This is a guest post by Beth Stewart, Strategic Director of Redress Raleigh.
About five months ago, this article lauded the “world’s most ethical clothing companies” and was immediately circulated all over the internet before such impressive claims could be properly researched. Most people reading the article would have no idea the ranking was largely based on corporate governance and compliance.
While H&M may be one of the largest users of organic cotton in the world, ethics requires you to look at who is making the clothing and consider all dimensions of the brand, namely the overall supply chain (including labor) and environmental responsibility.
While there are some consumers out there who do their own research, the majority do not — so this begs the question: How can you combat industry greenwashing and customer confusion? Below are three suggestions.
1.) Differentiate yourself.
Customers do not buy ‘eco-friendly’ clothing just because ‘it’s the right thing to do’. You need to stand out as a brand and make sure your customers understand what makes you different. Create hang-tags and marketing materials that reflect your values, your mission and true transparency. Create an incredible customer experience and interact with your most active admirers.Customers want to understand what a product stands for so that they can support those they feel connected to.
2.) Participate in the discussion.
For the most part, the mainstream media fails to investigate the perils of the fashion industry, writing very few exposés that get the consumers’ attention. Take the opportunity to converse with other like-minded companies through your social media channels and by talking to people in person. Participate in events highlighting the need for a socially-and-environmentally-responsible industry. And be an advocate for transparency and honesty. If you read something that you don’t agree with, ask questions and don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. It’s the grassroots conversation that is the best chance for making change.
3.) Do not try to compare or compete with the fast fashion industry.
The fast fashion industry is not a sustainable business model, on many, many levels. Accept the fact that you cannot compete on price alone. Rather, find a way to distinguish yourself as a more desirable product – through quality, originality and creativity.
4.) Connect the dots and help to empower customers.
There is still a large disconnect in how the general public perceives the inner-workings of the fashion industry, especially in regards to what makes a business ‘eco’ or ‘ethical.’ Adding to the confusion is the rampant greenwashing and ‘light-green’ corporations that are clinging to the eco-fashion movement as just another trend they can capitalize on. Your job as a designer is to educate your customer through conversation: be transparent about the materials you use, the higher labor wages you pay, and how doing good business is an example to the industry overall.
In the end, there will still be shoppers who just don’t ‘get it.’ But it’s the long-term customer, who believes in what you’re creating, who will become a brand evangelist for you. It’s the customer who remembers your name and takes pride in wearing your designs. That customer is the right one.
Get involved with Redress here.
[Photo credit: Lux Salon Spa]