Is Sustainable Fashion Authentic? Guest Blog by Lawrence Alexander

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On Wednesday 10 February 2016 we welcomed Eleanor Snare and Lawrence Alexander to LCF for a talk on Manifestos: Thinking and Making Changes.

Lawrence reflects …

Is sustainable fashion authentic? No, but that’s okay

In Wednesday’s guest lecture I uncovered two key findings about sustainable fashion, authenticity and innovation. Firstly, how the words are related and what that tells us about the motivations behind sustainable fashion. Then what trust and authenticity mean for a brand and why being truly sustainable does not equal being truly authentic.

 

Sustainability, authenticity, innovation and trust

My data argues against the opinion that, after years of campaigning brands have finally “seen the light” and are starting to consider or adopt sustainable practices. Instead, it demonstrates how a sudden concern for brand trust led an interest in brand innovation which in turn drove an interest in sustainability

In short, big brands were losing favour with their audiences and used sustainability to win it back.

 

Brand Promise

A brand that consistently delivers on a promise is likely to do well. This is because they have brand trust. Put simply, when a consumer considers purchasing a product, they will choose a brand they trust to deliver on its promise e.g.

  • Snickers will satisfy your hunger
  • Sky will entertain
  • Gucci will make you look sexy

The more consistently a brand makes the same promise, and keeps it, the more likely the consumer is to choose them in that moment of consideration

Between 1915 and 2015 Coca-Cola told and sold their product as delicious and refreshing. Some committed are they to keeping that promise, they have gone as far as giving away fridges; ensuring that their product is always refreshing.

100 years of making and keeping the same promise has, in no doubt, cemented Coca-Cola into an entire generation’s considerations.

 

Brand Promise, Authenticity and Trust

However, these promises and the importance of keeping them, poses issues for those driving sustainability within brands.

If a business’ sustainability agenda requires that a brand break its promise, which will win out. For example, all those fridges aren’t very environmentally friendly. Would Coca-Cola go as far as to recall them all and serve their product warm? What do you think?

Likewise, fashion brands may want to be sustainable, but if in doing so, they risk their brand perception, for example Gucci becomes frumpy, then sustainability will likely fall by the wayside.

 

Does this mean that sustainable fashion isn’t authentic?

In short the answer is yes. But the question is reductive and unhelpful.

Asking ‘is every single fashion activity labelled as sustainable is truly sustainable’ is so ambiguous the answer is almost impossible.

What is sustainable? Over what timeframe? Do we mean sustainable for the next 25, 50 or 1000 years. Over a long enough timeframe nothing is sustainable.

Likewise what is authentic? If the opposite of authentic is fake or pretend; how real do we want brands to be? Should a brand campaign read “This sparkly dress is made from cheap materials and won’t last long, but that’s okay because we know you only really want to buy it for your work Christmas party and then you’ll want a new one next year.” It’s hardly inspiring for the business or the consumer.

 

Do I think it’s all pointless?

The good news is no! We can’t expect the entire fashion industry to be truly sustainable, or all of it to be authentic, but that doesn’t mean nothing is.

The industry is made up of many organisations, some more sustainable than others, some more authentic than others. Every organisation, like Kering, like Primark, is made up of people, with individual goals and personal beliefs, likewise some are more sustainable and authentic than others.

Ultimately no industry will ever be entirely sustainable, as there will always be individuals with contrasting or conflicting ideas.

So focus your attention on individuals; not global brands or entire industries. Or as my grandma used to say “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves”.

Lawrence Alexander is the Digital Strategy Director at Home Agency.

You can find out more by following Lawrence on Twitter as @larrysbrain or by visiting www.HomeAgency.co.uk where you can read more about using marketing to make brands and consumers feel good about marketing.