In case you're new to the blog, I'll preface this post with the fact that I'm passionate about sustainability + have been for over 20 years. I've been delighted to see huge changes in consumer perception of what ethical + sustainable trade means + many have vowed to live differently over the last few years. But I also understand that some people simply don't care. I'm not one to preach, but I do like to put my 'business head on', so to speak + educate on this topic from a business perspective. This post doesn't aim to change your personal views, but shows how sustainability can help your business, whether you believe in it or not.
This is certainly a post that's been in the pipeline for a while, but it feels particularly poignant right now. For one, it's my first post of 2018 + for many people that means reassessing their lives and/or businesses + there's positive changes that you can make quickly + easily, to set off on the right foot. Also, if you're in England, you'll have noticed some major new initiatives + laws coming into play, which aim to help the environment. Finally, I'm aware that there's going to be a huge amount of fashion startups launching this year + it's always great if you can start as you mean to go on, rather than having to frantically adjust later (more on this in a minute).
When I speak about benefits of having a sustainable business model, I'm sure the first thing that came to mind is 'marketing', however, I only partially believe that to be true. Yes, of course if you use sustainable fabrics for instance, you can use this in your advertising, but if you are someone who doesn't believe in sustainability, a word of caution. Sustainable shoppers are savvy + will likely see through any vague attempts at being sustainable if you haven't committed to it. Also, there's a growing number of consumers who are fed up with terms like 'eco-friendly' being used as marketing buzz words with little meaning. Steer clear of any attempts to market something as sustainable if it isn't - not only will you annoy consumers, but it's also illegal, meaning you could face hefty fines + with fines comes bad press. To avoid this, make sure that you can back up any claims (for instance, if you buy sustainable fabric this usually comes with documentation stating the details) + also explain what specifically is eco-friendly about your operation, the more information the better. If done correctly, advertising the sustainable aspect of your business can be very beneficial.
What other reasons are there for operating a sustainable business model?
Not only are there an increasing number of shoppers searching for sustainable products, but a lot of retailers + media outlets are wanting to showcase their concern for the environment. With so much competition for buyers cash + the media's column inches, it pays to stay relevant to give your stockists an extra selling point + make your pitches interesting. The media are inundated with emails from designers trying to get some publicity. If you want to pitch to any form of media, including social media influencers, you need to have a story, something that their readers and/or followers will find interesting (more detail on this at the end of the post). Simply saying, 'look at my website, I have a great range of clothes' simply won't cut it these days. By staying relevant to not only fashion trends, but also consumer + world trends, you open up more opportunities to be featured + more ways for your range to be purcahsed.
Keep ahead of the market/law
If you're in the UK, you might have seen a lot in the press about environmental concerns, including the ban on microbeads + changes to regulations on the use of plastic bags. With many more changes imminent, it pays to be ahead when it comes to environmental policy. Let's take the cosmetics industry + the use of microbeads for an example. Some brands decided to stop using microbeads a long time ago, they cause a lot of damage to the environment + even to humans, particularly as increasing numbers of us are inadvertently eating plastic (because it's in the water, the fish eat it + we eat the fish). Those companies didn't have to worry about the new legislation, as they already banned microbeads themselves. But what about the other retailers, the ones who continued to use microbeads, despite the advice? They'll now be scrambling to find a new supply chain who will be able to produce their products at a similar price + quality, without the use of microbeads. Finding a supplier is hard at any time, but especially when there is time pressure to be legally compliant + when there's such a huge demand for a product, because everyone is making the same change as you. There's going to be real pressure to make the changes before the law comes into action, otherwise they'll have to discontinue the product + loose the sales to another company. Would you rather be the company who is sitting pretty, or the one who is scrambling about trying to find a solution?
It's common sense that using less creates less waste + also that using less means less cost, so think about what can you cut out of your business. What is unnecessary? For instance, do you send orders out with several kinds of packaging, such as, tissue paper, a poly bag and an envelope? Or do you print things off needlessly? Perhaps you throw away old samples, rather than sell them in a seconds sale? Reducing the amount of 'things' you use in your business reduces the amount you're spending + the amount of waste, so have a think about what you can cut back on.
You can also look at making some small investments that are better in the long run. For example, if you keep buying cheap hangers that break, perhaps you should be investing in a better quality that you can keep for longer - you'll save money in the long run + reduce the amount of waste. Reusable things can also save money longer term, such as using a whiteboard for notes rather than paper boards, or taking your ipad to meetings rather than printing all of the sales figures off.
I find that a lot of businesses can sometimes see all business expenses as a necessity + don't have the same guilt about making rash purchases in the same way they would their own money. Remember that the more you spend the less you can pay yourself! Make sure you consider what you're spending + avoid needless purchases, or those that are only a short term solution.
More press opportunities
Let's face it, the inbox of anyone in the media must be overflowing. I get over 100 emails a day, so I dread to think what your average social media influence is getting. As I mentioned earlier, by giving your brand real values + a story, as well as 'just' making nice clothes, you're much more likely to get noticed. People are busy + rather than having to go to the effort of finding your website, clicking around + spending time to see if they *might* like it + *might* be able to write an article on it is often too much. Instead, by presenting your brand in a few lines of an email, in an exciting + engaging way, you increase your chances of getting featured, because you're saving the influencer/editor time. They know you have a great story, because you've already told them about it. A great brand doesn't have to be sustainable (at least, not yet), but, if you're able to show your innovation in creating a sustainable product, or how your business gives back, this is not only something interesting, but also something that people support + want to learn more about + get behind. Of course, this isn't a reason to be sustainable (you have to want to make it work), but if you are working in that way, it's certianly something that you can use to sharpen up your pitch.
Opens up new sales opportunities
There's an increasing number of both consumers + retail buyers who won't even consider a purchase unless it has sustainable and/or ethical origins. The mentality that 'why buy something that harms people and/or the environment, when you can buy something equally appealing, that doesn't' is growing quickly. Why make your brand be immediately discounted from search results and consumer considerations, because you chose to use a cotton vs an organic cotton, or a polyester, rather than a recycled polyester, to name just a couple?
I hope this post has opened your mind to the possibility of sustainability as a profitable business - it's no longer something that's just for hippies! Hopefully, it's got you thinking about what you can do to make your fashion label more ethical and/or sustainable. If it has, you might be wondering what to do next + what positive changes you can make, that won't cost a fortune. Next week, I'll be talking about some simple changes that you can make, to be more sustainable without harming your profits. More on that soon....
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