Fashion and Apparel: Demonstrating Your Sustainability Credentials

June 22, 2020 | COVID-19, Insights,
Sustainable fashion

A brief guide to correct and truthful sustainability practices for fashion and apparel brands.

Over the last ten years, the fashion and apparel industry has faced increasing scrutiny on environmental and labour issues, which has been further intensified recently by the COVID-19 pandemic. And while all industries must prepare for a different world in the wake of the crisis, apparel – as one of the most personal consumer goods – is likely to be one of the most affected by changes in consumer behaviour and spending habits. This raises several questions for fashion and apparel brands:

  • What will influence customers to choose the brands they continue to support with their custom?
  • How do consumers and the wider public decide between products or brands that are sustainable and ethically minded and those that are not?
  • And crucially, how will consumers navigate the new fashion market during COVID-19 and beyond?

Here at Anthesis, we believe that brands have the opportunity to ‘build back better’ after the crisis, and we are seeing our clients working harder than ever to embed sustainability practices within their businesses.

Demonstrating sustainability

A recent McKinsey report states that ‘The pandemic will bring values around sustainability into sharp focus, intensifying discussions and further polarising views around materialism, over-consumption and irresponsible business practices.’

Here at Anthesis, we believe that brands have the opportunity to ‘build back better’ after the crisis, and we are seeing our clients working harder than ever to embed sustainability practices within their businesses. We are also witnessing widespread outrage at the unfolding situation in some supply chains where stock has been made and subsequently not accepted by brands.

As we emerge from the pandemic, it is expected that this sharp increase in a brand’s accountability will become the new norm, and customers will expect to see this in order to further their trust of the brands with which they choose to spend their money.

So, what is the best way for sustainable brands, big or small, to deliver on these sustainability and traceability expectations?

From our daily research into the latest trends in sustainability in apparel and textiles, we’ve put together the following guidance on what sustainable brands should and shouldn’t do to position themselves in the highly competitive market of eco and conscious clothing.

1. Don’t make empty sustainability claims

There has been a recent surge in brands making sustainability claims about products, fibres, and practices, without clear certifications or any real explanation. Failing to prove how a certain product or method of production is better than another method or the conventional way of working is both confusing for the customer and damaging to customer trust – providing no real benefit to your brand image in the long-run.

Brands should instead show consumers the journey they are on, starting with explaining the steps they have taken to decide where to place their focus, and why that fibre, product or way of working makes a difference to them and the planet. This narrative is important in building consumer trust that the brand is doing the right thing – and not greenwashing – and could help highlight where more work is needed on certain products to improve them.

2. Get those all-important logos right

When evidencing your credentials through labelling or claims, make sure you understand HOW you can communicate this, and how you can substantiate those claims. Read through guidance documents and truly understand how the certification schemes work, what the scope of the certification is, and what the correct guidelines are for displaying your membership online or on your product. For example, for sustainable cotton, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) can be communicated at a product level (when the parties involved have the correct certification) whereas Better Cotton is more suited for communication at a brand level.

The more brands do this, the more consumers understand and build trust with these certifications, rewarding your effort in the long run with their active choice to purchase those products that are truly sustainable.

3. Sustainable products are just one part of the puzzle

Making a garment from a more sustainable fibre is a great start, but for brands to sustain fair and equitable levels of production, they need a deep understanding of their supply chain as well.

To do this, brands must pay attention to the social and economic issues present in their supply chain. This includes ensuring that any manufacturing work is fairly and timely paid and having a degree of accountability over supply chain practices. Audits and supplier visits are part of the puzzle – and of course, are more difficult right now – so working closely with suppliers to understand their challenges, as well as thinking about how you can tap into the worker voice, is key.

4. Go the extra mile – and explain it!

Whether your focus is on the latest innovative material or textile dying method, or a take-back scheme for your sold merchandise, genuinely sustainable brands are always pushing to be ahead of the pack.  It is easy to keep these innovations or ideas to yourselves but sharing with the industry and with your customers helps pave the way for others to improve their sustainability – which in turn positions you as an early adopter.

Clear explanations of how these work and why you feel they will improve your sustainability goals help to show your customers that you are not only doing what is necessary but that you are going beyond and leading in this area.

How can Anthesis help?

The Anthesis Apparel team work with clients globally to assist them in defining what sustainability means to their business, what the correct steps are to maximise the impact of their decisions and to implement them in their supply chain, and finally to help them to communicate this with their customers.

If you would like support with any of these topics, please reach out using the form below.

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