‘It’s chic to repeat’, is a snappy phrase that carries a semantic equal part playful and meaningful. Here’s why. It is devoid of terrifying stats about human rights and climate change, that results from the use-and-throw clothes culture many of us have become habituated to. Yet, those words carry a nudge for behaviour change, delivered in a stylish light-hearted manner.
The Concept of Play With Sustainable Fashion Marketing
Playfulness is embedded in the DNA of the fashion industry, all the way from artistic spunk to spontaneous bursts of inspiration. Therefore, it is not surprising to see some brands adopting the concept of play to broach sustainability in fashion. This wit and humour laden approach appeal to a target demographic; Millennials. As consumers, Millennials care about a brand’s purpose and their approach to the future of our planet.
Of the many adopting this playful concept of communication, here are five brands, individuals and an organisation making sustainability more relatable and accessible for the everyday fashion customer without detracting from the seriousness of the causes they support.
The Tone of Voice: Reformation
‘Being naked is the most sustainable option. We are #2,’ is an edgy tagline that Los Angeles-based brand Reformation used to set a new standard of marketing sustainable clothing. They launched in 2009 with this message, and unlike their peers who resort to a more inspirational and earnest approach of storytelling their sustainability credentials, Reformation instead opted for a well-crafted sassy tone-of-voice.
While the product is still the hero, with its flirty and feminine designs, the brand has found clever ways of inserting a sustainability narrative that is at all times jargon-free, witty and backed up by quantifiable data. Refscale is an ingenious tool, that lists down CO2, water and waste savings for every product sold on the Reformation site. From ‘lazy person’s guide to recycling’ booklets to #sexymath infographics and visuals that lay out the brand’s environmental footprint, the otherwise boring data gets articulated in a language, best understood by the target audience.
Founded by designer Yael Aflalo, the brand now enjoys a cult-like following among its target audience, the millennial women referred to as Refbabes on Instagram. While it started out as a direct-to-consumer brand, Reformation raised a $25 million series B funding in late 2017 to fund its brick-and-mortar footprint that currently stands at 12 stores in the US.
Product Design: Po-Zu
London-based ethical shoe brand, Po-Zu promotes the use of biodegradable materials like organic cotton and Pinatex (leather produced from pineapple leaf fibres), hand stitched with a glue-free manufacturing process. Founded by Sven Segal, the brand scores high on comfort with a trademarked coconut-husk foot mattress. In 2017, Po-Zu pulled off a coup by launching the Star Wars Collection of shoes under license from Lucasfilm and Disney. This was the brand’s fifth collaboration in 11 years of its existence and the most successful one to date, in terms of sales and brand buzz.
So while anything to do with Star Wars whips up excitement, Po-Zu scored with its striking shoe designs, inspired by film characters including Finn, Poe Dameron and BB8. Ranging from cute to subtle, sustainability was the added bonus. The collection tapped into a new audience, Star Wars aficionados, who discovered the brand at Comic-Con venues and online, adding to the existing base of ethically-minded customers. Like a Star Wars Jedi, that stays alert to avoid a fall to the dark side, one hopes Po-Zu will continue to spread awareness about shoe industry malpractices and grow the category on the back of meaningful and stylish designs.
Experiential Learning: Christopher Raeburn Remade Tours
Empathy fuels connections bringing forth the possibility and better understanding of the sustainability ethos. Brands advocating transparency have started to organise tours into their facilities. However, one that stands out for its inspirational and memorable experience is Raeburn Studio tours. In partnership with Airbnb, twice in a month, British fashion designer, Christopher Raeburn opens the doors of his REMADE studio in East London.
This all-access tour offers visitors of all ages, a glimpse into Raeburn’s design and production techniques that are based on ‘remade, reduced and recycled’ philosophy. Recognised for his innovative use of materials ranging from military parachutes and tents to artefacts, the affable designer offers personal insights over two hours, rounding off with a fun t-shirt making workshop. The studio turns into an experiential destination that makes
a fashion consumer rethinks their buying habits, perhaps allowing room for making and mending into their lifestyle.
Many a tour attendees have left glowing reviews on the Airbnb site. Writes Diana Margot, “We got to go through or play with the archive. It was like being a kid in a candy store: trying on some of the “runway” pieces and seeing Christopher’s collections of vintage military items…the tour is inspiring and will make you think about fashion and sustainability in new ways.”
Subculture Hacking for Behaviour Change: Haulternative
The hashtag #whomademyclothes, became a global movement, in 2013, when former fashion designers Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro wanted answers to the Rana Plaza aftermath. It wasn’t long before over 70,000 people asked #whomademyclothes which lead to the hashtag getting 156 million impressions online. Since then, Fashion Revolution has galvanised thousands of shoppers who had been oblivious to what happens to a garment behind-the-scenes. The issue of lack of transparency in the fashion supply chain is dark and complex as highlighted by the movement’s initiatives like Garment Worker Diaries, a research project that tracks the life and wages of garment workers and Fashion Transparency Index that ranks fashion brands for their disclosure about social and environmental impact.
In 2015, to playfully nudge the fashion shoppers towards more mindful consumption, Fashion Revolution tapped into the hugely popular phenomenon, fashion haul (an online video in which a thrilled shopper showcases her latest buys) and haulternative was born. As the name suggests, it is an alternative to a conventional haul. So instead of buying clothes, the shopper resorts to swapping, renting, upcycling, customising and shopping secondhand for a wardrobe refresh.
Ensuring a mainstream reach, Fashion Revolution collaborated with a pack of leading fashion influencers like Noodlerella and Grav3yardgirl to create haulternative videos. The clothes swap between famous YouTubers CutiePieMarzia and La Madelynn has been viewed over 870,000 times to date and over 90 haulternative videos were made during the Fashion Revolution Week in 2018.
Social Media Humour: Slow Fashion Memes & GIFs by Tolly Dolly Posh
The environmental organisation, Greenpeace, regularly deploys meme activism on social media channels to spread its message which is usually wrapped in puns and humour. If that is so, could ethical fashion be far behind?
In January 2018, an Instagram account, @slowfashionmemes, popped up with the following bio: “organic, certified fairtrade memes manufactured w/ living wage using natural fibres distributed transparently to ur feed faster than u can say Primark”. A 23-year-old passionate proponent of eco-fashion runs the account and her posts, high on dry humour, leave no stone unturned in mocking fast fashion and unethical consumption habits. Meanwhile, among the brands, Birdsong London has dabbled in meme-making to promote its collection and themes like women’s rights. Friend-tagging amps up the virality of memes, spreading the word beyond the ethical community.
There’s more in store for Instagram stories. Ethical fashion blogger, Tolly Dolly Posh noticed a gap in the market for GIFs and stickers that would cater to those wanting to show off their sustainable lifestyle. She stepped in with GIFs that range from DIY to eco-friendly. Tolly’s meaningful yet eye-catching creations have garnered over 720 million views while being spotted on IG stories of various accounts including Depop, Fashion Revolution and Ariana Grande.
“Combining authenticity and transparency with playfulness is an exciting strategy to restore trust between the customer and the brand.”
These five examples have a common thread that runs across. They are entrepreneurial endeavours; young startups that do not bear the cross of messy supply chains or have greenwashing accusations hurled at them. On the other hand, global fashion brands like Zara and H&M have steered clear of fun and games in their eco-led communication.
Sustainability strategist and founder of We Activate The Future, Jenny Andersson, explains that big brands can feel vulnerable around sustainability communication because of the history of public challenges to supply chain issues like child labour, exploitation and pollution. “Anything that is linked to reputation, particularly within the supply chain, is managed very carefully. They have shareholders on their backs screaming for annual
profits which often means that anything perceived as too risky gets dropped.”
Andersson continues: “The fashion industry has used very standard brand communications strategies for decades which have worked well; which are based on exploiting our emotional needs to belong, to be attractive, to look good. Smaller startups can be much bolder. They don’t have the incredibly difficult task of having to transform an existing business model or supply chain, and they are not trying to put sustainability at the heart of a shareholder-driven brand. They can communicate with more confidence.”
Combining authenticity and transparency with playfulness is an exciting strategy to restore trust between the consumer and brand. With the likelihood that one might see more of it in the coming days, it may never be a dominant trend. That being said humour does have its place in the race to solve the systemic issues plaguing the fashion industry.