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EFF SOURCE Fashion business success without compromise

17 September 2012

Marketing sustainability for the luxury fashion sector

Contributor Ceri Heathcote

Daisy Hill

SOURCE contributor Ceri Heathcote explores innovative approaches to marketing sustainability in the luxury fashion market, with a special focus on online communications. Image: Daisy Hill

The luxury fashion industry has seen huge growth recently with the desire for branded Western goods in China and Asia fuelling the demand. Luxury fashion is usually made to last and sometimes even bespoke making it the complete opposite of environmentally damaging fast fashion and in some ways luxury goods are inherently sustainable.

Both luxury fashion and sustainability rely on consumers buying less but better. Exclusive in nature and with higher pricing, luxury fashion could be more adaptable and able to incorporate sustainability into its supply chain, manufacturing and overall policies.

However, on the other hand some would argue that luxury is a signal of inequality and is also all about conspicuous consumption which itself is a contradiction to sustainability. And there remains several inherent ethical challenges for the industry such as the sourcing of diamonds and issues surrounding the use of leather.

Despite all of these challenges and difficulties, there has been some real progress towards sustainability in the luxury fashion sector in recent years, some of which, including branding, marketing and communication may be applicable to any ethical fashion business or indeed any fashion business that wishes to become more sustainable.

Luxury fashion has traditionally led the way in defining trends. Many brands are now working to develop their online communication strategies to better connect with the new Generation X and Y consumers (the terms used to describe those born after the 1960’s).

SOURCE contributor Ceri Heathcote looks at some good examples of how the luxury fashion sector has adopted a multi-level approach to marketing sustainability in order to provide enough information and transparency for those who are interested without overloading those who have a lower level of interest. These examples can be potential sources of learning for brands that seek to connect with a wider audience and to engage potential change makers in terms of consumer behaviour.

With branding being so key for luxury goods, the challenge in marketing sustainability is to find a way to get the important issues across without diluting the overall brand message.

Traditionally branding for the luxury sector has focused on respect, formality, heritage and prestige and these values can align well with issues of ethics and sustainability.

Going Viral

Clever viral marketing campaigns particularly through Youtube have allowed some brands to reach a different audience without impacting on their traditional brand values.

The Pants Exposed – Know What’s in Your Knickers campaign by Beloved Media for Eco Boudoir was hugely successful and went viral with 140,000 hits on YouTube being shared across the world as well as getting coverage in traditional media including The Guardian and Le Figaro. It was a hard hitting sexy film that talked about sustainability in fashion and textiles with the aim of strengthening the brands ethical credentials but maintaining the brand image.

This example clearly demonstrates a winning formula for a viral campaign – something that provokes a strong emotional reaction, be it humour or surprise, created by something slightly more risqué or unexpected. This is a technique communicates sustainability in a way that appeals to a new or younger audience.


This is one area where luxury brands can really make an impact on consumer perception, both raising awareness of the issues but also in proving that ethically produced garments can look just as high-end and design-led as any other luxury garment.

EDUN is the first example that comes to mind. Both the S/S12 collection ‘Beautiful Rebel’ and the A/W13 collection ‘Birds of Prey’ were shot by famed artist photographer, Ryan McGinley. The story of duality and transformation is the inspiration behind the photographs for ‘Birds of Prey.’ Cast in a warm yellow light, calling to mind the African sun, five birds – global symbols of wisdom and knowledge, all indigenous to Africa – swoop across the images. The photoshoot was applauded by industry tastemakers such as Fashion Gone Rogue, Dazed Digital and more, bringing the EDUN brand to the eyes of an even larger audience.

Eden Diodati is another noteworthy example. The photoshoot for her debut collection garnered the attention of Vogue, FT’s ‘How to Spend It’ and Harper’s Bazaar. Fusing together images of the garments worn by models and photographs of the inspiration behind the collection, the result created a visual story that not only made the collection look desirable but alluded to the ethical message of the brand’s philosophy.

And finally, MAIYET, a new luxury brand that in partnership with Nest works with artisans in countries such as Kenya, Guatemala, India and more, features famous model Daria Werbowy in its S/S12 campaign. Shot by acclaimed fashion photographer Cass Bird, the images were shared widely on social media sites like Tumblr and Pinterest and featured on the pages of countless fashion magazines, including Style.com, Vogue, Elle, Vanity Fair, WWD, Grazia, Interview, The Telegraph and many more.

Slick website design that clearly communicates ethical values

It seems obvious that website design is really important but so many brands get it wrong. A website that is user-oriented, completely consistent with brand image and inspiring is the beginning recipe for success.

Online shoppers make snap judgements about a brand within the first few seconds on its website. Being able to communicate the brand image and ethos in a clear and captivating way isn’t easy.

Again, the Eden Diodati website is an excellent example. This website is first and foremost visually inspiring, representative of the expectations of the luxury shopper, and also user-friendly, easy to navigate and intuitive. Not only beautiful with astute attention to the details, the website also communicates the brand’s sustainability mission and initiatives in a way that is catchy, captivating and digestible. It’s online shopping portal is particularly outstanding – the products are presented beautifully with a clear representation of fit and colour.

The Eden Diodati website was created by Moda Commerce, a digital agency that specialises in fashion e-commerce and works with a number of sustainable fashion businesses. The company is about to launch the website of East London-based multi-brand shop, 69b, which like Eden Diodati is also a member of the Fellowship 500. In addition to these sites, Moda Commerce is also responsible for designing websites for Mary Portas, Seaspray Nardis Beach.

Christopher Raeburn, a previous EFF Innovation Award winner, represents another example of how website design can really fuel brand success. The website is consistent with his brand image, from the font right through to the images. And this is not a complicated website either, which shows that even simple websites with a smaller budget can be both beautiful and effective.

Making sustainability fun

A key trend in online marketing at the moment is gaming and apps. Timberland is tapping into this desire for interactive media with it Earth Keepers Virtual Forest app. As with many types of social media, this app sends an important message and brand communication but in a fun way that young people will want to engage with. The user can create a forest, invite friends to join and plant virtual trees. For every tree you planted in the virtual forest, the user will be helping Timberland plant a real tree in Haiti. Timberland has also recently added a games section to their website with Games including Green Guide to Dating and Love and Get Your Hortiscope (tree personality!) This is a fun marketing tactic that even luxury brands with a quirky aesthetic could adapt and use.

Driving change in the industry

The deeper the involvement of a company in driving change with regard to sustainability, the more the changes will become part of the company’s identity and intertwined into their overall strategy, leading to not only greater sustainability but also greater trust from consumers.

With so much green wash and invalidated claims about sustainability, companies need to really show that they are walking the walk as opposed to just talking the talk and getting involved in driving change in the industry is a great way to do this.

Gucci Group, Tiffany & Co, Mulberry Group, Cartier and Burberry Ltd and LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton are all founding members of the Sustainable Luxury Working Group. The purpose of the group is to discuss common environmental, social, and governance challenges facing the luxury sector, and to promote transparency, knowledge sharing, and collaboration across common global supply chains. In February 2011, they developed a set of animal sourcing principles. Gucci was also one of the first companies in the luxury sector to launch a voluntary certification process in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility (SA8000) alongside its entire production chain in 2004.

Awareness raising, consumer education and behaviour change campaigns

Change can also be brought about at the consumer level through awareness raising and education. Vivienne Westwood is well known for her campaigning regarding climate change and most recently she was widely quoted in the media with her advice to ‘ buy less, choose well’ regarding fashion.

At a time when sustainability is still not well understood or accepted by many, the influence exerted by luxury brands could play a key role in raising both awareness and and helping to drive behavioural change of consumers.

Luxury retailer Yoox has also worked with both Vivienne Westwood and Livia Firth to raise environmental awareness as well as promoting its own range of eco fashion through Yooxygen, a channel on its website. The channel includes the Eco Age collection curated by Livia Firth and video content with sustainability messages from Vivienne Westwood and Giselle Bündchen.

In terms of awareness raising, consumer education and behaviour change campaigns, celebrity can play an important role but there are also a range of other possibilities including traditional and social media which can be interesting, fun and relevant to the audience.

Rewarding positive buying behaviour

For ethical retailers, the challenge is to attract customers and help them to understand the benefit in making the sustainable choice. Some retailers use incentive schemes which help to keep customers loyal by rewarding them with points that can be spent on the website. And customer loyalty is particularly important for new ethical brands that are looking to grow.

Daisy Hill encourages customers to think about sustainability by awarding VIP status which offers a free upgrade to express delivery to one customer each month who does something like commenting on the blog, leaving an eco tip on their Facebook page, referring a friend or reviewing a product.

Traditionally customer loyalty schemes have aimed to enhance the overall value proposition of the product or service and to motivate buyers to make the next purchase of a product. In this social media age, successful loyalty programs may well also link into recommendations, reviews or social sharing of products or brands helping to increase visibility and communicate sustainability.


Despite its connotations of overindulgence and signalling of inequality plus the many other challenges faced, there are some brands showing how luxury fashion can successfully achieve and market sustainability and ethics. The luxury sector is very visible and influential because of its high profile consumers, VIP’s and celebrities making it ideally placed to lead the way in raising awareness and understanding of the issues and driving behavioural change. There are many interesting examples of how luxury fashion is communicating and marketing sustainability in innovative ways including multi level approaches that increase transparency, whilst keeping the message engaging and relevant to the audience but not diluting the overall brand message.

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