‘BE GREEN IN ANY COLOR YOU LIKE’
Rebekka Sommerhalder, founder and owner of glore stores in Luzern and Zurich, Switzerland, shares her thoughts on the role of retailers in bringing sustainable fashion to the market.
At Good Brand Guru, we believe that retailers are key to driving the fashion industry to become more social and sustainable. Retailers can, on the one hand, support brands that are focused on making products fairly and using environmentally cleaner practices, and on the other hand, they can raise awareness about materials, products and brands among consumers.
We asked Rebekka a few questions to gather her insights and opinions.
After your store in Luzern, you just opened your second glore store in Zurich, Switzerland. As a retailer focused on sustainable fashion, how do you see your role in today’s market?
We are convinced that glore can play a key role in raising awareness among consumers and that we can help to increase the sustainable fashion offering in the market. In our store, we make sustainable fashion brands and products visible and approachable; we show their attractiveness and versatility. Additionally, we relieve our customers from the burden of researching brands and products by carefully curating the products we select to sell. This ensures both an enjoyable shopping experience as well as the opportunity for consumers to learn (if they so desire).
As a multi-brand retailer, which brands do you select for your new store? Are they mostly brands founded on doing good, or do you also include brands that have (recently) started incorporating social and sustainability practices? Are these brands also offered in the other glore Stores in Switzerland/Germany?
We focus primarily on brands where sustainable production and management have been part of the DNA since the very beginning. But that is not a prerequisite to figure in the store, and we check each brand individually. It is important for us that we observe an honest pursuit of future-oriented solutions and that our minimum standards are met. We currently sell the same brands in our stores in Zurich and Lucerne, which function under the same GmbH structure, and this allows us to optimize our warehouse management. However, the offering might differ partly from the range offered in stores in Germany.
What is sustainability to glore? Which criteria do you apply to the brands and products that you select?
We have a long list of minimum requirements that brands must fulfill. It contains criteria around ecological and social sustainability and is subject to constant change. So much is happening in the field of research and innovation at the moment that a fixed list is of little use. Our aim is to always be at the forefront and to know about the latest findings. When assessing the brands, a lot happens through personal discussions. It is particularly important for us to know the intentions and attitudes of the decision-makers and to strive for a good, long-term relationship with our partners. We seek to make sure that environmentally sustainable and socially responsible actions are at the core of the company and not a marketing strategy to reach a certain target group.
The brands can distinguish themselves, on the one hand, through certifications (for example products with a GOTS certification, or companies that are member of the Fair Wear Foundation) – but equally important to us is that they show the greatest possible transparency. For this we regularly ask challenging questions and seek direct exchange.
In your opinion, how can a multi-brand fashion retailer best differentiate itself in the competitive market for fashion? With more and more retailers claiming a more sustainable approach, what is glore’s unique signature?
Our customers highly value our quality standards and deep specialist knowledge. We know what we are doing and why, and we can communicate it to our customers. Moreover, we ensure that the shopping experience is special and unforgettable. The advice at glore is warm, honest and comprehensive; the visit is pleasant, inspiring and beneficial. We convince with a diverse but very careful selection, and with the personable people behind the counter.
In recent years, we have seen a strong rise of businesses fitting into the circular economy, such as rental, sharing and second-hand offerings. From a sustainability perspective, this is a great development. What does the circular economy mean for your business? Threat or opportunity?
As an entrepreneur, you should try to see every trend as an opportunity. We have picked up on the growing interest in sharing and second hand. A year ago, we set up a ‘second love’ corner in our store in Luzern, which quickly became well established. Here customers can resell their fair fashion items they no longer want or need. We will launch the offer in Zurich soon too. We do not currently offer a rental service, but we occasionally work together with Kleihd. It is not out of the question that we will integrate this idea into our business model in the future.
In terms of circularity, it is also striking that more and more brands are working with recycled fibers. A development that we naturally welcome!
Have you seen a shift in the audience that you attract to your stores?
Slowly but surely, sustainable fashion is shaking off its dusty image. More and more fashion-conscious, open-minded and fun-oriented people are discovering our offer. Two factors have contributed significantly to this. Firstly, that the harmful practises in the industry are increasingly coming to the surface and are being discussed publicly. Secondly, that young, design-savvy brands are generating an attractive offer. And then, of course, stores like ours, which bring a carefully selected selection to those interested.
The past few months, have been difficult for the fashion industry. Before the coronavirus hit, you weren’t selling online yet. Then when the lockdowns hit, you managed to launch an e-store at an incredible speed. Did your new e-commerce platform help you to remain visible and in-touch with your customers? And did it help you reach new customers?
When the lockdown was implemented, our hands were tied overnight. We had to recover from the shock. But it quickly became clear that we didn’t want to remain idle. The logical consequence was to set up a webshop – we wanted to be able to, at least partially, show our selection to an interested audience. It was important for us to remain visible and keep in touch with customers. And we felt a lot of solidarity and loyalty!
Interestingly, the webshop also brought us customers from other areas who would not be able to visit one of the shops in Lucerne or Zurich on a regular basis. Through the webshop, we now offer products that would otherwise not be accessible to certain people. We are not yet sure how far we want to further push e-commerce in the future; or to what extent the webshop should grow and function in parallel to our main stores. We will have to evaluate based on our first experiences. If we do pursue this channel further, we will definitely want to implement ideas that underline our philosophy. We are currently working on a project with a group of students and we are very excited to see what will come of it.
The pandemic seem to have changed consumer attitude to shopping, both in terms of the way they shop as in the fashion products they chose to buy. How has the corona-virus impacted your business and what are the expectations you have towards the future?
We got a lot of positive feedback from our customers. As people came into the store again, several have already told us ‘This is the only shop that I really missed!‘. And by that, they don’t only mean the products in the store, but the whole experience. People are even more aware of the value of personal exchange, honest advice, a pleasant atmosphere and a well-curated selection. Now it is key to maintain this awareness and to seize the opportunity. It is up to us to prove that our approach, our philosophy and our offering are not random, but unique and forward-looking. Even if the lockdown was an economic disaster for us in the short term, it could turn out to be a great opportunity in the long term. To capture this opportunity, we have to act wisely now.
About Rebekka: Business economist from Luzern, Switzerland. Since March 2015 owner and managing director of glore in Switzerland. A few years before opening glore, Rebekka realised that her consumption patterns didn’t match her beliefs and values at all. While she could change her consumption behaviour in certain areas, there was no exciting offer in the fashion area. This awoke the entrepreneur in her “If no one else does it, then I will”.