TK Maxx is the global chain of department stores (a.k.a. TJ Maxx in the US). TJX ( the parent company) work on an off-price business model which is unique to them. “We buy from all kinds of vendors – big names and designer labels, top brands, up-and-coming labels and vendors known for stylish fashion and exciting gems. We also have some merchandise manufactured for us to bring you exceptional fashion and quality at an amazing price. Our buyers choose many different colours, styles and fabrics so there is always a great choice for you. Our buyers are opportunistic and entrepreneurial. So when a designer overproduces, or other stores overbuy, we swoop in, negotiate the lowest possible price and pass the savings on.”
At first glance, overstock stores seem like a good solution; they take clothes that would have otherwise gone straight to the trash if not for these retailers ‘saving’ these clothes from going to landfill. These stores are incredibly popular, and with British people spending up to 2.7 billion pounds on clothes during the summer that’ll only be worn once (found in a survey commissioned by the Barnado’s charity in 2019), the cheap prices of overstock items make it even more attractive to consumers. As a uni student conscious of budgeting and is a sucker for great deals, TK Maxx has always been a convenient and affordable place to find shoes, clothing, gifts and home items, which has made me wonder how sustainable these stores really are.
In conclusion, when it comes to fashion, I’d recommend avoiding regular branded stores and overstock stores where possible. There is no doubt that the best practices for sustainability are second-hand shopping, thrifting (if you have the time or talent), or being very mindful of how often you buy clothes and taking the time and effort to find and purchase clothes (that you love and are high quality) from sustainable brands, lasting you years and years (and also be mindful of doing your washing as it has a very significant impact). More information can be found here: https://www.whatsinmywash.org.uk/). However, if you do come across something you really like in TK Maxx, or you cannot afford items from other more sustainable sources, then buying from a store like this is likely still better than the more fast-fashion-centric companies.
Many consumers view TK Maxx is a ‘sustainable’ option. It saves clothes from going to landfill, gives these clothes a second chance and allows consumers to find clothes they love for a much cheaper price. So, what is the problem?
There are a couple of concerns, the first one being that these retailers are still encouraging the culture of buying trendy new items (instead of more sustainable, long-lasting items) aka fast fashion and fast furniture. These stores aren’t just filled with unsold and excess goods, but they are notorious for buying new merchandise. According to then-TJX chief executive Carol Meyrowitz in a 2011 interview with USA Today, over 85% of the company’s merchandise is ‘current season’, with their business models’ success being “highly dependent on poor merchandising planning and wasteful production practices in the full-price market”.
Brands are aware of this, which means that they are not concerned with overproduction, especially if they know that retailers like TK Maxx will still allow them to profit at the end. The fashion industry is already responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions (there was an estimated 2.1 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 alone), it uses around 93 billion cubic meters of water annually, and is to blame for 20% of all industrial water pollution worldwide, and that’s just the start.
So is extending the life of these clothes, slowing the resources and giving the clothes a second chance at life really a good solution? No. Not at least if it is still enabling brands to continue pushing out detrimental fast fashion trends at an even lower price.
The world needs drastic changes in order to become more sustainable, and if we continue to support brands and business models that still champion a disposable culture, then we will not achieve our sustainability goals.
We’ve taken a look at the inherent model that the business is based upon, but lets now zoom in a little and take a look at TK Maxx and TJX Companies specifically.
On the topic of the actual products in their stores, TJX have supposedly “developed a framework to define sustainable product attributes” and some examples of products they are sourcing and materials they are using within their operations with these environmental attributes include:
As much as these bullet points appear to be moving the company in a more sustainable direction, these statements are vague. They do not have ambitious enough goals within this sector and their practices are quantified with phrases like “where feasible”, “with certain products”, “a significant portion”, “some of our gift cards”. The lack of hard rules and their tolerance for unsustainable practices is concerning, especially when considering how large their potential impact on consumers are.
However, TK Maxx are strict with their responsible product sourcing, including a no fur policy since 2003, and no live plucking or force feeding for feather and down products.
Although the business model has inherent flaws from depending on partnerships with many fast-fashion brands, TJX have made up for it in many ways through their sustainability initiatives. One of their biggest science-based emissions targets is to reduce 55% in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 (against their baseline year of fiscal 2017). This long-term goal is in alignment with the United Nations’ Paris Agreement guidelines and supports an emissions growth path aimed at limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In order to achieve this goal, TJX have identified electricity being their largest source of GHG emissions, with stores accounting for 80% of their carbon footprint. At the end of 2021, they reached a 32% reduction in GHG emissions and about 26% (over 400 million kilowatt hours) of their global electricity use comes from renewable or low-carbon energy sources.
Other examples of sustainability progression include the installation of a solar array on the rooftop of their Worcester, MA, distribution center, expecting to provide about 29% of the building’s electricity needs. On TJX Canada, they have reduced their GHG inventory by over 739,000 kilowatt hours.
In Europe, TK Maxx have stated that they are working with their logistic partners to maximize the utilisation of their vehicles and to help manage delivery routes more efficiently, offering driver education and investing in technologies like vehicle tracking. TK Maxx and Homesense are supporting the BRC Climate Action Roadmap which is bringing together UK retailers to collaborate and reduce the impact of retail on the environment. The roadmap sets out how the UK retail industry can work together with its partners and supply chains to become a net zero industry, ahead of the government’s 2050 target. By 2040, the plan aims for customers to be able to buy products knowing that they are not contributing to climate change.
Furthermore, TJX Europe have expanded its renewable energy sourcing strategy to include the U.K. operations and purchased an additional 90 million kilowatt hours of energy made from renewable sources in fiscal 2021 compared to fiscal 2020, having successfully reduced TJX’s global corporate market-based GHG inventory by over 34,000 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions.
Waste management is often a point of concern for large companies like TJX. However, only 5% of their GHG emissions come from waste. This is a result of their initiatives to support reduce, reuse and recycle throughout their operations, reducing single-use plastics and exploring recovery and reuse programmes to introduce a more circular system into the products’ life cycles. For example in the UK and Ireland, TK Maxx Associates and customers can recycle clothes, accessories, and homeware in-store through their “Give up Clothes for Good” initiative. This allows people to easily donate their clothing and accessories year-round in stores, and since the beginning of the partnership, 1.7 million bags of goods have been donated, diverting more than 8,800 metric tonnes of pre-loved items from ending up in landfill. Not only has this initiative benefited the environment, but has also raised millions of pounds for Cancer Research UK for Children and Young People and Enable Ireland.
As part of their commitment to support vulnerable children and help young people to fulfill their potential, they have partnered with The Prince’s Trust on a number of initiatives to address barriers to employment. Examples include their Prince’s Trust Awards that has been running for 5 years now, and recognises young people who have succeeded against the odds, improved their chances in life and had a positive impact on their local communities. They have also created 2000 new work placements across the UK to support young people at risk of long-term unemployment. Furthermore, they are in line with the UK regulations governing gender pay reporting. Women are strongly represented in their more senior positions across the company, with women compromising 54% of Assistant Vice President and above positions. Additionally, 79% of promotions globally have been earned by women.
TK Maxx strongly value their vendor relationships and have a very clear Code of Conduct that ensures vendors and their subcontractors know what they expect including working hours, safety in the workplace, wages and conditions. These include no child or forced labour, protecting employee rights on wages, working hours and freedom of association, no harassment, abuse or discrimination, etc.
Since their partnership with the Woodland Trust began back in 2004, TK Maxx and Homesense have contributed over £1 million to help plant, protect and restore native woodland in the UK. This could support the planting of 72,000 trees which have the potential to lock away approximately 17,000 tonnes of Co2 over their lifetime.
TK Maxx in the UK have invested in projects to help reduce plastic use and waste. One of them being The Ocean Cleanup, a non-profit organisation with a mission to clean the world’s oceans of plastic. They expect to clean up to 50% of plastic every five years, leading to more than a 90% reduction of pollution levels by 2040 (since 2018). They are also supporting The Plastic Collective, which turn plastic waste into income for Pacific Island communities, creating employment by training them to operate the machinery. They’ve funded two shredder machines in Bali to help recycle plastic waste and help create valuable income. Other initiatives they support include Neighbourly’s environmental and clean-up initiatives in local UK communities, and Hubbub’s Plastic Pioneers Project that develops interventions to educate children on Plastic and help reduce their usage.
Although it is great to see such a comprehensive and extensive area of their website being populated with these initiatives, it should be noted that a 2016 report from the Wage and Hour Division revealed more issues with products sourced by TJX. After a larger investigation, it revealed wage, overtime, and record-keeping violations in 85% of cases. Some workers were even reported to make only $4 an hour. It is important to remember that the information on their website are all voluntary disclosures and don’t necessarily speak to how any of these strategies are actioned or how impactful these actions might be, and without regulation, there are few penalties for misrepresentations or fabrications.