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5 Brands Effectively Telling the Sustainability Story

There’s no denying it: “sustainability” is one of the hottest branding buzz words out there. From Nike to Ikea to H&M, it seems like everyone is attempting to jump on the “eco-train.” But as time goes on, consumer response is proving that the giants can learn a thing or two from the smaller players.

I looked at five brands telling their sustainability stories effectively and authentically. The biggest takeaway? None of these companies are pushing “green” or “eco” branding outright. Each of these different methods empowers the consumer in subtle ways, while encouraging involvement and engagement.

1.) Kings of Indigo

In 2011, Amsterdam-based Kings of Indigo (K.O.I.) launched as a small, sustainably-minded denim brand. Three years later, its fourth collection is hitting stores and selling in 160 retailers worldwide.

Operating on the belief that a pair of jeans should be worn for as long as possible, K.O.I. implements a “Triple-R” philosophy: recycle, repair, reuse. Customers are given special K.O.I. repair kits and pop-up events are hosted for in-person “repairing parties.”

While K.O.I. uses organic materials and fair trade labor, the brand flourishes on one message of sustainability that customers can get personally involved in. The story is in the denim. By promoting recycle, repair, reuse, K.O.I. customers are investing in much more than one pair of jeans — they’re investing in a garment with a story.

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2.) Pima Doll

This Pima cotton collection is designed in New York and hand-made in Peru. Sensitive to the waste of the traditional fashion industry, Pima Doll uses the cotton scraps and upcycles them into one-of-a-kind hand-knit pieces.

Pima Doll has a sustainable mission of transparency, sharing the details of both its workers and its materials. Despite its upstanding ethics, the clothes speak for themselves and can hold their own with the most “fashion forward” brands.

Pima Doll has been featured in mainstream fashion magazines, such as Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue and a multitude of editorial spreads. While the sustainability story is clear, it’s the design that makes an impression on consumers. The most successful “eco” brands are the ones whose products sell first and sustainability sells second. twitter-bird-light-bgs1 

pima doll

3.) imogene + willie

With 20 years of experience in the denim industry, Carrie and Matt Eddmenson launched their own label of blue jeans in 2009. Inspired by their grandparents and the heritage of U.S. manufacturing, imogene + willie was born from a desire to bring a lost art back to its original culture.

Each pair of jeans is handmade in the USA using indigo-dyed selvage denim. With modest roots, the founders have integrated family and history into its brand seamlessly — and it resonates with their customers. The imogene + willie messaging is authentic, genuine and feels as easy as a broken-in pair of dungarees.

imogene and willie

4.) Prairie Underground

Founded by designers Davora Lindner and Camilla Eckersley, this independent womenswear line has been manufacturing in the USA for almost a decade, while also using sustainable fabrics in every collection since its inception. And yet the founders admit to doing very little in the way of marketing.

By leaving the marketing to a loyal following of unofficial brand ambassadors, the popularity of Prairie Underground is owed to word-of-mouth from end users. Sustainability has been embedded in the DNA of the brand since its first days and that in itself is a story worth engaging in.

As the founders said in a past interview, “We approach this activity in the most human way; we’re proud of what we do and want to share it with others.”

prairie underground

5.) Zady

Recently named one of Fast Company’s 10 Most Innovative Companies in Retail, Zady has already made its mark in sustainability having only launched in August 2013. A lifestyle destination and shopping platform for conscious consumers, founders Maxine Bedat and Soraya Darabi founded Zady on the premise of purpose, heritage and prosperity.

Zady combats fast fashion by supporting domestic and locally-sourced handmade products of the highest quality. The story is in the maker and Zady engages the consumer by communicating the beauty and substance that comes with style.

The founders are conscious about not appearing “preachy” in their messaging. Instead, they focus on providing engaging material that demonstrates the devastating impact of fast fashion while providing a beautiful alternative. Their positive, no-shame policy has been well received by shoppers and has likely attributed to Zady’s success.

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Images courtesy of ZadyFelix Photography, Pima Doll, Henry & June, Seattle Mag, and Forbes.

Ignore the Hype: Eco-Fashion Can Be Easy

This is a guest post from Beth Stewart, Strategic Director of Redress Raleigh.

There are so many things that people are expected to do as ‘eco-minded’ individuals – buy organic, not eat meat (or eat only certain kinds), ride a bike everywhere, take five minute showers, etc – it can be overwhelming. In addition, people are becoming more and more aware of the perils of fast fashion and the detrimental effects your purchasing choices can have on both humanity and the planet.

Redress_ResponsiblyMade_SquareGraphic - smallAs I have mentioned before, there is also a substantial amount of greenwashing or mixed messaging being spread through the media about what “eco-fashion” is and who is doing it.

However, dressing responsibly and making responsible apparel choices may not be as complicated as you think. There are many different aspects to consider when picking out your outfits and accessories – from water usage to chemicals to human ethics to type of material to location of production … just to name a few. As with every industry, there are trade-offs within fashion and textiles as well.

Luckily there are more and more fantastic options popping up for the ecochic customer. Consider these categories the next time you are shopping for clothing and accessories:

  • Upcycled
  • Made in USA
  • Handcrafted
  • Vintage or resale
  • Natural dyes
  • Fair trade
  • Organic or eco-friendly fabrics
  • Little to no-waste patternmaking

Honestly, the best approach is to ask yourself: “What matters to me the most?”

Is it using the least amount of resources?

Consider buying vintage, resale, upcycled, or products that are created using little to no-waste patternmaking. In addition to Goodwill, many communities have resale or consignment stores where you can find gently-used clothes at bargain prices. High-quality vintage sellers can be found in online shops. Raleigh Vintage is a personal favorite and they ship all over the country. Upcycled goods are often tagged on social media too and sites like Etsy lend themselves to more one-of-kind pieces. Zass Design is doing fantastic things with upcycled jewelry pieces.

Or perhaps you strongly believe in supporting the organic movement and avoiding chemicals that pollute waterways?

Consider looking for organic fabrics and natural dyes. Gaia Conceptions uses organic fabrics and natural or low impact dyes. And Patagonia continues to innovate both in recycled and new eco-friendly textiles and materials.

Or maybe you want to purchase items from a more-established standard that is working toward making sure people are treated fairly and receive decent wages for their work?

Then Fair Trade is a good option. Indigenous and Synergy Clothing incorporate both fair trade practices and organic fabrics in their designs. Symbology also works with artisans in India to create most of their textile designs.

Or is it that you delight in getting to know individual designers and supporting the local community?

Consider looking for handcrafted, Made in the USA items. Companies like Lumina and Appalatch produce their goods solely in the U.S. Lisa Stewart handcrafts gorgeous leather accessories. Many cities host periodic marketplaces like The Handmade Market, The Big Crafty, or Northern Grade featuring exclusively handcrafted and/or American-made goods. Find one in your city.

Regardless of what you decide, keep in mind that the industry is continuously striving to be and do better, just like you. Another way you can help move the industry forward is to continue asking questions and seeking information on who makes your clothes and what they’re made from.  twitter-bird-light-bgs1

Currently, there is no one perfect eco-fashion line out there. However, we are fortunate that there is an amazing variety of eco-chic fashions available! This allows us each to dress with our values and our style in mind.

“Fashion fades, only style remains the same.” – Coco Chanel

Photos courtesy of Redress Raleigh and Shecky’s

Inside Factory45: The Making of the Bicycle Wrap Skirt

This is a guest post by Lara Neece, founder of Forest and Fin. You can read the original version here.

What happens when you love wearing skirts, love riding bikes, and like to make everything yourself? A Bicycle Wrap Skirt, of course – a skirt that’s dressy enough for the office or going out with with friends, but with a few simple adjustments, is ready to hop on a bike and be on the move in minutes. I spent years biking in skirts, and years trying to find the perfect skirt that I could wear just about anywhere without a second thought. My husband can tell you that there have been many, many days in which I’ve made him wait, while I changed clothes, just so we could bike to lunch or dinner or to the park because I didn’t want to worry about my skirt on the bike. The perfect skirt just didn’t exist.

forestandfinskirt2Forest and Fin began back in 2009, when I first started screen-printing, moved onto a sailboat, and decided to become an artist. Back then, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing (you could still argue that’s true now! ), but I had the passion and desire to learn. In the beginning, I screenprinted my drawings of plants and animals onto tshirts, and you can still purchase them in my shop today. But Forest and Fin is undergoing an evolution. It’s adapting and growing; my mission and goals are becoming clearer. I’m an artist and a designer, not just a screenprinter. My screenprinted designs and apparel were the starting point and a way for me to support myself while I developed my art and business, but now I am branching into new products that better embrace my mission, a mission to help people spend more time outside.

Over the past few years, in my search for blank items to print on, I ran into problems sourcing items that were both affordable and fit my aesthetic vision. In addition to being sustainable and earthy, I wanted my products to be functional, efficient (multi-use), and give back to the planet in some small way. I am focusing on a line of sustainably-made-in-the-USA everyday wear and household items, starting with a functional wrap skirt (the Bicycle Wrap Skirt) that includes bicycle friendly features and extra pockets. I am planning to dye the skirts blue or green and depending on the color will donate a small percentage of profits towards ocean (blue) or forest (green) conservation efforts.

forestandfinskirtWhile I’m still in the early phases of product development, I have a prototype that works (really!) and I plan to document the rest of the journey here. I hope that you’ll join this discussion and weigh in on features of the design to help me streamline the perfect skirt. This is going to be a staple in my wardrobe (and maybe yours too!), so it needs to be durable, high quality, sustainable, classy, fun, and above all functional. I’ve put together a short survey with questions about design features, colors, pricing, etc. and would love for you (yes, you!) to weigh in on the design while I am still in the development stage. Your input will be essential in shaping the final outcome.

Take the Bicycle Wrap Skirt Design Survey here.

For more about Forest and Fin, check it out here.

(Photo credit: Forest and Fin)

4 Ways to Stand Out in a Sea of “Greenwashing”

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]

3 Tips for Standing Out as an “Eco-Fashion” Designer

This is a guest post by Beth Stewart, Strategic Director of Redress Raleigh.

For over five years, I have been on the search for real eco-fashion — for garments and accessories that make me look good, and feel good, because they are made with ethics and sustainability in mind. From both personal experience greening my closet and from selecting designers for the annual Redress Raleigh Eco-Fashion Show, I have learned what makes the exceptional eco-fashion designers stand out.

HOW TO BE HEARD THROUGH THE “NOISE”

What can you do to stand out from the constant barrage of information and gain traction with customers? Although marketing and social media are important to getting your brand name out there, none of that matters if you don’t have innovative, wearable, and accessible products. Below are the three tips for standing out in the crowd:

1) Be Innovative.

Focus on your genuine designer voice and how you can incorporate ethics and eco into your creations. People will not buy things just because ‘it’s the right thing to do’; people want to look fashionable. Always keep learning and experimenting – read about new techniques or have coffee with a different artist.

Ask for feedback from customers and friends. Search through image galleries to help make your ideas come to fruition or expand upon a theme. Don’t assume that just because your shirt helps support orphans abroad that people will buy it. Design comes first.

2) Create Wearable Goods.

While creating an intricately woven dress of Jimmy John’s wrappers is amazing, it’s not going to see a fashion runway. It’s going to be displayed like art. There is a difference between this – largely considered ‘trashion’ – and eco-fashion, which refers to wearable fashion. Great eco-fashion designers understand the differences between the feel and drape of certain fabrics and how to interpret those certain fabrics into well-fitting garments.

3) Be Accessible.

Yes, there is a high-end couture market. However, many of the names synonymous with that segment have been around for many years and have substantial funding to support the plethora of craftspeople and thousands of hours invested in creating those pieces.

You could try to compete in that market or you could aim for the middle – beyond fast fashion and before couture – for the consumer who shops at boutiques and is looking for quality and transparency and a brand she / he can trust. People like to connect with companies who share their values and help ‘badge’ them as a particular type of individual.

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WHY THIS MATTERS

  • People get excited about good design and new ideas – it’s much better to focus on the positives of innovative fashion, and how your product benefits people, than to focus on the horrible atrocities of the fashion industry. Guilt doesn’t make people buy things, empowerment and joy does.
  • Craftsmanship and “wearability” is important to customers. People are looking for quality and durability and are getting sick of throw-away clothes.
  • There is nowhere to hide these days – if you put your brand in the public eye the public will react. Maintaining transparency of what you value as a designer and how your brand echoes is vital to creating loyalty.

Being a designer is tough, especially when you are just starting out. Being an eco-fashion designer who considers the impact on the earth and humanity through production of your goods is even tougher — but you are the future. There is a strong and growing undercurrent of customers looking for inventive and authentic goods made by designers who are transparent about how their products are made and who makes them. Be someone who stands out.

Get involved with Redress here.