A&W Canada tries on clothing for size

Who: A&W Canada, with Rethink and Vancouver clothing company Frankie Collective.

What: The “A&W Thrift Store,” an online store selling A&W-branded clothing items including bucket hats, T-shirts, sweatpants and sweatshirts that range in price from $40 to $75. All 470 limited-edition items are made from salvaged garments and upcycled material, such as promotional T-shirts worn by A&W employees.

When & Where: There’s no paid media support, with promotion coming via media outreach and organic social.

The store is live now at AWThriftStore.ca. It will remain open until all of the items are sold out.

“Our expectation is that the items will sell very quickly,” said director of brand Communications and digital marketing, Julia Cutt. (The store opened at 11 a.m. EST, and several items were already sold out by 11:20 a.m.)

Why: Sustainability has become a key brand pillar for A&W in recent years, and this is an example of that commitment. Previous efforts included becoming the first North American QSR chain to eliminate plastic straws from its restaurants; the use of compostable packaging; the introduction of ceramic plates and metal cutlery.

“It’s a core value for our brand,” said Cutt. “I’ve been here for just over seven years, and… it was already an important part of the way we did business. It’s been a key value for a long time. Even before a lot of companies had CSR strategies, it was key to our business.”

While many of its efforts are taking place behind the scenes, Cutt said it is developing more public-facing programs in response to growing consumer expectations around sustainability. Among them is a pilot program in Vancouver called the “A&W Cup Crew” in which it is selling reusable plastic cups for $3. When guests bring back the cup they are issued a fully cleaned and sanitized replacement, as well as a 20-cent discount. The program has proven particularly popular in stores near the University of British Columbia campus, said Cutt.

How: A&W approached Frankie Collective, which specializes in “reworked” clothing from brands like Champion, Nike and The North Face, about creating the merchandise line using some of the clothing made for employees. That includes items made for promotions such as “Burgers to beat MS” or promoting “Frosty A&W root beer.”

“Our intention was to be nimble,” said Cutt. “It’s all about making sure we don’t lose the idea. Sometimes in our typical processes of building TV campaigns and printed materials, that cultural insight that created the idea sometimes becomes less relevant. Merch is really popular right now, so it was about executing in the right moment, when it’s going to be most relevant.”

And we quote: “We know we are a loved brand and we hear from consumers that they’d love to have A&W swag, but it never felt quite right for us just to produce a bunch of items that aren’t great for the environment and might end up in landfill,” said Cutt.

Chris Powell