Have you heard the phrase, “Shop your values”? It’s what a growing number of consumers are doing these days as they opt to shop in alignment with their personal values and beliefs.
The link between the fashion industry and climate change has never been clearer, so shoppers are putting their wardrobes under the microscope in a bid to reduce their social and environmental impact. So with ‘mindful’ heading to the masses, what can you do to ensure your brand is capturing the attention of this growing segment?
1. Say something, anything!
This should be a no-brainer, but too many brands are radio silent about their sustainability efforts right now. Typically this is for one of two reasons:
- They haven’t employed any sustainable, ethical, or circular practices in their business and therefore have nothing to say, or
- They are taking some sustainable steps but are yet to communicate these due to lack of time, dedicated personnel or not knowing how to curate this content.
If your brand falls in the first category, you have a lot of catching up to do. It’s time to have a good hard look at yourself and your supply chain to see where improvements can be made.
For the brands that have yet to share their progress, it’s crucial to prioritize this. You’ve done all of this work to improve your business behind the scenes, yet no one knows about it!
“Conscious consumers will convert if they have clarity that a retailer’s ethics & sustainability align with their values.”
2. Make it accessible
Consumers will usually head straight to your website in search of your sustainability content, so make finding this foolproof.
1. Start off with a dedicated page for your sustainable content located in your website’s header/the main menu. Pro-tip for best exposure: give your sustainability section it’s own heading instead of nestling it under the ‘About’ heading and/or in the footer. That way you get the best exposure and reduce the number of clicks to access this key information:
2. Have a unique URL such as “brandname.com/sustainability” to help with your search engine optimization. More consumers are typing “[Brand Name] Sustainability” into their search box, so it’s essential to capitalise on this keyword.
3. Share directly with your customers via e-mail and social media – both great mediums to provide snippets of your progress and take your loyal customers with you on your considered journey.
“Putting your considered content front and centre on your website shows that you’re prioritizing sustainability and will set you apart from the competition.”
3. Focus on progress, not perfection
Encouragingly, many consumers know that being 100% sustainable is technically impossible and will raise an eyebrow at any brands making this claim. Shoppers have wised up to the fact that everything ends up somewhere. No matter how many carbon emissions we offset, the finite resources used in the production of our clothing simply cannot be regenerated.
While there is no expectation of sustainability perfection, what consumers will get behind is genuine progress. Being transparent about what you’re doing well while taking ownership of the areas that need work will foster trust and maintain brand integrity.
What you say must have substance, be clearly defined, backed by action, and marketed genuinely (no greenwashing please). It’s no longer enough to talk about switching to more energy-efficient lightbulbs in head office, or to only share the backstory of your brand. So be purposeful and explicit about the sustainability and ethics information you provide.
“The most important thing, no matter the stage or size of your progress, is to take your customers with you on your sustainability journey.”
4. Cover your bases
So, what should your sustainability information include? Depending on the size of your business and locations of sourcing/production, here are the high-level topics that I suggest touching on in your own unique way, including some examples:
Showcase the presence of a sustainability report, carbon emissions tracking/offsetting, annual targets, environmental certifications such as Bluesign, ZDHC, and membership of organisations such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition or the Textile Exchange where applicable.
Highlight the materials used in your production process, your use of synthetic vs natural fibres, recycled fibers and deadstock fabrics, production cycle timeframes, factory locations, size of production, whether goods are locally made, can be made-to-order or pre-ordered, and product certifications such as Global Recycled Standard (GRS) & Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and fabric innovations such as REPREVE® & TENCEL™.
Share your use of recycled, recyclable and/or compostable packaging, efforts to reduce plastic packaging, the use of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) paper/card in swing tags and promotional material, how your deliveries are shipped from factories (e.g. sea freight over air freight), and whether you offer a carbon offset delivery option to consumers.
Discuss your circular thinking at the design phase, if you offer product repairs, trade-ins, take-back programs or re-sale, and how garments are treated at end-of-life such as textile recycling, and your stance on landfilling or incineration of goods.
Detail the presence of a supplier code of conduct, modern slavery statement and/or child labour policy, payment of minimum or living wages, diversity/inclusion, worker rights & safety, whether factories are audited by third parties such as Sedex, and if you’re a signatory of the Bangladesh Accord (if applicable).
Talk about the presence of an animal welfare policy, the type of animal fibres used (if any), your prohibited fibre list and stance on mulesing, along with any certifications on responsible sourcing of animal-derived products such as the Responsible Wool, Mohair, and Down Standards.
Present any give-back elements of your business including donations of stock to charity or community initiatives.
5. Revisit regularly
Last but certainly not least, ensure that you continually share your progress. Your sustainability efforts should not be seen as a one-off box-ticking exercise, but rather an ongoing commitment to take action, and keep your loyal following updated with your progress. I suggest setting a reminder every 6 months to check that your content is up-to-date.