Consumers are a large part of driving this forward – particularly as their interest in buying from businesses that do good grows. Besides inspiring change, consumers play a crucial role in continuing any business’ sustainability legacy. This is particularly true in fashion; where up to 80% of (some) environmental and social impacts of clothing are realised post sale. It is therefore important for businesses to equip their customers with information (and in some cases resources) to ensure that products continue to have positive impacts beyond the atelier.
Engaging customers on sustainability has the added benefits of forging better relationships with customers through two-way communication and increasing brand loyalty as customers become more aware of the good that products do. It also provides the opportunity for targeted and more effective sustainability related innovation within the business. Given the diversity amongst consumers, it is impossible to suggest a singular means of communicating effectively with customers.
This guide therefore sets out to provide practical guidance on how any fashion business can select the most beneficial way to keep their customers or clients informed on sustainability. Four steps have been developed and outlined to assist businesses regardless of their size, budget and sustainability activity determine the best means of talking to customers about sustainability:
1. Identify your sustainability message
Sustainability is a broad-brush term. It encompasses everything from how the fibres used to make clothes are farmed and harvested, to how the people who make clothes are treated, to how consumers wash their clothes and how clothes are disposed of once their wardrobe utility is expended. Within fashion, it is not always easy to cover every element of sustainability –this is especially true for small businesses. This, however, does not mean that only larger organisation can be included in implementing sustainability or having conversations around it.
As there are so many layers to sustainability, it is important to talk about the aspects of sustainability that are of importance or relevance to your brand. To decide where to focus efforts, asking the following questions could provide guidance:
- What are we passionate about?
- What are we already doing?
- Where do we want to go?
- Where is our influence?
The answers to these questions are where you likely want to focus your attention.
2. Understand your customers’ needs and habits
As with any communication, it is important to consider your target audience’s needs, wants, behaviours, pains etc. This will be pivotal for determining what options are available to you and how you can communicate sustainability to your customers (Step 3). For instance, asking questions such as: ‘What do our clients know about sustainability? Where do they typically interact with our business? What are their priorities?' could highlight communication avenues that had not previously been considered as available. Moreover, it could outline means of communication that were previously thought to be effective as ineffective. For example, Impact Fashion conducted some research around consumer behaviours, which outlined that only 18% of the targeted customers engaged with care labels, therefore suggesting that changing care labels would be an ineffective way of communicating with those customers.
Some of this information you might already have, others you might need to collect from your customers directly. This could be done using surveys embedded in newsletters, social media and direct communication (particularly if you are a made-to-order focused business).
3. Review communication options
There will be multiple ways of communicating with your customers outlined during Step 2. The purpose of further reviewing these options is to assess them against criteria beyond the customer or client. This step will ensure that the most business compatible option is selected. Here are a couple of questions to consider in this process:
- How much will it cost?
- What would be achievable?
- What are the long-term implications on the business?
Select the option that progresses the goal set in Step 1 (‘Where do we want to go?’) and sits within your time, money and risk budget.
If you have questions or are interested in finding out more about talking sustainability with your customers or client, Impact Fashion provides bespoke sustainability communication support to businesses.