Short essay - communications and marketing around sustainability in fashion

A short essay from Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership's course "Business Sustainability Management", working on a case study of a workwear clothing company.

 

Your case study company’s marketing department has enlisted your help to write a blog post to defend the industry and the company against the accusation that it simply “applies its dark arts of marketing to cover up the company’s misdemeanours and applies a liberal coat of greenwashing to coat sustainability credentials in its marketing campaign”.

In your blog post, use the information provided about the company in the case study, as well as your own research about the industry and other relevant references, to highlight the following:

·          An acknowledgement of areas where improvement is necessary within the industry’s approach to sustainability marketing (what the industry could be doing better, based on the accusation quoted above).

·          How the company plans to create benefits by increased transparency in its internal and external communication and marketing.

·          How the company is planning to revise or refine its approach to sustainability marketing, in line with its overall business strategy. Use your creative license to recommend one or two ideas.

 

We know we need to improve

2017’s Fashion Transparency Index showed an average score of 49 out of 250 [1]: clearly the industry must improve.

While 63% of fashion brands publicly communicate tackling sustainability challenges, most fail to produce tangible information about action taken [2].

Campaigns have used sustainability as a driver for more (unsustainable) consumption rather than delivering impact [3], due to poorly conceived campaigns and fighting against inherently unsustainable business models and broader materialism [4].

Inaccurate claims have been made – one campaign claimed 95% of clothes involved were recyclable when 1% actually were [5] - not backed with data, or data isn’t accessible, leading to a loss in trust [6]. The failure to gather necessary information is partly due to complexity of value chains; otherwise brands simply fail to admit shortcomings [7].

Persisting outdated marketing concepts mean sustainability is not properly woven into the value proposition [8], so clothing’s sartorial appeal gets overlooked, meaning missed opportunities to connect with consumers [9].

 

How our increased transparency will benefit our stakeholders

We are only as strong as our stakeholder relationships.

To our customers: you want to know more about how we operate, 94% of you may become loyal if we commit to full transparency [10]. We can prove this through how we market our products, our new business model and how communicate our wider performance and create the same loyalty that Patagonia enjoys [11].

To our employees: through more transparent communications around our sustainability performance you know you are contributing to a wider purpose. We hope this develops long-term relationships with you, while positioning us to attract the finest new talent.

To our shareholders: through our transparent reporting and supply chain improvement programme, you can be confident in us as a long-term low-risk proposition, particularly in reducing climate risk.

To our supply chain: lack of transparency costs lives, as seen at Rana Plaza [12]: our collaborative programmes together show that we are focused on increasing stability, reducing risk and building long-term relationships with you.

 

Our new approach to sustainability marketing

First, what are we communicating?

Our value proposition: creativity, longevity and fairness at the core of our business model evolution: sustainability is naturally part of this [13].

Our core issues: carbon, water, waste, and fair conditions and prices for growers.

Our focus activities: our materials, circular ecosystem and supply chain improvement programme.

How will we engage our stakeholders on these? A new digital platform, spread through a digital media campaign, designed to connect with our target millennial market.

Embedding sustainability within the proposition, placing the customer at the centre [14], we will make it easy to find both product-specific and company-level sustainability information - particularly focused on our core issues [15].

We will host a digital map of our supply chain [16], embracing behind-the-scenes video content to humanise our value chain through storytelling [17]; aligning with Fashion Revolution’s #whomademyclothes campaign [18] and showcasing the improvements we are driving.

 

 

1 – Fashion Revolution, 2017, “Why Transparency Matters”, https://www.fashionrevolution.org/about/transparency/

2 - Sustainable Brands, 2014 - Study Reveals Few Fashion Brands Are Walking Their Sustainability Talk, http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/marketing_comms/aarthi_rayapura/study_reveals_few_fashion_brands_are_walking_their_su

3 – Siegle, Lucy, 2016, “Am I a fool to expect more than corporate greenwashing?”,   https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/03/rana-plaza-campaign-handm-recycling, Guardian

4 – Chuahiock, Jenica, 2016 – “Sustainable Fashion Needs A Consumer Revolution”, https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jenica-chuahiock-/sustainable-fashion_b_9835848.html, Huffington Post

5 – Chuahiock, Jenica, 2016 – “Sustainable Fashion Needs A Consumer Revolution”, https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jenica-chuahiock-/sustainable-fashion_b_9835848.html, Huffington Post

6 – Siegle, Lucy, 2016, “Am I a fool to expect more than corporate greenwashing?”,   https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/03/rana-plaza-campaign-handm-recycling, Guardian

7 – Rayapura, Aarthi, 2014, “Study Reveals Few Fashion Brands Are Walking Their Sustainability Talk”, http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/marketing_comms/aarthi_rayapura/study_reveals_few_fashion_brands_are_walking_their_su, Sustainable Brands

8 – Cipriani, Simone, 2015, “Fashion Needs a Sustainable Handprint”, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/simone-cipriani/fashion-needs-a-sustainable-handprint_b_7128020.html, Huffington Post

9 – Siegle, Lucy, 2016, “Am I a fool to expect more than corporate greenwashing?”,   https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/03/rana-plaza-campaign-handm-recycling, Guardian

10 - Peattie, Ken, 2010, “Sustainability Marketing - An Innovative Conception of Marketing”

11 - MacCarthy, Libby, 2017, “Trending: Making Sustainable Fashion More Accessible to Consumers”, http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/organizational_change/libby_maccarthy/trending_making_sustainable_fashion_more_access, Sustainable Brands

12 - Kline, Kenny, 2016, “Here's How Important Brand Transparency Is for Your Business”,  https://www.inc.com/kenny-kline/new-study-reveals-just-how-important-brand-transparency-really-is.html, Inc.

13 – Birkner, Christine, 2017, “How Clothing Brands Are Embracing Transparency to Meet the Growing Demand for Sustainable Apparel”, http://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/consumers-care-about-sustainable-ethically-made-apparel-and-these-brands-are-providing-it/, Adweek

14 - Peattie, Ken, 2010, “Sustainability Marketing - An Innovative Conception of Marketing”

15 – MacCarthy, Libby, 2017, “Trending: Making Sustainable Fashion More Accessible to Consumers”, http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/organizational_change/libby_maccarthy/trending_making_sustainable_fashion_more_access, Sustainable Brands

16 – Sustainable Brands, 2018, “Trending: New Sustainable Fashion Collections, Connections, CEO Agenda”, http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/product_service_design_innovation/sustainable_brands/trending_new_sustainable_fashion

17 – Sustainable Brands, 2018, “Icebreaker Aims to Prove Its Apparel Is ‘Made Different’ with New Transparency Report”, http://www.sustainablebrands.com/news_and_views/marketing_comms/sustainable_brands/icebreaker_aims_prove_its_apparel_made_different

18 – Fashion Revolution, 2018, https://www.fashionrevolution.org/