The fashion industry is a major culprit in the climate crisis, but ACS Clothing aims to prioritize the environment while offering fashionable threads across the United Kingdom.
ACS Clothing first opened its doors in 1997 in the east end of Glasgow. Now in its 25th year, the company makes formal and Highland fashion more financially accessible and sustainable through rental and renewal fulfillment services.
“Due to the nature of rental clothing, our business model has always been inherently sustainable,” explains Anthony Burns, the company’s chief operating officer.
“However, as sustainability became more widely spoken about over the last few years, we realized that ACS was in a position to enable large brands and retailers to introduce a circular fashion offering into their business model.” This gave Burns and his coworkers the push they needed to partner with other clothing companies. In addition to its bespoke rental services, the firm also offers textile care and repair, eco-cleaning, order management and more.
According to Burns, ACS is now established “as circular fashion fulfilment specialists and have been pioneering sustainable and scalable change within the fashion industry.”
He notes that the company now services about 80 percent of the U.K.’s formal rental market. “We offer a turnkey fulfilment solution that enables brands and retailers to introduce circular fashion alongside their current e-commerce model. We take care of everything behind the scenes for our rental and resale fashion partners.
“For years we were entirely behind the scenes. We built connections and relied on reaching out to potential brands and word-of-mouth. However, in recent years we have invested time and resources into digital marketing and building our brand, so we now have potential brand partners reaching out to us.”
Although lockdowns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have been challenging for ACS Clothing, operating as a circular business has its perks. Burns stresses that the company values “purpose over profit,” but in fact, their business model often results in cost savings.
“People and other organizations often assume that to be sustainable is going to cost money and reduce profits. However, we have saved a lot of money by changing our processes.” LED lights throughout their facility, for instance, reduce energy usage and keep energy costs down as a result. In addition, the facility has e-vehicle car charging points, as well as a compost area outside to reduce food waste.
They have even recycled the by-products from their cleaning processes into building bricks. Currently a “carbon neutral” business, ACS aims to reach net zero emissions by 2023.
“At the end of the day, the less you consume, the lower the cost.”
Burns also notes that the company provides opportunities for companies and individuals alike.
“We offer our brand partners minimal risk options that will encourage the introduction of more circular fashion models. We minimize the barriers to entry and work with them towards growth and success. We work with community partners to employ people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and we provide training and development opportunities that encourage our team to learn on the job whilst gaining qualifications.”
This has led to high rates of worker retention, which benefits ACS as well as its employees.
In general, Burns feels there isn’t enough being done to promote an environmentally friendly economy. At the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, countries pledged to reach climate goals by 2050. However, he sees this action as “too distant and too late.” While he is hopeful about Scottish legislation around extended producer responsibility and the Circular Economy Bill, it is still not enough to turn the climate crisis around.
“For now, people and brands need to take action. However, the shift towards a circular, or environmentally friendly economy will be driven by future generations. Education will be the key to real, long-term change.”
Although Burns is mum on the details, he notes that ACS has exciting opportunities in the pipeline for 2022. In the meantime, the company will continue to work to counteract the environmental damage from the fashion industry.
“Our purpose extends far beyond our bottom line and there are many other rewards that comes with that. In an industry that is regularly coined as one of the highest polluters in the world, the shift towards circularity is vital if we are to experience positive industry-wide change. Knowing that we are a business-for-good is a reward in itself.”