‘Shwopping’ is Chic: Marks & Spencer’s Sustainable Fashion Launch

Oxfam and the London College of Fashion partner with Marks & Spencer to do some shwopping.

It’s always refreshing to see how far sustainable fashion has come. One needn’t search any further than the crowd at the launch of British retailer Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) new sustainable fashion initiative in East London’s Brick Lane neighborhood last week.

As vintage-clad guests sipped champagne inside, thousands of donated clothing items covered the building edifice outside, serving as a powerful visual representation of the 2 million tons of clothing that end up in British landfills each year.

Through a partnership with Oxfam and the London College of Fashion, M&S used the event to introduce the idea of “shwopping:” for every clothing item purchased in their stores, M&S wants customers to swap a donated item of any brand, which they will then pass on to British charity Oxfam. The ultimate goal is to “collect as many clothes as [M&S] sells.”

As Britain’s largest retailer, M&S launched their “Plan A” initiative in 2007, with the goal of becoming the most sustainable major retailer in the world by 2015. While the idea of shwopping addresses waste reduction, the iconic British brand – which has 21 million customers per week – is also improving its practices in the areas such as energy efficiency, packaging, food sourcing, and resource consumption.

Since 2008, when Oxfam began offering £5 vouchers to customers who donated M&S clothing to one of its many charity shops around the UK, the effort has collected 10 million unwanted garments from the wardrobes of Britons.

Despite concerns from critics that the new effort will reduce the amount of donations given to smaller charities, Leona Everitt, head of PR for OxFam, said these donations are needed now more than ever. In addition to providing inventory for Oxfam’s more than 600 hundred shops and online store, Everitt explained that clothes donated to Oxfam are also sold to foreign markets in a responsible way.

“For charity shops like OxFam, what happens during a recession is that our sales go up but our donations go down,” Everitt said. “The pieces that we can’t sell in a charity shop get sorted, recycled, or sold in a responsible way.”

Standing amid racks of clothes featuring “shwopped” pieces from various designers and celebrities, was Absolutely Fabulous actress Joanna Lumley, the public face of the shwopping campaign. Lumley, who has long been a public supporter of Oxfam, spoke about how the initiative accomplishes multiple goals: getting people to be more conscious about what they’re accumulating, reducing landfill waste, and supporting the global efforts of Oxfam.

“Fashion doesn’t suddenly have to become gloomy,” said Lumley. “But if you keep buying clothes your wardrobe will keep getting fuller and fuller. However, if you give pieces away, they will go on to have another fabulous life.”

Images: Unity PR


Rosie Spinks

Rosie Spinks is a freelance journalist from California with a degree in Environmental Studies. Her work has been published in publications including Sierra magazine, GOOD magazine, the Ecologist, and the Guardian Environment Network. A passion for travel, running barefoot outdoors, and reconnecting people to what is good dominates most of her thoughts. You can follow her writing on Twitter and Tumblr.