The Faces Behind the Circular Fashion Partnership: Lynne Walker

By Constance Beswick

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As Director of Primark Cares, Lynne Walker is responsible for transforming Primark Cares from a label to a value, leading a dedicated team and working closely with multiple others across the business to accelerate Primark’s decade-long sustainability journey.

Walker has held several senior positions at Primark and prior to her current role was Menswear Trading Director for seven years. Before joining Primark, Walker was with Next Retail for 16 years.

We recently onboarded Primark as a brand to our Circular Fashion Partnership, we asked Lynne Walker, Director of Primark Cares, five questions to find out more:

What inspired you to make a difference in the apparel industry?

“Primark has always been about making great fashion affordable for everyone. We’re proud of this and of how much we have grown. But we know our low prices can’t come at a high cost to the planet. Our challenge with this is that making more sustainable choices typically means higher price tags; we are determined to overcome this and make those choices available at a price that is still affordable for everyone.

Because of our size, we can have a big impact with every change we make – whether it’s committing that 100% of our cotton will be sustainably sourced, organic or recycled, working with our suppliers to halve carbon emissions, or working to pursue a living wage for the people who make our clothes. We’ve been quietly working to become a more sustainable and ethical business for the past 10 years. Today one in four of all the clothes we sell now come from our Primark Cares range of products made from recycled or sustainably sourced materials.

For the last 18 months a team across Primark has been working on developing a set of far-reaching commitments which mark a significant acceleration in the pace and scale of change, requiring us to think differently about how we do business, right from how our clothes are designed and manufactured, through to how we sell them in stores. Our ambition is to offer customers the affordable prices they know and love us for, but with products that are made in a way that is better for the planet and the people who make them.”

Can you tell us more about how Primark has helped to drive sustainability in the apparel industry?

“We have been working towards becoming a more sustainable and ethical business for more than a decade and have already come a long way: our sustainable cotton programme, established in 2013 is the biggest of its kind in the fashion industry and 25% of all our clothes sold today come under our Primark Cares label of clothes made from recycled or more sustainably sourced materials.

The use of more sustainable materials is one way to reduce our scope 3 emissions, which is why our Sustainable Cotton Programme is so important. Since beginning it in 2013, we have worked with agricultural experts and local implementing partners to train farmers in more sustainable farming methods, using less water and less chemicals, whilst improving the crop yield and profits for farmers.

The programme is now established in India, Pakistan and has trained over 140,000 farmers to date in more sustainable farming practices, with 20,000 more planned by the end of next year. We introduced the first more sustainably sourced cotton from the programme into our products in 2017, starting with women’s pyjamas, and have since expanded to include t-shirts, denim, towels, bedding and babywear. In 2020 our products made with more sustainable cotton increased to over 60 million items.

Additionally, our work to become a more sustainable business also includes working through third party initiatives such as the United Nations’ Fashion Charter, which we joined in 2020, and Textiles 2030, the WRAP initiative to accelerate the fashion and textile industry’s move towards circularity and system change in the UK, which we joined in 2021. Primark continues to expand its Primark Cares label – clothing and other products which are made using more sustainable materials or manufacturing methods which now account for more than a quarter of all clothing sales.

We have a global team of over 130 experts in ethical trade and environmental sustainability, based in our key sourcing countries and working directly with our supply chain, internal colleagues and industry experts, to drive better social and more sustainable practices.”

What do you believe are the most critical challenges that we need to overcome to implement a circular fashion system?

“There is commitment from the industry to increase the use of recycled content in our materials. To achieve this, we need to work together to enable the infrastructure to sort and recycle textile waste. There has been significant development in textile recycling technologies in the last few years to recycle blended fibre fabrics, which we need to support to bring these to scale. That is an important part of the picture when it comes to circularity.

Committing to circularity will also demand big changes to the way we design and make our clothes. We will need to use materials that are recycled or more sustainably sourced. Circular design will also mean stopping some of our current design practices and starting some new ones: jeans might now be designed with removable buttons, for example or metal rivets could be replaced with stitches.

At Primark, this means our clothes will comply with our new enhanced Durability Standard. We must stop providing hangers to customers automatically because they may end up in bins and landfill. And we will stop using fossil fuels in our own operations and use only renewable energy. None of these are easy changes but they are the right ones.”

How do you think the Circular Fashion Partnership can make an impact in Bangladesh?

“In our industry, we know we cannot tackle social and environmental issues in isolation to bring about industry-wide sustainable change and to create a circular system will require collaboration with partners across the industry like the Global Fashion Agenda and Reverse Resources, who are critical in creating systemic change that is needed to truly create change and impact. Our manufacturers in Bangladesh will learn how to segregate their textile waste and get the most value from that waste before connecting with recyclers who can turn that waste into new textiles.”

What does an ideal future for circular fashion look like to you?

“In the future there will be no such thing as waste. ‘Waste’ will be classified as a valuable resource.”

 

Read more about the Circular Fashion Partnership HERE.

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