Lisa Schneider has recently joined the People Tree Customer Services and Marketing team from Germany. She studied ‘International Fashion & Management’ at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute.
She was recently invited back to give a talk about her paper on ‘Mainstream sustainable fashion’. We thought that it would be of interest to our community to share her thoughts on this topic.
My passion in the fashion industry grew into finding creative solutions for the sustainable business of tomorrow. I believe in sustainability not only as an inevitable necessity to sustain our planet, but also as a way to produce and consume more efficiently; to innovate lifestyles and to inspire people.
Sustainability has become an ubiquitous term that is synonymous with “being green”; but can be difficult to pin down as to exactly what this means across different industries. In terms of the fashion industry-which is the second most polluting industry, beaten only by oil, more questions are being asked about how a focus on sustainability can create a significant impact on the health of our planet.
In reality, however, this is more of a challenge than it sounds. Other industries have been much more successful in main-streaming their green products so far. Think of organic food. You know it’s cool because all the hipsters in East London are flocking to the farmers’ market on Saturdays to get their locally grown vegetables. But at the same time, you can also find organic food products in every high street supermarket.
Sustainable fashion, however, has not made the leap into the mainstream market yet. In the UK, it is still a mere 1% of the market. But what is holding green fashion back and keeping it in its niche?
One answer is that sustainable fashion (ironically?) has an image problem. There is a negative image amongst mainstream consumers which is persistent. John Grant, author of the Green Marketing Manifesto, has gone as far as saying that there is “greenaphobia”. This means that people generally hold strong prejudices against green fashion, thinking that it is too pricey; uncomfortable; made from scratchy fabrics such as hemp; old-fashioned and only for ‘hippies’.
At People Tree, we know that this is actually not the case and we can prove that clothes can be beautiful, on trend and sustainable. People Tree’s fabrics such as organic cotton and banana fibre (see the Emilia Jumper) are notably soft to the touch and cosy to wear. Just look at our SS15 collection: 70% is made from organic cotton, which significantly reduces our water and carbon footprint through the use of drip irrigation, but also by not using pesticides and insecticides. Yet, this image manifested in people’s minds since the beginning of the 90’s and is now very difficult to get rid of.
Several factors have further aggravated this greenophobia over the years.
- First of all, consumer have become highly sceptical of any green claims and marketing. Why? Because brands have used green-washing in the past to enhance their green image . Washing a product or brand image green means promoting it as more sustainable than it actually is. Yet, in today’s age of digital, green-washing activities are increasingly being revealed and reinforce these sceptical attitudes.
- Secondly, excessive green marketing has led to a ‘green fatigue’ amongst consumers. People have started to get tired of the whole topic of sustainability and have grown immune against green messages. However, this is mainly due to the way green fashion, and sustainability in general, has been communicated to consumers.
In fashion, green marketing has largely been focusing on highlighting the environmental benefits of garments and making this aspect the unique selling point. And this is really what consumers care about who are already environmentally aware and who are seeking to buy products based on these benefits. But the more mainstream consumers are mainly driven by style; quality; trends and price. Their priorities are different and when marketing green fashion, these are the drivers we should focus on instead. Naturally, the marketing strategies for sustainability did not resonate with the mainstream as they did not address aspects these consumers actually care about in the first place.
At the same time, sustainability marketing has often been done by trying to induce guilt in consumer through communicating about all the negative impacts our lifestyle has and how the world is going to end. No question, it is important to be aware of these impacts, but this will not help to sell a product. People do not want to be guilt-tripped and they certainly do not want to buy products which are tainted with negative feelings. So what sustainable fashion is still missing is engagement with customers which is positive and fun.
We hope that our customers feel that People Tree is tackling this greenophobia, by sharing positive (rather than guilt-inducing) images and stories of the difference Fair Trade fashion is making! We are committed to sustainability in the supply chain by using organic cotton and Azo-free dyes. We would love to know what you think about this topic. Have you encountered greenophobia? We would also love your suggestions as to what you would like to hear more about in relation to how we communicate about sustainability.