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Client story

ReShare, part of The Salvation Army, makes fashion retail more sustainable with AI

Client: ReShare (Salvation Army Netherlands)
Region: The Netherlands
Industry: Retail

Client Challenge: ReShare wanted to further improve its ability to reduce fashion waste by identifying used clothing that could be resold while making the process simpler

Solution: Working with Capgemini, ReShare introduced artificial intelligence to enable less experienced employees to more easily process clothing and provide customers with affordable and high-quality used clothes

– Simplified clothing processing
– Standardized quality and pricing
– Faster product review
– Reduced waste of resalable clothing

Identifying an opportunity for a circular economy

Today, modern businesses face the reality that they must embrace sustainable practices as the world confronts the ever-growing threat of climate change. Doing so can present a number of challenges specific to each organization’s situation and industry initially; however, progress can be made by starting small and even lead to more effective business practices in the long run.

When it came to ReShare, the Salvation Army’s textile collector and the leading organization of its kind in the world, there was an opportunity to improve the way it processed, identified, and priced used clothing to determine what could be resold. ReShare hoped to substantially reduce the amount of waste resulting from clothing that was simply thrown away while continuing to provide high-quality and affordable apparel to customers. The manual effort associated with this procedure required expertise and time, which limited the type of employees that could be recruited to perform the review and threatened to hamper processing efficiency.

“It’s tricky to confirm that clothing is high-quality enough to be viable for re-sale and then to figure out a fair price,” says Leon te Riele, Floor Manager at ReShare. “Our employees have to know exactly what to look for, which takes time and knowledge and can still result in human error.”

AI offers the key to sustainable practices

ReShare could have addressed this challenge by adjusting the policies that guided the existing manual processes. Instead, the organization turned to digital technology and, more specifically, artificial intelligence (AI) to provide a solution. ReShare made the additional decision to work with Capgemini’s Applied Innovation Exchange (AIE) Lille to deploy thethe Circle solution to better process second-hand clothing.

During an ideation session, which was held remotely to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the partners compared the existing Circle solution with the specific challenges it would need to address. This enabled a proof-of-concept solution design previously developed by AIE Lille to be applied to Reshare and fulfill the organization’s sustainability interests.

“The Circle solution makes it possible to scan items of clothing and take pictures of them,” explains Evelien Hak, Business Analyst at Capgemini. “This can be used to determine the quality of the clothing and what its price will be.”

With this solution, ReShare employees can now simply take a picture of an item of clothing. The Intel RealSense-based solution and AI then create a product page based on those images and determine the quality of the clothing as well as the seasonal time of year in which the apparel would be most appropriate. Finally, the solution takes all of these attributes into account and recommends a fair price. In this way, the entire process can be launched with only pictures and no longer requires an extensive degree of expertise related to the brand or the style of clothing.

“Giving clothing a quality and a price is normally done by the floor manager because they have the most knowledge about brands and quality,” adds te Riele. “But now, because it’s done by Circle, we can also have employees or volunteers with less experience carry out these tasks.”

By not only speeding up the process of product review but also ensuring that every item is examined with an equal level of expertise, ReShare ensures that it can maximize the amount of clothing that is re-used and reaches the store rather than simply thrown away to become waste. Additionally, the decreased requirement for brand- and product-specific expertise makes it easier for ReShare to support its stated goal of providing employment to those who might otherwise have difficulty finding work, such as those with disabilities who no longer needed store manager support in order to review used clothing.

Now, ReShare can prepare for a future of substantial sustainability benefits as a result of the project. Hak explains, “Every year, 35 billion kilograms of clothes are thrown away worldwide, of which 40% have never been worn before. If these re-usable clothes were used again, it could possibly save 139 million tons in CO2 emissions.”

The future of sustainable fashion retail

And this won’t be the ending of the organization’s efforts to support its sustainability initiative. Already, both ReShare and Capgemini believe that the Circle solution can be applied to more stores and even large sorting centers, where most of the clothing arrives. In addition, machine learning will ensure that the Intel AI continues to improve in its ability to correctly sort and price clothing for re-sale.

The reality of sustainability-focused projects is that change can oftentimes be challenging and even painful. However, this doesn’t change the fact that, in the long run, the transformation is both ethically worth doing and beneficial. And if organizations take a strategic approach to pursuing sustainable practices, the long-term benefits can far outweigh the short-term expenses and challenges.

In this case, ReShare did not simply pursue any and all sustainability initiatives for the sake of taking action. Instead, the organization identified an opportunity based on a clear understanding of what happens when an owner no longer wants or needs a product. By implementing the Circle solution, ReShare was able to settle on a solution that addressed its unique prospects and delivered targeted benefits that simultaneously made the organization more sustainable and supported its business objectives.

Change to achieve a more sustainable world cannot stop here, and an organization like ReShare cannot carry the burden alone. To create a truly circular economy, every business involved in fashion retail must become committed to ensuring that products are both designed and sold with consideration given to what happens when the original owner no longer needs them. Fortunately, this has already begun.

“Large companies are all moving towards collecting old clothing,” explains Martin van Vugt, Global Point of Sale Lead at Capgemini. “The Circle solution is perfect for simplifying and improving that process, but we’re also looking to the future to see how we can help make clothing in a more sustainable way.”

For more information on how to apply the Circle Solution to make your business processes more sustainable please reach out to:

Martin van Vugt

Engagement Director / Global Point-of-Sale Lead

Moniek van der Liende

Senior Consultant Sustainable Business & Innovation in Retail