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SUSTAINABILITY AND THE WOKE CLIENT

If you haven’t heard the word sustainability yet, there’s a good chance you’ve been living under a rock.

Sustainability is the new “it word”. You’ll see it everywhere, from the news to the walls of your favorite coffee house all the way to the marketing campaign of that luxury brand that just recently opened its store

There’s been a lot of discourse about sustainability and the fashion industry in recent times. The fashion industry is currently one of the most polluting industries in the world, second only to the oil industry, and has been facing major backlash from both activists and consumers alike. Gone are the days when consumers would have jumped at the chance to buy more for less or, moved from store to store on the high street only to come out with more and more shopping bags. Fast fashion, considered one of the biggest contributors to pollution from fashion, has had to rethink its strategy entirely, now coming out with eco-friendly lines like- Conscious by H&M and Live Life by Zara; as well as offering garment recollection initiatives paired with a discount incentive for future purchases.

This is the area where luxury brands seem to have the advantage. Sustainability, as admirable a goal as it may be, can also be an expensive goal; and luxury brands are the most equipped to sell sustainability. With their quantities lower than high street brands, luxury brands often find it easier to integrate more eco-friendly methods into their supply chain. The tag of luxury is also just as important. Sustainability is often considered by the average consumer as something rare and expensive and therefore much less easily attainable and something to aspire to; much like a luxury brand itself. The authenticity and uniqueness associated with sustainability lend it an ethos of social luxury. Additionally, luxury brands can increase their prices to adjust for the cost of sustainability without raising too many eyebrows and sometimes even use it as a justification for their high prices.

So if you’ve been wondering why you’re suddenly hearing the word sustainability so much, you only have the millennials to blame. After student loans and avocado toast, sustainability is the third most talked about topic in relation to them. Various studies have posited that Millennials and Gen Z make up almost 85% of global luxury sales. Furthermore, according to a study by Nielson, 73% of millennials are willing to spend more on a product if it is marketed as sustainable. The facts are simple. The newest wave of consumers is looking to purchase products that reflect their own ethics. Very often, consumers feel futile when they look at the big picture of environmental conservation. Making good choices can be expensive and take up a lot of effort and brands don’t always make it easy for consumers; by constantly showing them better deals for cheaper products, and offering packaging that makes the product tempting at the point of sale but extremely guilt-inducing at the point of disposal.

Often consumers want to buy sustainable products, but less than half state that intention follows through with their wallets. This intention-action gap can only be closed by making sustainability an easier goal. Surveys have shown that 88% of consumers in developed countries want to make a difference but very few of the know-how. This is where brands come in. Consumers now expect their brands to be sustainable and if a brand wants to stay relevant, it has to deliver. However, stating an intention to be sustainable isn’t enough. Brands are expected to show evidence of it in their actions as well as in the products they put out on the market. Furthermore, consumers are no longer content with sitting on the sidelines as an audience. They also want brands to include them on the stage, give them active roles as participants and help them live the values that the brands espouse.

Brands are trying- many have started recycling and upcycling products, have started campaigns encouraging consumers to conserve resources, repurpose old products and reduce wastage. Ivar by Ritika Ravi has been conscious of sustainability since its launch. The brand is using only conflict-free gold and tries to maintain absolute transparency in its sourcing of gemstones. Manufacturing units employed by the brand also adhere to the same ethical policies outlined. The brand has also made it a point to use only recycled paper in its packaging and all marketing materials.

Social media has become the most useful tool in narrowing down a brand’s consumers, understanding their likes and dislikes, what messaging they will respond to the best, and using influencers who resonate authentically with that message. Some of the most important tools used in encouraging sustainable consumption can be done via social media marketing. Using social influence- which involves telling consumers how their friends, neighbors, or community has behaved-has often encouraged people to change their own behaviors. Brands have also used social media to shape good habits and this is usually done by asking for and giving feedback as well as by offering incentives or praise for performing a certain behavior. The Domino effect has been fairly effective, in that it encourages consumers to take up a small cause or make a small change, which very often spirals into the consumer taking up bigger changes.

Most importantly, brands have to consider whether they want to talk to the heart or the head. Marketing campaigns can affect change through emotions or rational logic and sometimes even a combination of the two. Public praise is more effective than monetary gain and often eliciting a moderate amount of guilt, anger or sadness can be more useful than trying to get a strong reaction.

Clients want a change from brands. They also want to be convinced to make changes themselves. It’s how the brands go about creating that change that will ultimately decide if they will stay relevant or fade into oblivion.