Does sustainable and ethical communication really work in the fashion industry?

In recent years, it has become essential for fashion retailers to adopt both ethical and sustainable communication in their Public Relations and Marketing functions in an effort to strengthen brand image, differentiate and also build a relationship with consumers. But how effective are these efforts? Do they truly make a difference to a brand? And, does it increase their chance of survival in the saturated fashion industry?

In 2019, young environmental activist Greta Thunberg went viral. Her young and insightful outlook towards sustainability reflected the attitudes of how many young people feel about the environment. Thunberg is known for her passionate statement ‘You are stealing my future.’ Her expression reflects the damage mass consumerism is doing to the planet and also future generations. The fashion industry is the ‘second largest polluter to the environment’ and also ‘85% of all textiles are sent to landfill each year’ and due to fast fashion consuming the majority of the proportion most of the landfill is made up off synthetic materials in which do not biodegrade. As a result of the fashion industry’s impact to the environment they therefore have a responsibility to minimise their impact. Most businesses however prioritise the concern of profit and market position rather than ethics, a prime example of capitalism. But is the fashion industry the same?

The fast fashion sector of the industry is a much larger contributor to the environmental impact than that off the high fashion sector due to its mass production and lack of sustainable materials. As fast fashion offers accessibility and affordability it is difficult for consumers to be influenced by environmental pressures as price is commonly perceived as their main concern. Leaders in the fashion industry such as Vivenne Westwood and Stella McCartney use their platforms and large followings to communicate sustainable approaches to consumerism through their mass followings. Both brands/ designers have different but similar approaches to sustainable communication. Westwood’s approach is simple, buy less, choose well and make it last’ she has made this slogan a key part of her brand, incorporating it on garments in her collection. With the assistance of social media Vivenne Westwood is able to increase the reach of her message making her communicating strategy worthwhile as she is a respected Dame with large amount of credibility.

In a similar fashion, Stella McCartney uses her ethical environmental ideology to educate and inform consumers on ethical fashion production as McCartney avoids the use of fur and leather in her collections. The house of Stella McCartney has created effective campaigns with a focus on a sustainable ethos in the past including ‘How to Save The World’ (2019).

The campaign used social media to educate publics on the climate change crisis. With information and education being at the root of any sustainability focused campaign fashion Houses like Westwood and McCartney stand a better chance of lasting impact due to their established credibility. In the past, Westwood has endorsed Thunberg’s activism in various speeches and interviews thus reinforcing the importance of a younger person’s perspective on changing mass consumerism, especially in the fashion industry. As you can also see by the comment sections on Instagram you can see the engagement of followers which therefore reinforces the power these designers have as opinion leaders.

In terms of how the fast fashion sector handle their sustainable communication they promote the use of sustainable materials in their products, this is generally accompanied by a social media campaign. Although, it is an effective method of strengthening brand image it can however result in higher operating costs. With the fast-fashion sector having a large amount of price sensitive consumers a higher price may put consumers off their ‘sustainable range’ and they may continue to purchase the regular range thus deeming their sustainable communication effective in terms of a branding and informative perceptive rather than influencing how consumers shop.

<EMBED VIDEO ABOUT HERE>This short podcast explores sustainable communication in the high fashion sector and how trends are met in order to remain competitive in the saturated high fashion market. It is important high fashion labels protect their reputation at all costs, In Burberry’s case sustainable communication helped saved their brand.

In terms of how certain demographics respond to sustainable communication efforts the Fashion Revolution Consumer Survey Report (2019) suggests that 88% of consumers think that it is very/ somewhat important brands tackle environmental protection. When conducting my own research, I found that 80% of the 40 people I asked agreed that it is important to tackle environmental protection in their business activities. This therefore reinforces the statistics gathered by the Fashion Revolution Consumer Survey Report and that consumers are becoming more sensitive in their approaches towards suitability in business.

In the past sustainable communication may have just been overlooked as a Public Relations stunt to only simply improve brand image but now it is more crucial than ever. Consumers are becoming less dismissive of businesses taking an environmental approach as the importance of the environment has entered mainstream media i.e. the news and made consumers more sensitive to the true cost of fashion to the environment and the importance of educating consumers. It may take some time to fully influence a change in new buying behaviours when consuming fashion, but the effort of sustainable communication is beginning to be taken more seriously as future generations with more disposable income will be able to make well informed choices when consuming fashion.

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