Friday, June 21, 2024


Democratising Sustainable Fashion

Everything at C&A starts with purpose as they aim to inspire people every day to look, feel and do good. They are creating a people-centric culture and purpose-led organisation where everyone is empowered, valued and appreciated for who they are. In this interview, RLI speaks with CEO Giny Boer about the history of the business, how it has altered over its more than 180 years in existence and what the future holds.

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Incorporated back in 1841, the origins of C&A in textiles run much deeper and its relationship with clothing dates back as far as the 1600s. Still family owned after six generations, C&A continues to adapt and innovate, just as it did when brothers Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer set out to make their name 182 years ago. The pioneering spirit that drove the company’s founders in the 19th Century is still helping to transform the fashion industry to not only do less bad, but more good.

Today the company operates from almost 1,300 stores across the 17 European countries of Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland. In the past 18 months, the business has been modernising its store fleet all across Europe and now more than 1,180 stores have been upgraded to offer a more modern look and feel for customers.

“Even with the increasing importance of e-commerce, we continue to invest in our stores to optimise our customers’ shopping experience. In this way, we are building our “One C&A Growth Plan”, that puts our customers at the centre of everything we do to better meet their needs,” explains C&A CEO Giny Boer.

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Bahnhofstrasse, Zürich, Switzerland

“In addition, we constantly evaluate our store portfolio to ensure we deliver what our customers want, where they want it. Customer needs, market conditions and the health of the local retail sector are important considerations in this respect, allowing us to evolve with the market.”

As a consumer-obsessed brand, they want to be where their customers are to ensure their needs are met. They have developed partnerships with marketplaces such as Amazon and Zalando and they have a pilot project in France of shop-in-shop units. They continuously evaluate opportunities for development and they have expansion plans across their European territories, particularly in countries such as Poland, Romania and Italy.

“Part of our transformational journey is to move away from the traditional product-led strategy. We are committed to adopting a pull structure that focuses on being truly customer-centric. In order to achieve this, we have started a comprehensive digital transformation to gather essential market insights, enabling better service delivery and deeper understanding of customer styles, preferences and demand patterns,” says Boer.

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This and below are of Leidschendam, Netherlands

Proof of this was in the recent launch of its European membership program, ‘C&A for you’ back in August. The program was designed to enhance the shopping experience and bring an extra spark to customers’ fashion journey. As a member, shoppers will gain access to exclusive offers, benefits, rewards and discounts, as well as a wealth of fashion inspiration, making their C&A shopping trips even more enjoyable. After a successful pilot program in the Netherlands, ‘C&A for you’ is now being rolled out across multiple European countries, including Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, Spain and Switzerland.

Utilising the pivotal role that social media plays in today’s retail world; C&A is constantly adapting the way they communicate with their clients. They are active on several digital channels, such as Instagram, TikTok and Facebook. They value the direct exchange with their clients that social media allows, as it offers the opportunity to receive feedback on how to continue to improve.

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As the topic of conversation moves onto sustainability, Boer explains that the business model of fashion retail is fundamentally developing and that there is a need to take their customers along. “Their demands have changed – the calls are coming from the streets – consumers are interested in more sustainable and circular fashion and fast fashion is no longer acceptable to a large part of society. Sustainability has been in the DNA of C&A for many years already and it is a topic that is very close to my heart.”

To this day, C&A is one of the world’s largest buyers of organic cotton and they are also identifying new approaches, their current Global Sustainability Strategy 2028 is based on many years of work in the area of sustainability.

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“Among other things, our Strategy 2028 aims to source 100 per cent of core materials more sustainably, ensure a longer service life by combining innovation and the circular economy by seven out of ten products and replace 50 per cent of single-use plastics in stores, online and in the supply chain with sustainable alternatives,” Boer highlights.

The company has a very clear purpose that guides them in everything they do; they inspire customers, co-workers and all of their partners and stakeholders to look, fool and do good every day. Boer explains that this is something that every member of the C&A team lives by every day and that it is embedded into their strategy and daily lives.

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While the growth plan for the business offers many opportunities for them to establish the brand even more as a stylish, affordable option for all, they know the political and economic context of the world has been and most likely will continue to be, challenging and they remain confident they are building a company that is stronger than ever to overcome those challenges.

“The Leadership Team and their own teams are prepared and ready to switch into the next gear and bring our transformation plans to fruition, it is an exciting time to be part of the C&A team and I am excited for what the future holds,” concludes Boer.