Innovations That Matter

Top 7 Purpose-Driven Retail Innovations

Innovation Snapshot

There is no shortage of inspiring ideas coming from startups and other purpose-driven innovators that could be adapted at a wider scale

Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the retail industry was having to rapidly and efficiently adapt to new consumer demands —one of which being focused on morality and purpose. As a result, many companies now must take this into serious consideration, incorporating environmental and ethical concerns into their business models.

The good news for established brands still lagging behind is that there is no shortage of inspiring ideas coming from startups and other purpose-driven innovators that could be adapted at a wider scale. Here, we gathered seven of our top retail innovations driven by purpose.

Photo source: unhoused.org

1. A SELF-CLEANING HOODIE DEVELOPED FOR THE HOMELESS

Social impact startup, Unhoused, uses innovative tech solutions and transparency to help the homeless. For every item bought, another is donated to someone without a home. Now, the charity has developed a self-cleaning hoodie that uses nanotechnology to repel liquids, sweat and stains. 

The company’s co-founder, Varun Bhanot, came up with the idea for the stain-repellent clothing after noticing the dirty and unwashed clothing worn by rough sleepers who aren’t able to reach washing machines. He began looking for a sustainable solution that would allow those who do not always have access to such washing facilities to stay clean for longer periods. Bhanot and partner, Anisha Seth, developed their own proprietary Freshtech™ nanotechnology, which is applied to fabrics. Water and liquid bounces off the surface, or beads off without adhering or soaking through. This keeps the fabric dry, clean and odour-free.

Read more about Unhoused.

Photo source: Justin Sablich/Springwise

2. SKATEBOARDS THAT ENGAGE ARTISTS AND CONSUMERS IN SOCIAL PROJECTS

A not-for-profit B Corp in Brussels has curated an artistic space dedicated to inspiring a new, socially-driven business model. The premise of The Skateroom is based on a collaboration between acclaimed artists and art foundations, and skateboards, which drive the “Art for Social Impact” premise. Artists display their work on skateboards around the exhibition area, an idea based on the company’s statement that a skateboard is “affordable, mobile, and useable”, “a symbol for freedom” with “the power to break social barriers”. 

Charles-Antoine Bodson, founder and CEO of The Skateroom, was inspired by the opening of a Skate Park in Cambodia, where he saw a disadvantaged community inspired by the hope the Skate School represented. As a skateboarder himself, he wanted to come up with a business model based on creativity that would allow him to donate a part of the company’s profits to such social projects, support communities and minimise environmental impact, whilst remaining profitable.  

Read more about The Skateroom.

Photo source: intimately.co

3. RETAILER CREATES INCLUSIVE LINGERIE FOR DISABLED WOMEN

US-based online retailer, Intimately, seeks to diversify the intimates industry by creating undergarments specially designed for disabled women and adapted for special needs. While some adapted underwear is available for the disabled, it is “ugly and archaic”, according to the company website. Intimately’s line uses comfortable fabrics and pleasing colours, giving women more options. 

Intimately targets shoppers who find conventional fits, straps and designs of modern lingerie unwieldy or impossible to put on.  Products are adapted to meet people’s needs; for instance, there are magnetic snaps and bras that latch in the front, making it easier to get dressed. 

Read more about Intimately.

Photo source: refuseclub.com

4. CLOTHING STORE USING FASHION TO PROMOTE SOCIAL JUSTICE

Inspired by the works of Salon des Refusés by Édouard Manet and Gustave Courbet, New York-based designers Yuner Shao and “Stef” Puzhen Zhou are using their brand — The Refuse Club — to create awareness of censorship and the #MeToo movement in their home country of China. 

Recent designs included screen-printed messages such as “404 not found,” alluding to Chinese censorship of Internet searches related to social issues like #MeToo. The brand’s promotion strategy is focused heavily on using social media to target influencers and stimulate discussion. They have set up a WeChat account to discuss issues like sexual harassment and censorship in the country. Shao and Zhou are also promoting the usage of Kwai, an emerging social media video platform popular with those living in rural areas of China.

Read more about The Refuse Club

Photo source: Choose Love / Help Refugees

5. WORLD’S FIRST STORE SELLING ‘REAL’ PRODUCTS FOR REFUGEES

What started out as a hashtag in 2015, #helprefugees, has now reached over one million displaced people, worked with 35,000 volunteers and currently supports over 120 projects across Europe, the Middle East and the US-Mexico border. One of the projects inspired by the campaign is the Choose Love store, where customers can buy real gifts for refugees.

Choose Love is the first of its kind, selling products, services or “bundles” for refugees across the globe. The store contains practical items like tents, nappies and sleeping bags, which the customer picks. Following this, a similar item is bought by the shop, for someone across the world who needs it. In addition to London, stores have appeared in New York and Los Angeles, serving roughly 45,000 customers since 2017.

Read more about Choose Love

Photo source: Patagonia

6. PATAGONIA LAUNCHES A POP-UP CAFÉ OFFERING ACTIVIST TRAINING COURSES

Outdoor clothing company Patagonia has opened a pop-up café in central London, offering visitors the opportunity to “learn how to make a positive difference”. The pop-up — the Action Works Café — coincides with the European launch of the online Patagonia Action Works platform, which features 1% for the Planet grantees, including Extinction Rebellion, Save Our Rivers, Friends of the Earth, 10:10, Irish Seed Savers, Surfers Against Sewage and Rewilding Britain.

The café also includes a collection of books written by thought leaders for public lend, in addition to a library of “Action Postcards”. The postcards will feature 24 actions that individuals can engage in depending on how much time they have. Activities range from signing a petition to save the Right Whale to filing a Climate Litigation case against the government or volunteering skills to NGOs. 

Read more about Action Works Café

Photo source: Colin Behrens on Pixabay

7. JEWELLER IN PLACE VENDÔME USING PURELY LAB-GROWN DIAMONDS

The Place Vendôme, a prestigious square in Paris, is now host to the first jeweller to use only lab-grown diamonds (LGDs). Courbet was founded last May by Manuel Mallen – a Richemont veteran who has also worked at Piaget and Marie-Ann Wachtmeister, a Swedish designer-entrepreneur. 

Fast-diamonds are becoming increasingly popular in the wave of “conscious luxury” and are radically disrupting the traditional diamond industry. Younger generations of jewellery buyers want the significance of the diamonds to reflect their personal and moral values. Courbet aims to make LGDs even more appealing by elevating its quality and design. Their stones are certified (unlike its major counterplayers), the designs are modern, minimalist and sleek, and they are set in recycled gold. In addition, Courbet’s stones are sourced from laboratories in France and Russia, which maintain tighter regulations than in most Asian countries.

Read more about the lab-grown diamonds.