Brand Purpose Brand Strategy Greenwashing

Here’s how fashion brands can make lasting sustainability changes

By Isidora Mazibrada, Senior Strategy Consultant



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February 21, 2024 | 9 min read

The fashion industry must improve its sustainability creds, says Isidora Mazibrada of Revolt. Here's how businesses and marketers can together build a brighter future.

Red and orange clothes on a clothing rail

Brands and marketers must embrace sustainability practices to meet customer expectations, says Alex Lewis / Marcus Loke via Unsplash

We all know fashion has a problem. Roughly 70bn new garments are produced annually, creating up to 10% of global emissions. Tougher laws and regulations are coming in the year ahead, as the imperative intensifies to limit warming to 1.5°C. Industry execs meanwhile label sustainability as both their top priority and their greatest challenge for 2024.

The majority of fashion brands aren’t on track to meet their emissions targets. Here are five ways to achieve effective sustainability practices:

Actions first, ads second

The rules on greenwashing are changing. Inflated claims and empty promises aren’t going to pass new tests from advertising authorities. This is good news because research shows that greenwashing can lead to a loss of customer loyalty, trust, and satisfaction.

The EU’s new rules will help marketers avoid making brand-damaging errors. So what is the best way forward? At this crucial moment, action must come before talk.

Take H&M Group, which previously faced a greenwashing lawsuit, but is now co-investing in developing an offshore wind energy project in Bangladesh. If approved, it would supply around 40% of the country’s power and reduce CO2 emissions by approximately 725,000 tons each year – a huge win for the industry and the planet.

Bridge the say-do gap

The gap between consumers' sustainability intentions and actions is a hot topic. Savvy marketers will recognize an opportunity to nudge consumers to make sustainable choices. Behavior change principles, like Ipsos' MAPPS framework, can act as a guide. MAPPS lists five key behavior drivers: motivation, ability, physical, processing, and social.

Fashion retailer FarFetch and ethics and sustainability ratings platform Good on You capitalized on consumer motivation for sustainable purchasing and enhanced the remaining drivers by collaborating to create the 'Good Measures' hub. The hub helped consumers to make conscientious shopping decisions through a dedicated 'Positively Conscious' section.

FarFetch then celebrated brands and products with improved sustainability ratings in comms. The collaboration resulted in an impressive 93% surge in conscious searches and a 60% growth in conscious product purchases.

Implement and scale circularity

There’s growing awareness that the continued production of new products, even with reduced emissions, is incompatible with science-based targets. So how can brands continue to benefit their bottom lines, without impacting the planet?

Closed loop systems, which are circular and regenerative, offer a real opportunity. Not only would scaling these help brands meet targets on emissions and waste, but research shows they can drive revenue, customer engagement, and acquisition.

J.Crew reported that in its first three months of using thredUP’s Resale-as-a-Service, its customers recirculated over 34,000 items, avoiding over 150,000 pounds of carbon emissions. Items sent in earned customers credit to spend on J.Crew, strengthening their relationship with the brand.

Embrace sustainable storytelling

When it comes to sustainability, fashion has an elephant in the room. Recent research suggests that until the demand for resources is reduced, climate breakdown will persist.

Fashion brands play a huge role in driving demand – so much so that the UN has warned the industry against fueling overconsumption. This leaves brands with a conundrum. What does the future of fashion communications look like? Is there a way to engage consumers just enough to reach sales targets, but not so much that the strain on the planet continues?

For marketers who want to lead their brands into the future, the narrative on what makes a perfect wardrobe needs to be rewritten. When done well, this looks like the efforts of luxury, sustainable brand Mara Hoffman, which tells consumers to ‘Buy Less, Wear More, Wash Less’. In 2023, the brand won the CFDA Fashion Award for Environmental Sustainability, an accolade previously awarded to Patagonia and the United Nations.

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Account for impact

Awareness is spreading that reliance on razor-thin margins can come at the cost of transparency on emissions and ethics.

This was demonstrated by Boohoo, which lost a whopping £1bn and faced a £100m lawsuit over allegations of modern slavery in 2020 in its Leicester factories. With regulators and consumers demanding heightened accountability, brands can no longer afford to turn a blind eye. It's time for a seismic shift in perspective – accounting for both positive and negative impacts upfront.

This isn't just about numbers; it's about creating a comprehensive financial picture that paves the way for innovative operating models. Stella McCartney is a trailblazer in the space, having published an annual Impact Report for the past decade.

As one of the world’s most creative industries, known for pushing boundaries, the fashion sector should not fear the challenge of sustainability. It should see it as an opportunity to innovate and create groundbreaking new business models for the future. That’s the truly green way ahead.

Brand Purpose Brand Strategy Greenwashing

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