Wagamama’s slow fashion collaboration part of ‘never-ending’ sustainable journey
The restaurant chain’s marketing boss, Kay Bartlett, tells The Drum about its recent uniform update in partnership with fashion brand Pangaia.
Wagamama cast its own staff in the partnership's photoshoot / Wagamama
There is a Japanese philosophy called kaizen that is concerned with continual improvement. It’s a principle that Wagamama lives by, says chief marketing officer Kay Bartlett, believing that “small positive choices every day create big change.”
She says kaizen is particularly applicable to the brand’s sustainability efforts, which she traces from early adjustments such as using only free-range eggs and eliminating plastic straws, through to the more recent switch to mostly recycled materials for its take-out packaging and the commitment to make its menu 50% plant-based. ”These are just some of the ways we have adapted to and adopted new ways of working on a never-ending journey to tread more softly on the planet.”
An overhaul of the Wagamama’s uniform marks the latest milestone on its journey, Bartlett explains. “Having learned from our packaging project that working with sustainability experts and partners is a critical and necessary move towards a more earth-positive future, we couldn’t be more excited to work with material science company Pangaia to collaborate on a uniform with a softer environmental dent.”
Pangaia, which is best known for its colorful tracksuits and T-shirts made from sustainable materials such as eucalyptus pulp and seaweed fiber, grew in popularity after celebrity endorsements from the likes of Pharell Williams, Kourtney Kardashian and Justin Bieber, alongside a creeping demand for sustainable fashion. Combining material innovation with the latest streetwear trends has also captured the attention of young people, evidenced by the brand’s €5.2bn in sales in 2022.
The new uniforms for Wagamama are made using fibers grown without pesticides and treated with a plant-based peppermint oil that neutralizes and prevents the growth of odor-causing bacteria, which subsequently means it needs less frequent washing.
To communicate the update, Wagamama put out a casting call across its 164 restaurants, with 30 of its own team members ultimately featuring in a photoshoot to exhibit the new look.
Bartlett says it is crucial that the messages it greets its customers with match its internal progress. “Most sustainable strides at Wagamama don’t reach customers as they are simply the right thing to do given the environment backdrop that we find ourselves in. There are some changes, like our packaging project and uniform project, that we use as a platform to shine a light on an important topic, however. Additionally, these topics are visible to our guests, so it is important for us to take them on our journey.”
Bartlett says the brand has adopted “a strategic mindset” when it comes to leveraging partnerships with “aspirational changemakers that can speak with authority on the subjects they are passionate about” – such as sustainability in the case of Pangaia.
By choosing to communicate these journeys it makes the brand more likely to drive positive behavioral change among customers, she says, “like bringing your leftover packaging back to Wagamama for a side on us, or choosing to rethink a fast-fashion purchase or throwing away clothes needlessly.”