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22 August 2014

Mainstreaming Sustainable Fashion - The Issues

Contributor Lisa Schneider


In a 16-part series, SOURCE Intelligence columnist, Lisa Schneider, gives you several strategies to help communicate sustainability more effectively to the mainstream fashion market. This is the introduction to the series and explores the key, broad issues. Image: Format clothing

Although the fashion industry is the second biggest polluter globally, other industries have been much more successful in mainstreaming their “green” products (think of organic food). So why is sustainable fashion still failing to make the leap into the mainstream market? The answer is that sustainable fashion hasn’t yet lost its image problem.

What is wrong with sustainable fashion’s image?

(1) ‘Greenophobia’

John Grant, author of ‘The Green Marketing Manifesto’ (2007) has identified a ‘greenophobia’ amongst today’s consumers that leaves sustainable fashion with a rather negative public image. And yes, it is no secret that consumers often hold prejudices against things that are “green” and regard sustainable fashion as uncomfortable, old-fashioned, pricey or for ‘hippies’.

(2) Scepticism

Next to that, consumers are highly sceptical of green claims and marketing. Why? Because a number of brands have used greenwashing to enhance their “green” image, using it solely as a source of competitive advantage without any real proven or robust sustainability impact.

Yet, in the age of digital, your customers can find out whether your claims are substantiated. And they will. Greenwash activities have increasingly been revealed during the past years and they further reinforce these ‘greenophobic’ attitudes.

(3) Green Fatigue

What is more, green marketing (in its current approach and application) has become widespread, leading to a sort of ‘green fatigue’ amongst consumers. To put it simply, people are getting tired or growing immune to “green messages.” Sustainability needs to start being communicated in a more creative and positive way.

These negative perceptions and attitudes do not only affect consumer mindsets, but also their purchasing behaviour. No wonder, fashion that is regarded as ‘backwards’, uncomfortable or ‘weird’ is not a likely bestseller. In order to reach the tipping point of mainstreaming sustainable
fashion, those negative perceptions need to be eliminated, especially for the fashion sector.

Communicating to the mainstream consumer

What current marketeers have largely not considered is that communicating sustainability to consumers who do not know or care much about it requires a different approach than communicating to consumers who are already buying green products.

“Green” products tend to be marketed around on their environmental benefits. But, in fashion, consumers care much more about the product design and personal benefits.

More so, sustainability communications are often aimed at promoting less consumption and these strategies do not always resonate with the mainstream consumer, especially the very fashion conscious, trend-driven ones.

Brands need to understand what the mainstream consumer is typically motivated by: fun, fashion, benefits and desires.

Additionally, sustainability marketing has often relied on guilt-tripping and scaring consumers about the consequences of “unethical” clothing. The normal human reaction to this confrontation of fear is to run away, so, instead, sustainable fashion needs a positive vision which makes people want to embrace more sustainable lifestyles.

For effective and perception-changing communication, it is important to recognise that mainstream consumers are mainly doing what is perceived to be ‘normal’. They are following fashion and trends, embrace consumption and always seek the best solution to improve their lives.

They are further driven by fun, simplicity, achievability, visibility, success, social status and esteem, as well as rewards and recognition. In order to engage mainstream consumers in sustainability practices, companies need to consider these motivations and build their green marketing strategy around them.

In the coming weeks, SOURCE Intelligence will look at these 15 communication strategies that help businesses set up an effective marketing strategy aimed at the mainstream consumer with the ultimate goal to make sustainable fashion more marketable and change those commonly held negative perceptions. These include:

  • Research
  • Define
  • Prove
  • Simplify
  • Educate
  • Normalise
  • Disclose
  • Personalise
  • Narrate
  • Surprise
  • Engage
  • ‘Humourise’
  • ‘Celebritse’
  • Diversify
  • Measure

In the next article, we will look at one of the most crucial factors for an effective strategy: researching your audience, laying the foundation and why it is important to know how your customer perceives sustainability.


Watch a training video, covering more information on key marketing strategies for sustainable fashion: Source Masterclass: Communicating Sustainability

Watch this video for more about consumer perceptions and communications: SOURCE Summit 2012 Video

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