What brings together an online supermarket, a prison in Northumberland and a start-up design company in East London? The answer is unwanted corporate uniforms. Ocado knew these uniforms were made of good quality material but were aware that there was a high reputational risk if they ended up being available outside of the company. They contacted Hubbub seeking ideas for a sustainable solution. A number of exploratory calls resulted in an unusual collaboration.

Everything in Colour is a new sustainable fashion brand dedicated to discovering creative uses for donated fabrics. It didn’t take too long for them to repurpose the uniforms into a range of products including tote bags, aprons, pet blankets and children’s fluorescent safety jackets.

The next challenge was to find a way of making the new products in a cost-effective way. The solution was Northumberland Prison run by Sodexo. The prison has a large textile facility which is part of their rehabilitation programme. They are constantly seeking manufacturing lines that give the prisoners skills and get them into a working routine. The uniforms fitted the bill perfectly.

The final piece of the jigsaw puzzle was to secure a market. Ocado’s solution is to promote the products to their customers, using the income generated to support charities through their Foundation.

For Hubbub the collaboration neatly creates environmental, social and financial benefit, but it also prompted us to look at the wider picture. What we discovered was surprising.

Two in seven working people in the UK wear a uniform. Nearly 33 million corporate garments are provided for their use and around 90% - 15,000 tonnes - goes to landfill or incineration each year. Concerns over security and brand protection coupled with the complexities of recovering and de-branding uniforms explain why so few are reused or recycled.

Hubbub believes that collaborative model we have created could offer opportunities for other companies to create a closed loop solution for their uniforms. But we also feel that this is an area worth further examination and have organised an event at the House of Commons to discuss how a more sustainable approach could be taken covering design, sourcing and disposal. Stay tuned for our findings…….

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