Balancing sustainability and profitability


November 29, 2022 | By Rupkatha B

The fashion industry is responsible for up to 10% of global carbon emissions, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Every second one garbage truck equivalent of clothes is landfilled or burned as highlighted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Yet less than 1% of fashion brands have switched to sustainable materials even though its available but at a higher cost.

Therein arises a question – is it possible to balance sustainability and profitability?

During an exclusive Q&A Dominic Nowell-Barnes, Founder of The Giving Movement spoke about the difficult task of balancing sustainability and profitability. The brand’s purpose-driven approach, homegrown manufacturing coupled with its donation model has proved to be a “winning combination.”

Can sustainability really go hand-in-hand with profitability? Have you been able to create a balance at The Giving Movement?

The only alternative to producing sustainably with profitability would be either to produce unsustainably or not for profit. I think it’s clear that producing in an unsustainable way in any industry is not good for the planet or the people. So, I believe the root question is, ‘should a business be for profit or not for profit?’ My answer was to create a balance at The Giving Movement by making a commitment to donate $4 or AED15 from every item we sell to our charity partners Dubai Cares and Harmony house. This was a personal decision to enable our team members and customers to give back to those in need around the world, every single day. It was equally a commercial decision by looking at the fashion industry or brands in general and recognising that it felt unfair that some people at the top hold on to all profits whilst people elsewhere in the world cannot meet their basic human needs. We wanted to disrupt the typical model with The Giving Movement. In 2022 we will donate approximately 50% of our net profit to charity through this model.

How do you ensure operating sustainably?

One of the key differences that our model has over most brands is that we produce locally, sourcing our own sustainable materials from around the world. From yarn and fabric, to trims and packaging, we keep it all local, right here in the UAE. Most traditional brands buy large quantities of each style many months in advance from factories in the Far East or Europe with the risk that a trend might change. Whereas since we have the fabric locally, we can go from idea to live on site within three weeks, meaning we can react to trends much more quickly than other brands. With the use of business intelligence and data, we can launch a collection where each style has a very low MOQ (minimum order quantity), and we test it in the market. If it sells well, we restock it. If it doesn’t, we have only a few units to sell over the season. As a result, we can sell through each collection at 95-100%, in turn causing little to no waste or unsold product at the end of each season. This is generally a pain point for all fashion brands and so it’s a great point of difference. This also supports our sustainable objectives.

Over the last couple of years what are some milestones achieved by The Giving Movement?

Our number one priority is always social impact. As of today, we’ve donated over $3,000,000 to charity since our inception in April 2020 whilst remaining profitable. I was truly inspired by Ben Francis’ success with Gymshark [a British fitness apparel & accessories brand]; he was able to reach a unicorn status in seven years. We had a 400% year-on-year growth from 2020 to 2021, and a 300% year-on-year growth in 2021 to 2022. As such, we are hoping to become the first fashion unicorn in the GCC in 2024, and in doing so, will have done it in half the time of Ben Francis & Gymshark. With the support of my team and our customers, I’ve no doubt we will achieve this while donating over $10 million to charity per year.

Looking ahead, what are your strategic growth plans?

Our first flagship store will open in Mall of Emirates this year. This will be the start of our omnichannel journey, and we hope to create an exciting experience in our retail stores that truly reflects our brand values. We recently launched our sustainable luxury label ‘FIFTYMADE©’ that debuted at this year’s Arab Fashion Week. We are also expanding into the US market with the launch of our sustainable ‘Seamless’ collection towards the end of this year.

The full article has been published in the November edition of RetailME.

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