Approximately 500,000 tonnes or 1 billion items of clothing are dumped in landfills annually in the UK (114,000 items an hour). To help reverse this trend Marks & Spencer (M&S), a British retailer, launched a “shwopping movement” with a vision to engage customers in driving a clothes recycling revolution and reduce waste to landfill.

“We hope as many of our customers as possible will start shwopping as your participation will help give old clothes a future, clearing your wardrobe space while reducing the amount of items thrown into UK landfills. We hope that together we can drive a clothes recycling revolution that will see shwopping become the norm. We all have the power here to become part of the solution”.

“Shwopping is about challenging and changing the way we all shop. We’re not asking you to stop buying clothes, rather aiming to create a ‘buy one, give one’ culture, where reusing, recycling or reselling old clothes becomes the norm. Half a million tonnes of clothing end up in UK landfills every year and we all agree this can’t continue. So instead of storing up problems for tomorrow, M&S is calling on the UK to become a nation of shwoppers, where we breathe new life into and reuse old wardrobe favourites.”

“We hope this project will help see a move away from ‘disposable’ fashion where we throw away clothes when we’ve had enough of them.”

“Our customers have told us that their main ethical concern for retailers is waste. So we want to turn the tide on waste, and to start the journey towards making our fashion business truly sustainable. Our eventual aim is to help to recycle as many clothes as we sell – that’s hundreds of millions of items each year!”

(Source: Marks & Spencer Sustainability Report, 2014)

Customers are encouraged to put their old items (from any retailer) into a ‘Shwop Drop’ box located by M&S tills. The clothing goes to Oxfam which resells it, forwards it to those in need in the Third World, or recycles the fibres to make new material. Oxfam uses the money raised to help people around the world overcome poverty.

This initiative relates to two of 100 commitments in M&S’ sustainability strategy, Plan A 2020. It comprises one of five pillars called, “Inspiring our Customers” – commitment to inspire customers with products, services and experiences that are both desirable and sustainable. The objective is to encourage customers to participate in activities with M&S, enabling them to support local communities and live healthier, more rewarding lifestyles.

The targets include:

  • My Plan A Aim: Engage one million M&S customers in Plan A activities using a range of online channels by 2015 and three million by 2020. Since 2011, they have engaged over 800,000 customers in a wide range of Plan A activities designed to help people live more sustainably, including the Shwopping Facebook app which tracks shwopping activity of customers and their friends, and offers prizes to customers.
  • Customer Clothes Recycling Aim: Help customers give clothes a second life by recycling 20 million items of clothing each year by 2020.  This commitment is on track although the original deadline for the goal was extended to allow the company more time to develop the habit of recycling with their customers. In 2013/14 customers donated close to 4 million garments (up from 3.8 million the previous year). They raised an estimated £3.2m for Oxfam in 2013 up from £2.3m in 2012.

M&S is extending the reach of this program in a number of ways:

  • Shwop at home: At home furniture delivery teams bring shwopping bags to pick up unwanted clothing from customer homes
  • Shwop at work: A shwop at work kit is available for worksites; participating employees receive a sales voucher; will take uniforms and corporate work wear
  • Mother’s Day campaign encouraged people to shwop and not bin children’s clothes. The UK government matched the value of donations to the Mother Appeal
  • Researching ways to help customers shwop online

Customer Engagement

Enable customers to make informed choices, reduce their lifestyle impacts and make a positive difference through education, engagement and innovative products and business models.