Green is the New Black: The Good Business of Eco-Conscious Style


By Meredith Cranmer |

Our news, Virtual

Environmental moves are no longer just for hippy-style brands or corporate community projects; big brands have turned green, and not just for the planet, they’re doing it to make money too...

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The eco-conscious movement isn’t just dominating world summits and political party promises, it’s also now a permanent part of boardroom discussions. Greener tactics have become part of almost every industry, and there are a few common themes: hiring instead of buying, reducing consumption and your footprint on the planet, harnessing the sharing economy, recruiting with sustainability in mind, and focusing on fewer, but better, buys. It’s not just about the typical eco-moves you’ve seen before; there are some tremendously smart, innovative steps being taken. A couple of recent examples include UK home retail giant John Lewis who has started hiring out furniture to customers, and Mastercard has released a credit card that tracks the emissions of your purchases. It will stop your buying once you’ve hit your daily emissions limit.

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However, at Because, our favourite eco examples are found in fashion, as it has traditionally been one of the worst culprits with regards to wastage, as ‘fast fashion’ means most of their products end up on the landfill quicker than their retail peers. And it’s not just about the wastage: according to Oxfam, creating one pair of jeans and one t-shirt can require up to 20,000 litres of water, which would take someone 13 years to drink. Research by McKinsey reveals that almost three-fifths of all clothing ends up on landfills or being incinerated within one year of being produced, and the Ellen Macarthur Foundation found out that less than one percent of the materials used to create clothing is recycled. It’s a market that desperately needs to hit the sustainability reset button, and fast. 

Our pick of the stylish bunch spearheading smarter green strategies is UK-based department chain Selfridges and Project Earth. It’s an ambitious five-year sustainability plan filled with eco-conscious products and services, but it’s not just about eco-signalling or paying lip service; it includes some brilliant business moves across a number of those green themes. Our favourite: “Resellfridges”, where the retail giant will shortly be selling second-hand clothing, and shoppers can sell their items for in-store credit. You’ll also be able to rent clothing through a platform called Hurr, which Forbes called the Airbnb of fashion, use cosmetic refill stations, and get your damaged clothing repaired. Their sustainability section will include low-impact products from high-fashion brands such as Prada and their Re-Nylon collection, which is crafted from ocean plastic; similar to what Adidas is doing with their Parley range.   

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The true benefit of these planet-friendly projects? They target a newer generation of eco-conscious, minimalistic shoppers who value experiences over materials, less is more, and transparency over status. These consumers are an increasingly growing target audience, but there’s some friction too. Not all Gen Z consumers are practising what they preach and are still regularly investing in fast fashion. The challenge: to get their actions, and those of younger counterparts, to speak louder than their words. There are plenty of positive signs though: shoppers are now making connections between their health and the health of the planet. A study by Kearney recently showed that 48% of people surveyed have become more environmentally conscious due to Covid-19, and 55% said the pandemic has made them more likely to buy ‘green’ products. 

There are plenty of other fashion brands going green but using different tactics. There are high-end clothing hire start-ups like Girl Meets Dress and subscription-style specialists like Rent The Runway which let you swap or rent designer items for a week or so at a time, or even sign you up on a monthly plan. Then there are fashion upstarts like Maven and Depop, which are storefronts and marketplaces for designer, preloved and vintage goods. Derek Rose offers a comprehensive sustainability plan and their CEO cites a phrase coined during the second world war: “too poor to buy cheap". Everlane has pledged to avoid using virgin plastic in making their clothes, and they’re also radically transparent; an ethical and socially-conscious pledge to revealing their costs and genuinely supporting their suppliers. Big fashion labels like Maharishi are upcycling their products, a decade later our CEO Sharon still wears her upcycled parachute bomber jacket with pride. Sealand Gear is an innovative South African brand which crafts outdoor bags and clothing from upcycled yacht sail, canvas, and poly twill fabrics. There’s even a hoodie created by Vollebak crafted from eucalyptus material, which can decompose completely in eight weeks. Crucially, these green moves aren’t restricted to style and fashion-borne brands. Massive global retail brands like Walmart are getting into the fashion resale market through partnering with ThredUp, which calls itself the world’s largest online thrift store where you can buy and sell second-hand clothes. 

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As an agency, we’ve harnessed greener tactics for several of our clients as part of our overall marketing strategy. We created a series of eco-fashion experiences for Salvation Army and their charity partner, Salvos Stores. These Street Boutique pop-up stores sold recycled fashion and used influencers and fashion experts to help drive awareness and sales. The customers got advice from stylists and ended up reinventing their wardrobe with unique, high-quality fashion pieces, but on a budget.  

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We’ve also used the fashion swaps trend before (aka ‘swishing’ by those in the know), almost a decade ago now, and it was a great success. The challenge from our client, Carlsberg Eve, was to break into an entrenched alcoholic drinks market and to create buzz around a brand launch for their new fruit-based drink. We created high-profile Fashion Swaps nights in A-list venues in Manchester and Liverpool with high-end brands and celebrities, but with free entry. The concept: bring along a nearly-new item of clothing, and then exchange it for something else at an upmarket pop-up shop. And, of course, like any good event there was music and canapes, and Carlsberg Eve was on hand to provide plenty of samples. The result: there were queues around the block to get into this luxe, eco-conscious experience, and there were record levels of engagement. This launch was ahead of its time, and now, a decade later, we’d do it a little differently. Even though we had bloggers covering the event back then (we were ahead of our time!), we’d recruit even more social-media and influencer firepower now. Flogging posh frocks to fashionistas at cut-rate prices is an easy sell, especially when they’ve only been worn once or twice. And these people can also feel good about having a reduced footprint on the planet.

The bottom line? Modern consumers aren’t satisfied with once-off gestures or gimmicks; sustainability needs to genuinely be part of your brand’s DNA for you to resonate with modern audiences. Consumers react negatively to eco-conscious virtual-signalling and empty gestures, and it’ll end up hurting your business in the long run. Eco-conscious actions are now mainstream and desired; they’re no longer just a nice-to-have or an afterthought. As a company, it’s not just about offering eco-products and services; it’s about asking how your brand can help your consumers improve their impact on the world. And in doing so, many smart brands are also making a solid commercial return.