Fashion retailer C&A is setting its hopes on green for Spring Summer 2020. The colour inspired not only the forthcoming collection and a catwalk flanked by shrubbery and grass when it was presented in Warsaw – the share of more sustainable garments offered is also growing. The fashion retailer employs more than 51,000 people worldwide and attaches great importance to speak of ‘more sustainable’ rather than ‘sustainable’ clothing, because there is only a better but never a completely sustainable product.
But what exactly does a more and more sustainable range at C&A mean? And are there limits to getting greener and greener? Brigitte Danielmeyer, director buying ladies & denim, spoke about the trends of the coming season during the presentation of the collection as well as bestsellers in the range, recycled swimwear and the broader sourcing strategy that is supposed to advance more sustainable fashion.
Influences from the seventies, eighties and nineties shine through in the designs for SS 2020. What trends will you be focusing on in the coming season?
Brigitte Danielmeyer: From the seventies certainly comes the spirit of optimism, the feminine, the flounces, the flower prints, long dresses, long skirts and large, wide belts. On the other hand, there is a very clean power-suiting trend, which actually comes from the nineties. Both blend wonderfully together and merge into each other.
What colours and prints had to be part of the spring summer 2020 collection?
White is very important and yellow will remain. And then there are different shades of green that reflect the connection to nature. The patterns continue to be trendy with broken, romantic flower prints in addition to strong, clear monochrome surfaces when it comes to suiting.
No stranger in the fashion industry
Brigitte Danielmeyer joined C&A in January 2019 as the director buying ladies division and denim. Prior to that, she briefly held the position of chief product officer at Superdry, and managed the business of the Liebeskind brand, which belongs to the S.Oliver Group. From 2012 to 2016, Brigitte Danielmeyer was responsible for womenswear, sportswear and the TH Collection at the Tommy Hilfiger brand, which belongs to the American PVH Group. She gained further experience as a manager at Esprit and the Holy Group.
Before we talk further about the coming season, which pieces did well in the last season?
We saw fantastic sales of pants and are overall leading when it comes to denim. Skinny and shaping are the fits that still sell well. Skinny fits do well all over the world in soft and stretchy qualities. We also sold an incredible amount of basics – cardigans, t-shirts, light sweaters. And then there are dresses: day dresses, evening dresses and occasion dresses. Dresses were a huge area for us.
Bringing production closer to customer demand is one of the major issues of the fashion industry. If something is going well or you spot a trend, how quickly can C&A react?
We have a global supplier network that allows us to work long-term and short-term. We always like to make sure that we can react relatively quickly when it comes to prints and jersey. Or if, for example, a great new denim wash is on the horizon.
How long do you approximately take to react to a trend?
That depends on which product group one is dealing with, whether the materials are available. It is very difficult to generalise. For t-shirts, for example, it takes four weeks, and if things have to go fast, it can be done in three weeks too. But those are simple jerseys – when it comes to prints or pants, it takes a bit longer.
Let us come back to the Spring Summer 2020 collection, which focuses on sustainability. Can this also be measured in numbers?
Over 50 percent of the SS 2020 collection is ‘more sustainable’. The swimwear collection shown in Warsaw consists of 80 percent recycled nylon. In our collections we also put a lot of emphasis on organic cotton that can be traced back to the farmers. The Tencel that we use is ‘forest friendly’ and therefore also more sustainable. So every team in every area has tried hard to utilise what is available at the moment and what can be used.
In numbers: more sustainable materials at C&A
Source: C&A Sustainability Report 2018
Cotton: Since 2005, C&A has increased the amount of clothing made from certified organic cotton from 1 million to 170 million pieces. The share of organic cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or the Organic Content Standard (OCS) was 38 percent last year. 33 percent of the more sustainable cotton came from the Better Cotton Initiative, the rest is still conventional cotton.
Recycled materials: In 2018, more than 300,000 pieces of recycled polyester clothing were sold and 95,000 pieces containing recycled cotton.
Cradle-to-Cradle: To date, C&A has launched four million cradle to cradle products and plans to expand this area further.
Through its cradle-to-cradle products, C&A has looked into a circular economy for several years now. C&A is also expanding its return program for used clothing in its stores. Are you now looking at the recycling of old clothes in your collections?
Recycling is a huge topic. At the moment, the industry is still not at the point where we can create high-qualitative new clothing from old textiles. But we are on the right track. The upcycling, i.e. the recycling of our collection, is just getting started.
By 2020, C&A wants to achieve that 100 percent of its cotton used worldwide is more sustainable. A total of 67 percent of the materials used, such as cotton, viscose and polyester, are to become more sustainable. But only one percent of all cotton produced worldwide is said to be organic. Have you reached a limit when it comes to expanding the more sustainable range of materials, as far as the availability of raw materials is concerned?
In combination with the programs of the C&A Foundation, our demand for more sustainable raw materials, for example organic cotton, has led to an increased supply of more sustainable raw materials over the years.
Some of the more sustainable raw materials are still in the initial stage, such as recycled polyester. We are working closely with our suppliers to further increase the supply of more sustainable raw materials.
The Sustainability Report 2018 states that in the past two years, C&A has reduced the number of its suppliers by 39 percent to around 700 and intends to further reduce this number. How do you approach this?
We are pursuing a strategy of very strong, close, long-term partnerships. We have been working together with over 70 percent of the suppliers in Europe for more than ten years, with some over 20 years. We have set a clear sustainability target and communicate this to the suppliers: Who can accompany us? Who can support this? Who can advance together with us? We have wonderful suppliers who are interested in the same topics that we are and with whom we are will clearly work more closely in the future.
Image: C&A SS 2020