How C&A translates its sustainability story into common language


How do you translate difficult terms like 'circular' and 'cradle to cradle' in a way that is understandable to retail staff and consumers? The way in which fashion retailer C&A meets this challenge can also inspire other retailers.


Sustainable is the new normal

This summer, fashion chain C&A launched a new, ambitious sustainability strategy with a focus on more sustainable sourcing, circular principles and the reduction of single-use plastics. The retailer is taking the lead in the fashion industry and puts a strong emphasis on transparency. "At C&A we always say that sustainability should be the new normal. We want to help our customers make sustainable choices," say Catherine Louies, Head of Transparency and Circular Innovation, and Eva van Elst, Leader Communication Benelux at the fashion retailer.

"We have already made huge strides in that regard: our organic cotton collection, for example, has never had a higher price than the regular collections." But one of the main challenges is still the communication of that sustainability strategy to employees, customers and other stakeholders.


Credibility is essential

One example? "One of our greatest achievements is our Cradle to Cradle Certified: recently we even launched a pair of jeans containing a denim fabric Cradle to Cradle Certified at Platinum Level, so far the only one in the world. But how do you explain to customers that this innovative fabric is currently one of the best? Circularity is a difficult word, Cradle to Cradle is hard to understand... We want to make sustainability easy, so how can we translate these terms in an attractive yet correct way for our customers?"

This is no easy task, especially since C&A wants to avoid any kind of 'greenwashing' at all costs. "Credibility is essential for us: we never communicate anything that is not verified or certified by a third party. We ourselves have very strict rules about when something can be labelled: we won't put a label on it if it doesn't contain at least 70% organic cotton, while you can also find products on the market with a green label that contain only 10% organic cotton."


Three levels

So it takes some creativity: "To explain the term circular, we say that the product is designed to be recycled: people understand that. And instead of 'Cradle to Cradle Platinum Certified' we say 'world's most sustainable denim'. But we do add the certification and then later on we explain in detail what this means exactly."

To keep it simple, C&A communicates on different levels. "A first layer tells customers in a very simple, clear and inspiring way 'this is a good product'. We do that with icons, tags, info that is shown in the webshop and the stores. On a second level, we have created a 'sustainability hub' where we explain in customer friendly language in more detail what this all means exactly. We do this online, for example, with quizzes and with simple graphs that explain what is so good about a product. On a third level, we really go in depth with the sustainability website and our sustainability reports, with the technical specifications."


Rising interest

The role of the employees in this story should not be underestimated: they too need to have a good understanding of what it is all about in order to be able to answer customers' questions correctly and clearly. For example, C&A gives shop employees cards to hang on their lanyards with key phrases as a reminder when customers ask specific questions.

"For some shoppers, it's enough if the label says 'organic', but there are also discerning customers who are not satisfied with this. The customer service department sees a real increase in the number of questions about sustainability. It is not a hype, people are asking for clarity. We also see a huge increase in interest among students: there are a growing number of theses on this topic. Our HR department notices that the interest of applicants is aroused because we are so active in the field of sustainability. Young people attach importance to that."


Ambitious path

How is C&A taking further steps towards circular fashion, and what hurdles does the retailer have to overcome on this ambitious path? Catherine Louies and Eva van Elst will tell you more at the RetailDetail Day, which takes place on Thursday 16 September at the RetailDetail event location in Shopping Stadsfeestzaal, Antwerp.

The marketing congress for the retail sector also welcomes speakers from Colruyt Group, Zeeman, Mars Food, Oats Day Long, Foodmaker and Dobbi, among others. A programme not to be missed! It will be a hybrid event: 200 tickets are available for participants who want to experience the congress on the spot. Others can follow the live stream from a distance. More info and tickets can be found via this link.