Walk The Walk With Digital Sustainability Marketing For Fashion

As apparel brands attempt to clean up their act with a more ethical approach to the fashion business, it seems that now is the perfect time to start a conversation that focuses on digital sustainability marketing strategy.

A recent BBC documentary by Stacey Dooley, titled ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secrets‘, had a groundswell of opinion against fast-fashion. The thing is, the ‘secrets’ revealed in the documentary have actually been out there for a while now. And over the last 2-3 years, whether for compliance or voluntarily, large apparel brands are cleaning up their act to improve impact on the planet and people in the supply chain. Simultaneously, upcoming slow fashion brands have built their business on an eco-cum-ethical foundation.

Stacey Dooley Investigates, Fashion’s Dirty Secrets for the BBC | Photo Credit: BBC 3

Given so, brands with a good story need to talk more than ever before and not stop at putting out reports. Communicating sustainability in a manner that is relatable and engaging is now critical to build bridges of trust with consumers and win their loyalty. This resonates with several surveys that point to millennials willing to pay a premium for sustainably produced goods. Apps like Good On You and Not My Style aggregate and rate fashion brands on social and environmental parameters, thus helping shoppers make a better choice of purchase. All the more reason that brands need to join that conversation and independently engage with customers taking into account a digital sustainability marketing strategy.

Also, the majority of sustainable fashion brands are digital-first, and therefore they need to talk online. Two digital marketing solutions Sharelabel and Green Story, have arrived. Holding promise for market adaptation, their suitability, of course, will depend on the brand’s progress, sustainability goals and budget.

ShareLabel: Redefining Relationship With Garment Label

Sweden-based Rudholm Group has been in the business of making trims, garment labels and other fashion accessories since 1951 and operates in 22 countries. Not someone you would turn to for delivering a brand’s sustainability story. Yet, Rudholm has come up with a simple and smart concept called ShareLabel.

The ordinary garment label carries details like the style and identification number. ShareLabel adds a unique QR code alongside that information. Using a smartphone, the customer can scan that code and is directed to a specific URL where the story behind the clothes can be told in a manner that the brand desires, whether through video, text or images. Rudholm uses blockchain technology to automatically generate such QR codes which can be individualised for each garment. That lends brands an opportunity to tell the unique story of where, how and by who a specific piece of clothing was made.

Digital Sustainability Marketing
Rudholm Group has developed a system using a share label combined with a QR code to unlock the identity of a specific product.| Image Credit: Rudholm Group

Mikael Dahlin, CEO, Rudholm & Haak AB, shared, “We are best suited to execute this as we sit as the spider in the web between brands, producers and consumers. Sharelabel helps customers to make educated choices about the products they are buying. At the same time, the majority of sales are moving online, taking brands further away from the customer. This technology allows the product to speak for itself.”

QR codes are fast and easy to use as smartphones presently come equipped with an in-built QR reading capability. Therefore Sharelabel could become a useful tool that trains the customers to start looking at the usually-neglected garment labels. Meanwhile, brands can do away with the printing of eco-story hangtags that get binned.

“Sharelabel helps customers to make educated choices about the products they are buying”

The future use-cases for Sharelabel include the elimination of counterfeits and the ability to share stories of a garment as it travels in the second-hand market. Dahlin adds that they opted for QR codes over NFC to keep the costs down. A brand placing orders for Sharelabel doesn’t pay extra for the tech and can distribute the printing across 9 locations worldwide. While this proposition might give Rudholm a competitive edge against other label manufacturers, it currently has five fashion brands on board. The first Sharelabel tagged brand collection is likely to be released in Fall 2018.

In the past, Marks and Spencer briefly experimented with a similar technology where they put a QR code label inside the M&S Iconic suit to share the sustainability credentials of the product. UK-based ethical fashion brand, ‘Where Does It Come From’, provides an alphanumeric code on its garment label. That code, when manually entered on the brand’s site, unlocks the travels of a garment from cotton farms to tailoring.

Green Story: Talking Sustainability In Numbers

‘Most consumers just take 7 seconds to scan an item; we want to make sure that they understand your positive impact in those slim 7 seconds.’ That hypothesis serves as the foundation for the digital solution, Green Story.

“Green products suffer from the say-do gap. Research shows that 80% of consumers say they want to buy green but only 10% follow through with a green purchase.”

A digital sustainability marketing platform, Green Story uses infographics to make the sustainability story real and personal for the customer. The eco-impact of shopping is broken down into relatable and real-world metrics, down to an individual product. For example, by opting for a women’s front-zip jacket produced by the brand Ungalli, the user can feel good about saving 44 days of drinking water and 9 hours of bulb energy.

Explains Green Story co-founder Akhil Sivanandan, “Green products suffer from the say-do gap. Research shows that 80% of consumers say they want to buy green but only 10% follow through with a green purchase. We try to tell the brand’s sustainability story throughout the customer’s journey by stating up front the positive difference they will make by buying a certain product. And that works. By placing impact data next to product descriptions online, our clients saw at least a 40% improvement in their conversion rates.”

The Canadian startup is a quant-quali hybrid, in that it provides a combination of services offered by impact assessment firms and marketing agencies. Firstly, hard data, sourced from the brand, external datasets and Green Story’s algorithms, is analysed. A brand’s supply chain is compared against the industry’s to calculate the environmental footprint. The net positive impact shown to the customer is the difference between the brand’s footprint and like-for-like industry footprint. In the next stage, metrics are translated through a creative rendition of infographics with an added dose of gamification. Interactive widgets and calculators are integrated into the brand’s site, mailers and shopping carts, that are also shareable on social media.

Also Read: Did You Know That 23 Per Cent Of Our Clothes Are Unworn?

After a year of beta testing, Green Story widgets are live on 20 brand sites including Tamga Designs and baby wear brand, Inchworm Alley. However, the first brand to show the data-based impact of a product was the American label, Reformation. It launched an indigenously developed tool called Refscale in 2015. For every product available on the site, it lists down the amount of CO2, water and waste saved. Sivanandan wants to encourage more green fashion brands to adopt that number-driven approach. Monthly packages for Green Story, range from 100-250 USD, making it a reasonably priced consumer awareness tool, especially for eco-conscious companies.Digital Sustainabililty Marketing

Nevertheless, greenwashing will remain a challenge where a brand could use this platform to make exaggerated claims. The Green Story team acknowledges that possibility and emphasises on their due diligence and robust methodology to keep the numbers in the authenticity zone.

Make Sustainable Fashion Mainstream

Designer and co-founder of the International Society for Sustainable Fashion, Debbie Moorhouse, explained, “These technologies are foremost good communication tools for sustainability, but they do also have strong potential to increase transparency in supply chains by providing information and give consumers a connection to how their products are made, creating increased socially conscious consumerism.” Moorhouse further adds “…in sustainability people always talk about the future but these easy to use and commercially viable solutions could become a reality in the very near future.”

The pace of adoption of such technologies though is a function of alignment between the sustainability, marketing and finance departments in a company, thereby implying that smaller fashion brands might be quicker on the uptake.

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Molshree is a fashion consultant and researcher based in London. With a background in fashion retail, she is currently focussing on projects that propel the sustainability agenda into the mainstream.