Words < Money

Posted by Jill Erickson on

Dear Sustainable Fashion Enthusiast,

Imagine with me a boardroom at the headquarters of a fast fashion brand.  Pick a company you've frequented in the past, but don't anymore.  Maybe you don't shop there after watching The True Cost.  Or maybe it's been since you took a class on sustainability in college.  Whatever the reason, you're on the sustainable fashion bandwagon now, and you don't shop there anymore.  In fact, you're SO into this movement, you don't shop much at all.  When you do, it's second-hand because you occasionally still do want that brand at that price you just want to be sustainable about it.  High five. 

(For the sake of fluency, let's say "sustainable" and "ethical" fashion are the same, even though they're kinda not)

Ok, so there are a bunch of executives sitting around a fancy conference table.  They're all shrewd business people.  Likely, millionaires.  Their only interest is increasing the bottom line, so they're here to discuss new initiatives on how to achieve that goal.  Again, the goal here is very straight-forward: more money.  Got it?

#1 - They're discussing buying trends - what are people buying and where are they buying it? What is selling?  What isn't selling?  

#2 - Target market & demographics - who is their customer?  How old are they?  How much money do they make?  What are they interested in?  Where do they live?  How do they like to shop?

#3 - Margins - how much money are they making on their product?  How much product turn over is required in order for that number to go up up up?  

#4 - Marketing strategy - how are they reaching their customer?  What media channels are working?  What isn't working?  Where are they seeing the highest return on investment?

Record scratch.  Have I lost you?  Stay with me here. 

So the Trend Forecaster goes, "Vogue UK recently dedicated a whole issue to 'Sustainability'."  

R&D dude/chick responds, "According to our market research, consumers claim to be opposed to the negative social and environmental impact of the fashion industry."

This piques the Product Development director's interest, "Interesting.  Is there an opportunity here for us to offer something new that will appeal to this customer?"

The CFO, only ever thinking in terms of numbers, says, "What is the potential of making up for decreased margin with an increase in product turn-over?"

(He's asking if they'll get MORE customers by adding a sustainable component to their product offerings)

The marketing strategist says, "Excellent question.  Where is this customer currently shopping?"

Back to R&D, "They're not.  According to our research, spending money on anything new is 4th on the list of a conscious consumer, after 1) buy nothing, 2) repair & repurpose what you already own, 3) shop second-hand."

CFO to PD, "Let's move on." 

Folks, we just lost this imaginary boardroom battle against fast fashion.  Without money (aka: action) to back up our demands, no progress is made here.  Whine, complain, shake your fists, write all the letters, make all the phone calls you want.  This is business and business only responds to money.  Long term.  Business also sometimes responds to scandal, but change is usually short-lived.

Thank you for your enthusiasm over sustainable fashion, but unless that enthusiasm is backed with green this movement is on a treadmill to nowheresville.

What if this went a different way:

Back to R&D, "The conscious consumer is buying local.  They are willing to spend more money on fewer, quality items that are sustainably made."

PD is on it.  "I will reach out to an expert in the sustainable fashion space.  A potential partnership could be good for our image and bottom line.  Let's test out a sustainable fashion offering at a store with the highest conscious consumer demographic."

What happened?  Money was identified.  Money they want.  The consumer was identified.  Their money was tracked to something they weren't offering.  So now they want to offer it too.

Is this going to piss people off who have hitched their wagon to sustainable fashion protocols 1-3?  Maybe.  I can't afford to care.  Know why?  Because they don't shop at my store either.  My family and the families of other small businesses like mine can't eat your well wishes and your back pats.  And the fair trade brands, local makers, sustainable designers, they can't either.  Financial support is necessary.  Vital to the cause of sustainable fashion.  This is why I choose these brands for my store.  Because I want them to succeed.  Their success is what causes the movement to advance, not stand still.  Creates a future for aspiring designers and makers.  Forges a path for the WHOLE fashion industry.  Scream your demands into the echo chamber of slow fashion, or FUND slow fashion brands and watch fast fashion turn green with something else...envy.

It should be the first priority, not the last.  Support sustainable fashion brands with your dollars and naturally, by default, because you are conscious of what you're buying, you will buy less and you will treat your things better and you will keep them longer.  

If you're going to make demands, show up with the dollars. Being #4 is a recipe for burnout the future of fashion will not find sustainable.  Irony intended.