Decathlon tests localised sourcing for its Forclaz brand
Observers of the sportswear and retail distribution sectors are accustomed to sporting goods retailer Decathlon’s lateral thinking. The French giant, a major player in the design and commercialisation of sport apparel and equipment, is an expert in researching and developing new concepts and products, from the perspective of making sporting practice both affordable and fun for as many people as possible. But this knack for germinating and then testing ideas can sometimes lead to unexpected developments.
Decathlon is currently probing how to reduce its supply chain’s CO2 footprint. A project driven by Decathlon’s trekking brand Forclaz, based in Sallanches in the French Alps, with the launch of the Minimal Editions capsule collections. “An ambitious concept embodied in and illustrated by two exploratory projects that have been launched simultaneously: Minimal Editions-Undyed and Minimal Editions-Local,” Decathlon stated in a presentation, adding that “the projects focus on different product types (bivouac equipment and outdoor apparel) and themes (product dyeing and life-cycle management), but share the same objective: to reduce the [products’] environmental impact.” Work on the projects began over two years ago, and the first collection, featuring undyed products, was commercialised before the summer. It includes a sleeping bag, a tent and a mattress, all made in undyed recycled polyamide.
Following this, in the autumn, Forclaz has dropped a Minimal Editions trekking apparel collection, adopting a new localised sourcing approach that is unprecedented for Forclaz and the Decathlon group. Eco-design is a key feature of the Minimal Editions collections.
“At Forclaz, we know that apparel production accounts for over 60% of our CO2 emissions. This is why we have focused our efforts on this aspect. We had to look into various facets of the manufacturing process in France and Europe: from raw material production to fabric weaving, cutting and garment assembly,” said Delphine Dupré, product engineer and leader of the Minimal Editions project. “We have learned so much in the last two years. We have completely reinvented the way we develop our products, and redesigned our working methods and industrial processes, forging strong partnerships to be able to source locally. And we found out that we could do it!” she added.
The Minimal Editions-Local collection consists of four products: a sweatshirt, a parka, a pair of trousers and a duffel bag, all in a burgundy and khaki palette that is “consistent with the brand’s other lines,” and also suitable to the broadest range of situations and activities. Determined to develop products with a lower CO2 footprint, Forclaz has reassessed where to source them from, both in terms of raw materials and garment making. It now works with seven European producers, sourcing fabrics from Les Tissages de Charlieu, Concordia Textile and Tessile Fiorentina, while Toptex, Tekyn, L’Atelier d’Ariane and Barata Garcia take care of garment assembly.
The new Forclaz sweatshirt is priced at €80, the trousers at €90, the parka at €250 and the duffel bag at €100. They are all performance products, with CO2 emissions down by as much as 80% - as in the case of the trousers - compared to conventional products, according to Forclaz. Their prices are of course higher than the rest of the range. Forclaz's most expensive parka, a three-in-one garment, retails at €220, trousers sell at around €40, and the sweatshirt and duffel bag have no equivalent in the current range.
The collection was notably manufactured in small lots. Only 3,050 items have been made available since October 27 on Decathlon’s French, German and Swiss e-shops. Some items are also available at four Decathlon stores: in Geneva in Switzerland, and in France in Annemasse, Mérignac and La Madeleine, in Paris. A performance t-shirt and a women's collection will complete the line in the coming months.
For the time being, the project has a declaredly limited scope, also to minimise impact. The question is whether the Decathlon group will tap this experience to improve its ability to source locally, manufacturing value-added products with low environmental impact. In September, Decathlon was singled out by the Netherlands’s consumer rights authority for labelling as “eco-designed” products whose sustainability claims were less than obvious, and it seems the group has every interest in extending the convincing test carried out with Forclaz. While the latter’s intention is to build on this experience to adopt similar manufacturing practices for the entire range it sells on the French market, as well as to develop the same concept with supply chain partners in different regions of the world. And, why not, the same approach could be adopted by other Decathlon brands. In a group that last year generated a revenue of €13.8 billion, the impact could be massive.
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