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.
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.
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.
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.”
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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