Iconic Suit: Upcycling Clothes

Innovation created by: Marks & Spencer (M&S)

Presentation written by: Fatima Akram Roma, idtima@gmail.com

Presentation supervised by: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Elena M. BARBU, elena.barbu@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr



Many companies have started to use eco-innovation or similar terms to describe their contributions to sustainable development to either reduce environmental harm or to gain consumer support. Which means production, assimilation or exploitation of a novelty in products, production processes, services or in management and business methods, which aims, throughout its lifecycle, to prevent or substantially reduce environmental risk, pollution and other negative impacts of resource use (including energy).

A lot of people do not think we could ever have sustainable fashion, why not? Well fashion demands change and change means more production and profit for companies. Basically, if we really wanted to be sustainable and ethical we should just buy really good quality clothes that lasts for ten years and then make do and mend. Which overthrows the concept of fashion. All we can do is try to limit the damage the production creates. So fast fashion is creating an environment crisis, while production and after, it is estimated £140 million worth of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year.

The following table shows a summary of the waste, water, and carbon footprints associated with clothing in the UK each year:

(Source: https://www.ecooutfitters.co.uk/blog/fast-fashion-the-destruction-of-developing-countries/)

Textile and clothing products are generally not designed for ease of disassembly at the end of life, however, we cannot continue to landfill at the rate we have been doing. For a company like Marks and Spencer which strives to be eco- friendly sustainable business the question is not: to produce or not to produce, it is what to produce and how to produce it.


  1. About M&S

Founded in 1884, M&S has grown from a single market stall to an international, multi-channel retailer. They sell high quality, great value products to 32 million customers. It is a major British multinational retailer headquartered in the City of Westminster, London. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index. It specialises in the selling of clothing, home products and luxury food products. M&S was founded in 1884 by Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer in Leeds. M&S currently has 979 stores across the U.K. In 1998, the company became the first British retailer to make a pre-tax profit of over £1 billion, M&S have 979 stores throughout the UK, as well as 454 international stores; 58 stores in India, 48 stores in Turkey, 37 in Russia, 27 in Greece, 17 in Ireland, 14 in France, 11 in Poland, 6 in Hungary and Finland and 5 in Spain.


M&S Sustainability Story

They have already helped to redefine the role of business in society. They started their Plan A journey ten years ago. Since then they have substantially improved their social and environmental performance, whilst also saving more than £750 million in costs and winning more than 240 awards.

Their three-pillar plan is designed to tackle the big issues facing retailers, consumer businesses and society today. It spans customer and colleague wellbeing, transforming lives and communities and caring for the planet. Each pillar includes pioneering new commitments.

(Source: http://slideplayer.com/slide/7625972/)


M&S Plan A 2025

Plan A 2025 is M&S way to help build a sustainable future by being a business that enables their customers to have a positive impact on wellbeing, communities and the planet through all that they do. It is an eco and ethical ambition set first 10 years of Plan A and will support 1,000 communities, help 10 million people live happier, healthier lives and convert M&S into a zero-waste business. Their ethical and environmental programme, underpins everything they do, from sourcing responsibly and reducing waste to helping the communities in which we operate. It is a business plan that maps out their route to providing leadership in a world that’s increasingly resource-constrained and experiencing social change.


  1. The M&S ‘Iconic’ Suit

Inspirational case studies from M&S and the University of Leeds is an example of continuous or dynamic evolutionary innovation (that is brought about by many incremental advances in technology or processes). The aim of the suit project was to create a product that would be a demonstration model of what the future could look like. To create an iconic product that would be the most sustainable suit available on the High Street, but still be a suit that was stylish and attractive to the customers, as well as profitable for M&S.



With a business perspective in mind, this can be translated as a circular economy model – a new kind of business model innovation: it is based in two types of material flows; the first one involves prolonging the life of a high quality and recyclable product that will not end up in waste but after living several cycles; the second one is a product designed to re-enter the biosphere in a safe way without negatively affecting it.

They needed to ensure that the raw materials come from well managed sources, the sourcing of materials should begin with recycling existing fabric (old clothes or unsold garments) and they needed to use renewable energy in order to produce the material and the garments, they needed to have water stewardship to ensure excessive water is not used and last but not least we need social fairness for the workers wherever they are. So upcycling is a great way of extending the life of fabrics and garments and adds to the sustainability.

(Source: https://www.ecooutfitters.co.uk/blog/fast-fashion-the-destruction-of-developing-countries/)


Going the Extra Mile (The Wear2 project)

The Wear2 project has discovered an innovative way to remove branding from clothing so that can be recycled and re-worn (which is called seam separation technology to facilitate re-use and recycling). In place of shredding, incineration or landfill, the Wear2 technology makes it possible to efficiently de-brand corporate wear and reuse the garments.

This innovation has further potential to remove labels, buttons and other items from clothing so that the item can be broken down into its constituent parts and recycled appropriately by using special kinds of yarns that are engineered to fall away when expose to heat in a bespoke industrial microwave unit that was designed and constructed for processing used clothing. Intended to operate at low power level and short cycle time 30 s or less, minimizing electricity consumption and running cost.


  1. Impacts of the Innovation

The below chart shows Life Cycle Analysis Comparison of Organic and Conventional Production.

(Source: https://www.ecooutfitters.co.uk/blog/fast-fashion-the-destruction-of-developing-countries/)

The potential benefits of wear2 from both an economic and environmental standpoint are large:

  • By adopting the wear2 process, over 60% of this total could potentially be re-processed into new products, thus creating a new profit centre
  • Annual CO2 emissions reduction of at least 800,000 tonnes CO2.
  • Markedly improves resource management with substantial savings in water and energy consumption.
  • Clear environmental benefits lowering water consumption

The capability to disassemble garments cost-effectively will encourage the specification of more suitable fabrics and fibres based on the future extendable life cycle of the garments. Markets for single material/fabric clothing ranges can then develop with the confidence that sufficient future feedstock will exist to ensure continuity of supply.

  1. Leadership

Over the past 12 months they have published digital transparency maps identifying all the factories that produce food, clothing, home and beauty products for them. With Plan A 2025, they’ll add information on the raw material sources they use and also translate this into ‘on product’ information to help guide our customers’ decision making. This is just a snapshot of the key changes they’ll be making and importantly, they will be rolling them out across their franchise partners to encourage and support them to make progress. They are very clear that with Plan A 2025 they want to set a course to being a truly sustainable business – one that is low carbon, circular, restorative, committed to wellbeing, equality and fairness in all that it does.

  1. Relations with stakeholders

They listened to their stakeholders Changing customer needs and expectations have helped to define Plan A 2025, but the plan is also informed by the insights of many other stakeholders. They commissioned Globe Scan to ask stakeholders how they expected retail to evolve and about their expectations of M&S. They received more than 300 responses to their global survey, which they shared widely across M&S. Their Sustainable Retail Advisory Board then helped them to shape Plan A 2025, providing guidance throughout its 12-month development period.

  1. Labour Protection & Ethical Practices

To champion Human Rights by taking a lead on addressing in-work poverty, modern day slavery and an inclusive society Plan A 2025 sees a decisive step change on social issues. They have worked hard to manage ethical compliance over the last decade, but now they’re setting more aspirational goals to respect and positively impact individual human rights in all that they do. Over the past twelve months they’ve improved their approach to human rights significantly, culminating in the recent Corporate Human Rights Benchmark scoring them as the best apparel and food business. Now they want to build on this position through an important new collaboration with Oxfam and by taking a lead on tackling issues such as in-work poverty and the living wage, modern day slavery and social inclusion.

  1. Philanthropy

They have a long tradition of their stores, offices and warehouses supporting their neighbouring community. In Plan A 2025 they are going to bring together these many individual activities to ensure that their stores are able to help play a transformative role to bring positive and measurable difference in the communities they serve, many of which face enormous challenges. Starting in 10 communities (Birmingham, Bradford, Derry~ Londonderry, Glasgow, London Borough of Newham, Liverpool, Merthyr Tydfil, Middlesbrough, Norwich, Rochdale). They will rollout this approach to a further 100 communities by 2023 and then share any transformative learning with the other 1000 communities they serve.



Even though the innovation process of Iconic Suit is more sophisticated and demanding which requires a greater effort from M&S in order to embody Circular Economy, that did not stop the leaders from bringing a new creative scientific perspective to the management of responsible innovation. Which is the key to sustainability in the fashion industry that guarantees social, environmental and economic benefits.



















Sustainable Design and Manufacturing 2014 Part 1 – Page 187R. Setchi, ‎R.J. Howlett, ‎M. Naim – Preview – ‎More editions