Kmart sustainable materials manager Lucy King details how the retailer is progressing on its sustainability mission.
Cotton makes up about 64% of Kmart’s apparel and soft home business.
And in the last financial year, the retailer produced 203 million units of clothing.
So when the retailer hit its goal of 100% responsibly sourced cotton in the last year, the change was one with big impact.
Overseeing these changes at the national retailer, is Lucy King.
King is Kmart’s sustainable materials manager, helping to steer Kmart to using more eco-conscious materials in its products.
King and her team are guided by the business’ Better Together program, which sets out goals across People and Planet categories. Such goals include better material choices, implementing a circular economy for products, waste reduction, respecting human rights, diversity and inclusion and energy and climate strategies.
“Kmart has been working on its sustainability program for a number of years now and when we initially started, it had a really a strong focus on ethical sourcing, energy, diversity and making an impact in our community throughout annual Wishing Tree Appeal,” King says.
“There was this real strong focus on rebuilding the foundations of our sustainability program and a particular focus on ethical sourcing and ensuring that people in our supply chain are treated fairly and with respect.
“Then in 2019 we worked on extending the Better Together sustainability program; so we took all of the foundations that we’d built and essentially extended that and put together a plan, including a number of time-bound commitments.
“That really extended our focus to things like climate impact, circular economy, packaging, waste and materials to really take that next step forward in terms of reducing our impact,” she explains.
Such time bound commitments included the shift to responsibly sourced cotton – which refers to cotton sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative, cotton that’s organic or cotton that’s recycled – as well as other material focused goals including:
- 50% of the polyester and nylon used in the Kmart brand clothing and bedding ranges will be made from recycled material by January 2025
- By July 2023, 100% of wood and cellulose (e.g. viscose, modal, lyocell) material used in the retailer’s own brand products will be:
- Traceable to sources that are low risk of being illegally logged or contributing to deforestation
- Certified to an independent forestry standard, preferably the Forest Stewardship Council
- Made using recycled materials, where viable.
Alongside reaching it’s cotton goal, the business is making progress on its polyester and nylon commitment, having transitioned approximately 3% of polyester and nylon to recycled materials in the last year.
While it has a way to go on this goal, King says the business is still proud of the progress it’s made.
“Within the last couple of years we’ve incorporated and grown our ranges made with recycled materials.
“We’ve now got recycled materials incorporated into selected activewear ranges, footwear, bedding and outerwear.
“This summer we’re introducing swimwear and boardshorts across women’s, men’s and kids which is really exciting.
“In the last year or two we have been making more sustainable product accessible to our customers whilst maintaining the low prices that that we’re famous for,” she says.
Kmart autumn-winter 21 campaign
However, the retailer isn’t just focused solely on materials in its quest to operate better.
King says that another achievement Kmart is proud of in the last year is the elimination of single use plastics from its business.
“So that includes not only plastic shopping bags but it also includes product categories like straws, plastic stem cotton tips, plastic forks, spoons and disposable tablecloths.
“Achieving that and our cotton goal were two big milestones that we celebrated in the last year and we’re really proud that we’ve achieved them quite quickly,” she says.
But as many in the sustainability game know, it is an ever-evolving space, where suppliers continue to innovate to keep up with customers’ changing tastes.
“These are really complex issues and topics that we’re dealing with,” King says.
“And they’re not topics that we can solve overnight.
“If you take an area like living wage, it’s not something that we can simply solve by putting up our prices for customers or just paying more to the suppliers.
“I use that as an example because it shows how we ourselves can’t solve it all ourselves,” King says.
So how does Kmart manage to make progress? Collaboration and clarity.
“When it comes to clarity, one of the first things that we put in place when we set out these commitments were some really clear guidelines for the teams on how to go about sourcing these materials.
“This includes things like what certification standards are we going to align with as a business, to make sure that we can make credible claims to our customers?
“So, we gave them a toolkit to help the team source and verify the products – that’s been a really important step on the journey.
“It’s also about thinking, ‘how do we take a clever approach? What are some of the quick wins and the low hanging fruit that we can transition sooner? Let’s go after those and work towards some of the more difficult ranges.’
“Collaboration and partnerships are such an important part of our Better together sustainability program – there’s an understanding that we can’t do it on our own,” she explains.
And while the work being done by King and the team is hugely significant for Kmart, communicating these efforts to customers is also an important step in the business’ journey.
There’s no point having recycled apparel on the shop floor if customers don’t know about it or why it’s a better choice.
That’s where Kmart’s 231 stores come in.
“Our customers love our store,” King says.
“The stores are at the heart of our experience and they’re the touch point with our customers.
“So we’re really wanting to invest more time in communicating with our team members, as we’re getting more sustainable product onto the store floor and incorporating more sustainable materials.
“It’s about how we get our store team members more access to that information and how do we equip them better in playing a role in sharing those sustainability stories with our customers?
“That’s something that we’re definitely focused on in the year ahead,” she says.
Other areas where Kmart will focus its attention in the year ahead include continuing its mission to transition to better materials, reducing waste and implementing a circular economy and a transition to renewable energy, King explains.
“The big focus will be continuing to transform the way we design and source products – looking not only at how we source materials more responsibly, but the way that our products are produced as well.
“In our transition to a circular economy we will continue to incorporate more recycled materials into our product.
“But it goes beyond that and it’s really, ‘how can we look more holistically at every touchpoint in a product’s lifecycle and reduce waste and pollution through that lifecycle?’
“As part of this we’ve joined a global collaboration called the Circular Fashion Partnership – working with global brands and the garment manufacturing and recycling industries in Bangladesh, to develop scalable solutions for capturing textile waste that’s generated during production and actually putting that back into the production of fashion products.
“We’re also part of the National Clothing Textile Waste roundtable, which brings together Australian retailers, the charity sector and recyclers to look at longer term solutions for the responsible disposal of textiles at the end of life.
“We’ve also recently commenced work on transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2025, which is an incredibly important step forward,” she says.
This piece first appeared in the November-December edition of Ragtrader. Subscribe to the magazine here.