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Adapt and survive

With the textiles recycling sector experiencing tough times, Salvation Army Trading Company national recycling co-ordinator Paul Ozanne explains what steps it has taken to ensure it is future-fit

As Salvation Army Trading Company (Satcol) has been collecting clothing and unwanted textiles for 22 years, we have been around long enough to experience the many highs and lows of the textile recycling industry; each time adapting our business and collection scheme to ensure continuous service for our clients through good times and bad.

At the moment, with prices for used textiles remaining reasonably high the industry is experiencing a situation where scores of new collectors enter the market with little or no long-term experience of the industry. They project prices per tonne based on continued high prices, which can cause overheating followed by market correction, during which prices return to more stable levels and profit margins no longer look as healthy.

Our business is based on consistency of service, whatever the market conditions, and we’ve been working hard to continually adapt our model; not only to survive but to prosper. We’re enjoying one of the most successful periods in our company’s history, with well in excess of 30,000 tonnes of used clothing collected each year and £19.8 million gift-aided to The Salvation Army between 2009 and 2012 alone. But we’re not resting on our laurels. Instead, we’re tackling the current challenges facing our industry head-on, to ensure we’re in the best possible position to continue collecting for our customers for the next two decades and well beyond.

Security

The problem of theft from and vandalism of clothing banks is an industry-wide problem we’re working hard to conquer, with much success. We recently became the first clothing collector in the UK to use specialist security company CrimeDeter, which provides Satcol with intelligence-led security solutions to track goods from our banks and bags using specialist equipment. Stolen goods are tracked to locations across the UK, at which point CrimeDeter works closely with the police to catch those responsible, recover the items and carry out a thorough investigation, expectantly leading to conviction. 

With the aim of deterring criminals, CrimeDeter is also running awareness campaigns, both internally for Satcol staff and via external bodies including the police and Trading Standards, to ensure thieves are aware that the goods may be tracked. It is also carrying out audits depicting the movement of clothing from specific banks through the supply chain to its final destination. This new partnership is just one security step we’re taking. New chutes have also been installed on our clothing collection banks across the country, making access to the banks’ contents almost impossible.

Given that we have a network of over 5,500 banks, theft is thankfully still a relatively small problem for us. But it is important for us to be able to reassure our partners and the public that donations put into our banks are secure. Since working with CrimeDeter we have secured convictions and have seen a noticeable drop in the number of thefts reported.

Public confidence

Another challenge facing our industry is public confidence in the face of the number of bogus charity collectors operating – especially door-to-door collectors. We’re proud to be holders of the Fundraising Standards Board’s (FRSB) ‘Give With Confidence’ tick logo, which is an instant stamp of approval to members of the public, reassuring them that the charity is genuine and considered a legitimate concern by the FRSB.

It’s great to this endorsement but we also work hard to create that public confidence ourselves. Our banks, bags and collection vans are heavily branded with the familiar red and white shield of The Salvation Army and we offer a dedicated public helpline for people who have queries about our service. Our website, www.wear2bank.co.uk also has a wealth of information about Satcol, what we do, where the donations end up and how profit raised is gift-aided to The Salvation Army; all designed to be transparent and informative to members of the public seeking confidence about who to donate to.

Competition for contracts

There is no doubt that competition for contracts with local authorities is at an all-time high, with high prices leading to commercial operators offering prices per tonne that charity operators cannot match without seriously reducing the amount given to good causes. Although Satcol continues to work with well over 200 local authorities throughout the UK and Republic of Ireland, we also continue to grow our corporate partnerships to benefit The Salvation Army and other charities, and are always looking for new sites on which to locate our banks.

The future of sustainable fashion

As well as looking at ways to improve our performance and that of the textile recycling industry, we’re committed to helping address the challenges that come with today’s fast fashion culture. We are one of the inaugural signatories to WRAP’s Sustainable Clothing Action Plan (SCAP) 2020 footprint calculator, which requires participating organisations to provide data on the clothes they make, sell and recover. This data is fed into a footprint calculator by WRAP to help identify targets for reducing the company’s carbon, waste and water footprints of clothing by 2020.

This year, we have also been working closely with London College of Fashion, highlighting sustainability issues in fashion production as part of a scheme to encourage tomorrow’s designers to make sustainability of clothing production a central concern.  Having been supplied with 500 kg of used clothing by Satcol, students on the College’s MDes International Fashion Production Management and BA Hons Fashion Design and Development courses were tasked with upcycling the garments into catwalk-worthy pieces, paying particular attention to sustainable production methods. As part of their learning, students were also given the chance to visit our processing station in Northamptonshire to fully understand the undertaking involved in processing the donations collected from thousands of clothing banks and door-to-door bags.

At the end of last term I visited the College to meet the students and chose 14 winning designs, which will be modelled at the RWM catwalk, which Satcol co-sponsors.

These are just two examples of how we’re getting involved in the wider clothing industry, helping to bring environmental concerns to the fore and ultimately raise the profile of textile reuse and recycling - which is fundamentally important to help achieve our aims and keep our business sustainable for decades to come. 

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