Don’t Keep Fashion’s Dirty Secrets
In the not-so-distant past, a common belief was that sharing a brand’s sustainability commitment or a product’s sustainable properties was detrimental to its success.
In fact, several years ago I completed a certificate programme in sustainable design where I had instructors warn me against trying to use ethical or environmental features as a selling point. It would be a setback, they cautioned. They claimed that consumers care, first and foremost, about design. They simply don’t want to know if they are contributing to climate change or bonded labour or mass extinction and bringing it up is not a good idea.
This irks me to my core. The missing link in the responsible fashion movement is the awareness of the general public. By shielding them from the blood, sweat and tears we are pouring into the metamorphosis of this industry, we are cheating ourselves and we are missing an opportunity to empower our consumers. They need to know the industry’s current impact, but more importantly, they need to know the alternative.
When consumers are savvy to what drives us, the product we sell suddenly has real meaning. If our leather product is so well-weathered because it was made from repurposed leather diverted from landfills, doesn’t that make for a more interesting story?
Isn’t it even more impactful if the consumer learns that ‘X’ tonnes of leather end up in landfill every year or that ‘Y’ cows’ lives were saved by avoiding virgin leather? The consumer now becomes part of the story and—more importantly—part of the solution. When they are complimented on their leather item, they might share the story, inadvertently advertising the product, raising awareness, and multiplying impact.
Stand proud of your company’s efforts, because if someone is put off by it, they are indeed not your customer after all. Additionally, we shouldn’t assume that consumers don’t want to know the nastiness behind our industry. If we expect them to change the way they buy, we must also commit to helping them understand why. I think we have underestimated the concern of the general public, at least here in America. Politics and activism are showing us that, when informed, humanity wants to change things that are not socially conscious. Our job as creative fashion insiders is, in part, to do the informing.
In 2017’s spirit of full disclosure, pull the curtain back, bare all, and hold your brand and industry accountable. I promise that you will not be the first or last in coming clean so we can move forward with solutions, united.