Q&A with THE ICONIC – Sustainability: Buzz-Word or Must-Have?

Natasha Sholl By Natasha Sholl | 14 May 2019

THE ICONIC talks to us about remaining competitive, disrupting ‘business as usual’ and why sustainability is about progress, not perfection.

Ahead of Online Retailer Conference & Expo, we speak to Jaana Quaintance-James, Head of Sustainability & Ethical Sourcing, THE ICONIC, about sustainability and the future of retail:

Can you talk us through how sustainability has changed the direction of THE ICONIC?

Our mission at THE ICONIC is to create a uniquely seamless and inspiring shopping experience and a core component of this for us is ensuring our customers feel confident in our commitment to create a more sustainable future.

Sustainability at THE ICONIC has been a key business priority since 2017 and last year we held workshops with over 100 ICONIC team members from varying departments to collaboratively design our first end to end Sustainability Strategy, which focuses on Ethical Sourcing, Governance and Communications, Environmental Impacts and Community Engagement.

We’re incredibly proud of the headway we have achieved to date and every element of our current business operations is in focus of our sustainability program. We are further empowering our people to assess and better manage our impacts. Sustainability at THE ICONIC is everybody’s business and whether it’s exploring a more sustainable packaging alternative, to buying products with sustainability credentials, teams all across the business are involved in the implementation of our strategy. 

What lead to the launch of THE ICONIC Considered?

Considered was inspired by a desire to make it easier for people to act. What constitutes as ‘sustainable’ or ‘ethical’ can mean different things to different people and we know that for customers trying to make conscious fashion choices, it can be an incredibly confusing space.

What shifts have you seen in consumer purchase behaviour? How has transparency and sustainability changed how consumers shop?

Widespread interest in transparency and sustainability has definitely expanded. It’s no longer a ‘type’ of consumer who thinks about these issues when shopping, but rather in 2019 conscious consumerism is much more mainstream.  When it comes to the launch of THE ICONIC Considered it is still early days to draw consumer behaviour shifts, however through the launch we seek to anticipate needs that our customers didn’t even know they have, so the changes are really still to come. 

What do brands and retailers need to be doing to ensure they remain relevant and competitive in the years to come?

Consumer interest in issues surrounding sustainability is only growing, and it’s essential that retailers and brands who have not begun addressing these issues to begin their journey. For a retailer or brand that doesn’t know where to start, it’s important to focus on progress not perfection. It’s further important for these initiatives to be driven by authenticity. Not every sustainability program will be the same because each business needs to look inside their own processes and operations to truly understand their unique values and impacts. 

Sustainability is a word that’s thrown around a lot. What does it actually mean? How do you separate the ‘buzz’ from the reality?

For sustainability to be meaningful, the focus needs to be on the impact of our actions and how our choices today can have a ripple effect on future generations. It’s about disrupting business as usual to look for efficiencies and new ways to reduce all components of social and environmental impact. It’s also essential to genuinely recognise and accept that we are complicit with negative impacts, however what exists is a huge opportunity to do better and remediate them. 

Can you name any brands or retailers that are kicking goals when it comes to ethics and sustainability? What are they doing that makes them stand out?

There are so many brands at THE ICONIC that are doing amazing things from a sustainability perspective. It is truly such an exciting space to be in right now. One brand in particular that is doing great things is Nudie Jeans. Nudie has made great headway in revolutionising the lifespan of denim jeans by offering free repairs for the full life of your jeans. Another brand that we have on THE ICONIC that is leading the way is outdoor active label, Patagonia. Products sitting in the Patagonia umbrella have some of the most well-rounded sustainability credentials of brands involved in Considered, with some of their products falling into four categories (Sustainable Materials, Eco-Production, Fair Production and Community Engagement)

What do consumers want? Speed? Pricing? Customer Service? Transparency? How do you balance these (sometimes seemingly conflicting) needs?

They want all of those things! It’s a constant balance to meet and exceed customer expectations but at THE ICONIC we accept that challenge, in fact it’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. 

Are you on track to reach your goals for the 2020 Sustainability & Ethical Sourcing Strategy?

Inevitably when you are implementing an entirely new program in a business as large as ours certain elements are more complicated than first expected, or involve different steps, on the whole though despite a few timing shifts we are looking on track.

What’s next for THE ICONIC?

Our key focuses over the next few months involves ensuring that we deliver the rest of our planned strategy. Specifically, this year it’s about traceability of our own-brand materials, the next iteration of our packaging and further widening the assortment of Considered. We’ll also be writing the next strategy at the back end of this year so watch this space. 

Jaana Quaintance-James will be on the panel for the topic: The Woke Consumer along with Clare Press from Vogue, Gordon Renouf from Good on You and Lucy King from Country Road & David Jones. To see the full agenda for Online Retailer Conference & Expo (to be held 24-25 July at the ICC Sydney) or to buy tickets, click here.

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