As sustainability increasingly becomes a priority in the fashion industry, high-street fashion retailer River Island has taken part in the global effort to make products, processes, and business models more socially just and environmentally conscious. In 2022, the brand announced its sustainability strategy and aptly named it ‘The Kind Society.’
Aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ‘The Kind Society’ comprised 12 commitments to people, the planet, principles, and partnerships. It covers how River Island is continuously working towards improving the working standards across its supply chain, how it sources materials and manufactures products, and its overall engagement with business partners, stakeholders, and communities. A year after the launch of this new strategy, let’s take a closer look at how River Island is translating its principles into practice.
Ethically sourced materials
River Island has been transparent about the sourcing and manufacturing processes of its product line, which includes clothing, shoes, bags, and accessories for men, women, and kids. While the UK retailer is best known for its stylish ladies handbags that come in various styles like crossbody bags, clutches, totes, and purses, it integrates sustainability by ensuring that the bags’ leather material is ethically sourced. River Island’s leather is verified by a Leather Working Group certification to determine chemical and water management and traceability. In terms of apparel like shirts and jeans, River Island uses responsibly sourced cotton, either from Better Cotton or recycled sources. While the brand has made significant progress using organic and fair trade materials, it aims to continue increasing the usage of materials fully traceable throughout the supply chain.
The fashion industry also generates waste through plastic packaging, which explains why shopping behaviours among sustainability-oriented consumers highly prioritise zero-waste packaging. A study conducted by packaging manufacturer and consultancy Duo found that more than half (56%) of Gen Z consumers are less likely to buy from a retailer if their packaging isn’t sustainable, reusable, or resourceful. River Island meets this need by not using single-use plastic in its packaging and producing a carrier bag made of 100% recycled waste from its stores, warehouses, and headquarters in the UK. As River Island also moved the manufacturing of this repurposed bag from Malaysia to the UK, it was able to reduce its carbon footprint by 61,168kg of CO2
River Island is also committed to improving its circularity, mainly through its take-back scheme where customers can drop off pre-owned items from any brand in exchange for a £5 gift voucher that can be redeemed with a minimum £40 order in-store or online. By partnering with clothing repair and resale provider Reskinned, River Island is able to hand-check, ozone-cleanse, and revamp these secondhand garments. On top of expanding this scheme to 204 stores, the UK fashion retailer has also had a series of upcycling workshops held at its London Marble Arch and Liverpool Church Street branches and its newest River Studios Concept store.
By improving its value chain from sourcing and manufacturing to packaging and repurposing, River Island shows promise for moving forward with its sustainability commitment and overall strategy. It is also worth noting that the brand realises that work remains to be done, as it continues to set new sustainability targets by 2025 and 2030.