Encouraging customers to shop sustainably can be a real challenge. We are all used to getting the clothes we want easily, cheaply, and quickly. Ethical fashion brands often cost more than non-ethical brands, due to the investment in fair-trade wages and sustainable fabrics. While the industry is growing rapidly, fast fashion stores still outnumber ethical shops, and so customers may still need to go a little out of their way or wait a bit longer for their ethical products.
But many customers are deciding that sustainable clothes are worth the extra cost. After all, this is a small price to pay for truly unique items, and for the satisfaction of feeling great about how your clothes were made as well as how they look. So why are these customers making the shift? And how can ethical fashion brands motivate other consumers to see the value of sustainable clothes?
The answer is through education. Too many brands simply market to consumers - listing off the benefits of their product and bombarding them with information. Educating customers goes beyond the basics of marketing, to really show consumers how ethical fashion can meet their specific needs - as well as the needs of the rest of the planet.
Here are three effective strategies that help convince customers that ethical is best.
1. Cultural resources
We've seen how documentaries like What the Health shone a not-so-appealing light on the food industry - and vastly increased consumption of organic and vegetarian brands. The fashion industry can learn from this. There's a real hunger for behind-the-scenes knowledge and entertainment, and documentary movies like The True Cost and The Machinists can be used to open customer's eyes to the problems with fast fashion.
Ethical brands can direct consumers to well-researched resources. As well as these award-winning documentaries, there are a wealth of excellent articles that empower people with the facts about the fashion world.
By pointing customers towards top, unbiased media, instead of just talking about themselves and their products, sustainable companies show that they are committed to real values and to educating their customers - rather than simply trying to sell. Ethical brands must build trust, by going beyond their own specific agenda and sharing the wider values of the "slow fashion" movement.
2. Online communities
We are starting to see a big change in the kinds of content people seek online. In 2017, feminism, anti-racism and other social justice movements dominated many conversations on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Lots of social media users want to hear about issues of ethics and integrity. Simply put, in some online communities, values sell.
Ethical fashion brands need to harness the power of online and join the conversation - not just by speaking about the dangers of mass-produced clothes, but by educating consumers on how fun, attractive and stylish values-driven fashion can be. We are already seeing how high-profile influencers like Emma Watson and Livia Firth have become "eco-fashion It girls". Sustainable brands can tap into this vogue to build an on-trend eco-aesthetic across Instagram and Twitter, and show how ethical fashion can be done.
3. New experiences
The online generation are experience-seekers, who are interested in novelty and innovation. Ethical brands can do more than follow regular fashion retail protocol, using the same models, and only changing the materials. Instead, sustainable retailers can delight customers by educating them on new ways of doing things, creating a community of ethical innovation. This produces exciting new experiences, and teaches customers new models for interacting with the fashion world.
Some examples of creative ethical models include:
Closed loop or "circular" production, where the end product is recycled and transformed back into textile fibres, so that a new product can be created from the old. Brands like Boody and People Tree use these methods. But huge multinationals are also beginning to incorporate closed loop thinking into their production, often spurring collaboration with small ethical brands - McDonald's UK worked with Worn Again to create a circular recycling system for its staff uniforms, and Zara are collaborating with Lenzing.
New slow fashion companies with sustainable subscription models are also successfully educating customers about innovative ways of shopping. CR | SP, for example, hacks wardrobe basics by sending users new tshirts every few months - they send back the old ones, and the cycle begins again.
With my own ethical fashion brand, I innovated to make each step of the process as sustainable as possible. The collection is made-to-order, so each garment has a buyer before it is produced. With this philosophy, I hope to educate consumers about reducing the waste from inventory manufacturing - and also to give them a unique, bespoke and personal experience, with products produced just for them.
These creative models teach customers that they can have novelty and sustainability, by supporting brands who share and recycle resources. Ethical brands who educate their customers about these exciting new systems feel the benefits, as customers and social media users revel in the novelty of wearing and Instagramming brands that are smart, sexy and sustainable.