Case Study: The End of Packaging Trash in Fashion?

September 18, 2018
Case Studies

It’s no secret that the apparel industry has a problem with plastic waste. The challenge of maintaining quality across various aspects of the textile value chain has meant that historically, disposable plastic packaging has remained a necessary evil.  A 2014 internal case study reviewing Patagonia’s use of polybags found they were, “critical to ensuring that garments stay clean from the finished goods factory through to the distribution centre.” Eliminating these bags would result in significant financial and environmental costs through the damage done by exposing garments to dirt and moisture.While Patagonia tested various alternatives, such as paper mailers, none were able to offer the same level of protection that polybags could. Until recently, solutions had centred on reducing the size and amount of disposable plastic used in the delivery of clothes. Now though, with the growing availability of reusable packaging systems to a mass market of retailers, plastic waste is becoming an unnecessary, potentially absent, part of the delivery process.One of the leading systems available to retailers in Northern Europe is RePack, whose sleek yellow pouches can be used up to 20 times, coming in a range of sizes to fit the garment being delivered. Consumers can return them hassle-free using the postal return sticker included in the original package.


“My name is RePack. Thanks for checking me out! The special thing about me is that I am a 100 % reusable package. Not to brag, but I can easily be used at least 20 times.”

For this study we spoke to brands utilizing RePack for e-commerce sales, as well as end users, to find out how a reusable packaging system changes the retailer-consumer relationship. Aligning with many organisations’ circular strategy, reusable packaging allows them to engage with consumers  in the most circular way possible. Mud Jeans listed this as a key advantage, having a delivery system in keeping with the wider values of an environmentally conscious brand. With many retailers signing up to sustainable goals recently, such as the GFA’s 2020 commitments, the practical difficulties of fulfilling those pledges are becoming increasingly evident. While the desire from brands to improve their systems is clear, the ‘how’ of implementing change has often been lacking. Systems like RePack are one piece of the puzzle that will allow brands to fulfil their sustainability KPIs.Currently working with Makia and Pure Waste, brands that cater specifically to a sustainably savvy consumer, RePack is offered as the only delivery option. This allows both brands to achieve their waste reduction goals, and interact with their consumers in a new way. For those consumers, engaging with circularity comes in a very practical way. After opening the package, they're instructed how to fold the Repack back up and use the sticker provided to send the bright envelope back on its way. When asked if RePack improved the online shopping experience (on a scale of 1-5), respondents gave an average response of 4.6 to the RePack research team.

What do you get

RePack also positively incentivises both brands' consumers to return the packaging by offering a reward or voucher to be claimed at partner stores also using RePack. The voucher entices consumers to tryout other brands within the RePack community, creating a collective of loyal customers around brands that use the system. RePack’s own data suggests that up to 60% of the vouchers are claimed, with each RePack delivery creating future return customers, indicating clear opportunity for growth.This incentivisation scheme has been used differently with individual brands, where the brand itself encourages the use of RePack by allowing consumers to opt for the environmentally friendly packaging option. Circle economy’s own end consumer research suggests a prevailing preference for multiple use packaging already exists. One happy customer told us, “If I had any influence on the shipping methods of companies I would have them all use Repack.” (End user research)While RePack's relevance in reusable packaging for e-commerce is an apparent case, what makes the system unique to circularity is its ability to engage consumers directly in a take-back scheme. Brands are able to offer an end of life service for their products, while integrating circular strategies and educating the consumer at the same time. This kind of grassroots circularity has the power to inspire a wide consumer base to turn their own used clothes into another’s treasure.The recent product take back and material upcycling partnership with Finlayson accomplished this. In February 2017, Repack helped collect 11 tonnes of worn denim from Finlayson's customers which was then upcycled into towels and sold again in their retail stores and online. Before RePack, take back campaigns tended to remain exclusive to the offline environment, limiting participation to geographical or other constraints. At the time of writing Finlayson and RePack have run three take back campaigns for different textiles in the online environment and more consumers have been opting to have their products shipped in RePack with every campaign.

Woman with child unpacking

It’s clear that reusable packaging systems have the potential to remove a key obstacle in the movement towards a circular clothing industry, that of plastic packaging waste. The development of reusable delivery systems thus accelerates that movement by providing brands with a practical solution to the challenges of meeting sustainability targets. Systems like RePack allow participation in these developments by both brands and consumers. As the community continues to grow, RePack has the potential to expand consumer loyalty amongst brands. A unified movement of brands and consumer towards the circular economy? Sounds like a plan. Find out more here.

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