 also supports our goal to become Climate Positive by 2025, which means that long-term we’ll remove more emissions than we produce.
Q: What are a few sustainability challenges you face and how do you plan to overcome them?
A: There are many! This is not easy work. It requires a considerable amount of creativity, willingness to reimagine the status quo, persistence and resilience.
As it pertains to circularity specifically, we made this commitment knowing that there are things that could impede our progress. For example, recycled fibres today are often limited in terms of quality, durability and function, which can make it hard to design for circularity. Some fibres can be recycled, but only once or twice, so we have to figure out how to extend their lifespan so we can keep our stuff around for generations.
But we like a challenge. The systemic change we need to avert a climate catastrophe requires bold and urgent action. We’re committed to riding the ups and downs, pivoting as needed and sharing what we learn as we go.
Q: How do you define a circular economy?
A: To crystalize what success looks like for Ref, we aligned with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s definition of a circular economy and its three principles: eliminating waste and pollution, circulating products and materials and regenerating nature. At its core, a circular economy is one that puts a stop to the harmful cycle of take-make-waste that runs rampant in traditional linear fashion models.
Q: How is Reformation incorporating circularity into business processes and practices?
A: We were very intentional about laying out exactly what our circularity commitment entails in a concrete roadmap published on our website. Circularity is nuanced and there isn’t one standardized definition, so this was critical for transparency, accountability and helping other brands follow in our footsteps.
Among other things, we’ll offer a recycling solution for every product we make, source more recycled and regenerative materials, expand our resale and vintage offering so that it represents at least 10 per cent of our business volume and reduce waste as much as possible across our operations.
Specifically, by 2025, each of our products will have at least one circular attribute (e.g. designed from recycled materials or for durability, etc.). We’re kicking this effort off this year by developing circularity guidelines for our design and product teams so that we can start to execute against this goal cross-functionally.
Q: What are your favourite products in the current Reformation line?
A: Classic and easy to throw on styles like the Will Oversized Shirt (our linen fabrication is great for keeping cool this summer), Cary High Rise Slouchy Wide Leg Jean and I just picked up the Medium Chiara Convertible Bag which is so fun to wear with my Ref dresses.
Q: What other apparel brands do you love?
A: I love Patagonia and Smartwool for high-performance apparel — two companies that are also focused on innovation and investing in circular business models. I also shop second-hand through platforms like thredUP, a longtime partner of ours.
Q: What’s next for Reformation?
A: Our mission is to bring sustainable fashion to everyone and we have a huge opportunity to continue to grow in Canada where values-based shopping is perhaps even more important to consumers.
From a sustainability standpoint, we’re very excited to bring RefRecycling, our fibre-to-fibre recycling initiative, to Canada in the near term. Through RefRefcycling, customers can bring in their well-loved Ref shoes, tees, outerwear, jeans, sweaters, bags and activewear to our stores in exchange for RefCredit, and we’ll recycle them via our partnership with SuperCircle. It’s a true win-win.
In addition to our two existing stores in Toronto, we opened a pop-up at Holt Renfrew Calgary, which will remain open until the end of summer. This is our first footprint in Western Canada and our first partnership with a Canadian retailer – we’re excited to introduce Ref to new customers there and meet existing fans of the brand IRL.
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