Sustainability, a matter of survival for brands

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk about sustainability as the new normal in fashion during a e-event organized by Brand Mooks, with four insightful speakers. The article below summarizes the key takeaways from this session. I sincerely hope that you will find it inspiring.

Rather than being a matter of normality, sustainability has become essential for brands and consumers in order to survive in the current context.

With the rise of environmental and social matters in our society, illustrated by movements such as #ExtinctionRebellion and #BlackLivesMatter, we assist to a raising awareness of climate and justice issues. Also, the COVID-19 crisis reminds us our vulnerability as human beings and the sometimes superficiality of our everyday consumption mode.

This environment of reflection leads us to rethink what is really essential and what makes sense in our lives, impacting our way of consuming – before buying, we are increasingly asking ourselves: do I really need this? What is it made of? What are the workers conditions behind the production process? This sort of mindset is a great step towards more ethics in our daily life.

The question is to know whether these good intents of consumption will last in the Post-COVID-19 era.

It is of course too early to affirm anything with certainty but some data show a shift of purchasing behavior when ordering from home during the confinement (Accenture, 2020).

More than half of participants say they are focusing on limiting food waste, around 50% say they are shopping more consciously and less than a half say they are making more sustainable choice and will likely to continue to do so looking forward. These data add up to the growing concern of consumers, especially Millennials, for social and environmental issues, suggesting a long-term shift in mindset. As an optimist, I believe this crisis is an opportunity to introspect our way of living in order to move towards fairer and greener actions.

Whilst the market is evolving, brands have to adapt to meet the new requirements of consumers.

Previously seen as a nice-to-have, sustainability has become essential for brands. Sustainable brands who assume their social responsibilities and environmental impact towards consumers but also employees and partnerships in the actual context survive better that the others thanks to the evolving market and specific internal properties (The Goodgoods, 2020).

More than ever, brands without any sustainable foundation have to make a shift by adopting ethical practices to survive. This process of change has obviously already begun for many companies and we might only be seeing the beginning of a long trend. As an example, in high fashion some renowned brands such as Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani and Gucci recently announced their withdrawal of the fashion calendar to follow their own seasonality and temporality (Vogue, 2020).

But, although brands are embracing ethical and sustainable practices, there remains a feeling of mistrust from the consumers.

How to then reestablish trust between consumers and brands?

The role of communication is in that case crucial as consumers expect brands not only to sell products but, be real actors of change. Brands have to share their true reason of being and communicate their values of simplicity, authenticity and quest of meaning in our society.

Depending on the origins of a brand – ethics in its roots or adopt it afterwards – communication will be slightly different.

1.Brands with ethics in their foundations need to emphasize on their historical engagement

The objective of their communication is to share their story, their battle by creating transparent and authentic dialogue with their community. They must act and communicate as a moral person with weaknesses, strengths and societal vision.

2. Brands starting to adopt ethical practices recently need to demonstrate they do what they pretend to be doing

To reestablish trust with consumers, brands have to first find their reason of being, secondly listen to the expectations of the consumers, thirdly claim their vulnerability and being humble, and lastly prove their social and environmental commitments.

According to a study, 87% of French think that the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) engagement of enterprises is important and more than a half say they need proofs to be convinced (BVBA,2019).

More and more, consumption is becoming an act of politics. When buying something, we increasingly realize that we are choosing the kind of society we want to live in. Thanks to the current context, we assist nowadays to a change of mindset and expect that it will continue to do so.

In this context of changing expectations of the consumers, brands have to integrate ethics in order to reestablish the trust with authentic and honest communication.