While the pandemic had many retailers struggling, Lululemon flourished. Despite being stuck at home, its pricey athleisure and fitness clothing drew in a huge number of customers who enjoyed working out at home. With a higher amount of consumption, comes an even greater amount of waste. In view of this, sustainability has been one of the core initiatives for the brand in the past few years.
Upon participating at InvestHK’s Investment Promotion Week: ‘Startup Day – Sustainable Futures’ Panel, Retail in Asia had the pleasure of catching up with Gareth Pope, Senior Vice President for APAC, Lululemon. Together we discussed the brand’s sustainability strategy, as well as how Hong Kong could be a hub for sustainable innovation and a great place for startups and businesses to thrive.
RiA: Can you share the latest sustainable initiatives launched by Lululemon?
Pope: In 2020, we published our ‘Impact Agenda’ to set out our vision and strategies to accelerate positive social and environmental change. One of our impact goals is to source 100 percent renewable or recycled content nylon for our products by 2030. Our goal is to transition from virgin nylon fibre to 100 percent renewable, recycled, or net new fibres that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
We’ve also signed a multi-year collaboration with Genomatica, a leader in biotech innovation and materials, to bring renewably sourced, biobased materials into our product lines. This bio-nylon is made from industrial dent corn that has the same unique performance, feel, quality and durability as conventional nylon.
RiA: What has been the biggest challenge in Lululemon’s newly launched trade-in program early this year? Should customers expect the program to be launched in Asia anytime soon?
Pope: Our priority is to find the right partner who shares our values and can work with us on the trade-in merchandise and in facilitating the resale channel for Lululemon. We are exploring the opportunity to launch similar programs in Asia soon.
RiA: How is Lululemon going to break the stigma of the hygienic concerns behind second-hand sportswear?
Pope: All products received for the Like New platform are cleaned again before reselling to guests.
RiA: On Lululemon’s official website, there’s mention of the brand’s textile recycling partnership with DeBrand, can you please elaborate on the project?
Pope: Our partner, DeBrand, recycles our apparel to be used as home insulation; stuffing for mattresses; furniture; and cars; and even in sporting equipment like boxing gloves and punching bags; and our yoga mats are recycled into an equestrian footing product called ReitenRight. A small number of hard-to-recycle items are sent to a waste-to-energy facility to generate electricity.
RiA: How does the sustainability scene in Hong Kong compare to other major cities?
Pope: Hong Kong’s sustainability scene, in terms of infrastructure for day-to-day recycling, is at an early stage with a lot of opportunities for further development. There needs to be more collaboration among the private and public sectors, as well as support from the general public.
RiA: What do you mean by calling Hong Kong the hub for sustainable innovation? What advantage does Hong Kong have and other countries don’t?
Pope: Hong Kong’s textiles and apparel sector has a strong influence on the industry. For example, the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA), a research center funded by the Hong Kong government to do research for textile, apparel, and fashion industries, has partnered with several international brands to do textile-to-textile recycling and other initiatives to drive the sustainable development of the textile and fashion industry globally.
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RiA: Most of the sustainable measures launched by Lululemon are solely based in the U.S., what can we expect to be happening in Hong Kong?
Pope: On the retail front, our main objective is to reduce operation impact. We are proud to have received Leed Certification, a globally recognized green building rating system and certification in energy and environmental design for two stores, our Hysan and Queen’s Road stores, in the past two years. This year we have shifted to shopping bags that are made of recycled polypropylene instead of virgin plastic. We have also launched a store recycling program at all our Hong Kong Stores this year with social enterprise, V Cycle, to recycle operational recyclables. This initiative also provides employment opportunities for ‘cardboard grannies’ at the sorting center.