“Many of us are aware or are becoming conscious of our unlimited power as individuals…Through the purchases we make today we are able to shape the world of tomorrow.” Bruno Pieters, founder and CEO of Honest by
As the number of conscious consumers grows, many of us are finding compatriots in the pursuance of ethically produced and environmentally designed fashion products. We try to consider numerous factors when it comes to purchasing clothing, supporting labels with production processes and designs we believe in. However, the fashion industry is comprised of such a daunting web of information and manufacturing processes that it’s often very difficult to truly understand how a certain piece of clothing has come into existence. That’ why we have to demand a new, open and clear system.
From the Nike sweatshop scandals in the 1990s, to the 2011/12 Greenpeace Detox Campaign, and the more recent garment factory fires and collapse in Bangladesh that killed several hundred people, its clear that something is very wrong with the way most of the world’s clothes are produced.
But what are we doing about it?
Although proposals for brand sponsored monitoring and factory safety implementation were presented at 2011 meeting in Dhaka, companies such as H&M, The Gap, and Wal-Mart rejected it as a it was “not financially feasible…to make such investments”. (The Associated Press) The bulk of the problem also lies in how many consumers still flock to the H&M’s, Zara’s, Gap’s and Nike’s of the world to make the latest finds for their wardrobes, regardless of their unethical and resource reaping practices. Although several large brands have launched eco collections or initiatives, these ‘greening’ techniques are not what the company’s structure is built around – it’s built around profit and the quickest way to obtain it. “Companies go out of their way to both, reduce price but also purposely release production control and management to their suppliers. Companies want to purposely remain ignorant about what may, or not, be happening in those far away places” (The Better Consumer in Europe). How will this change?
Behold the emergence of the informed fashion consumer – an aware individual that believes in their buying power and understands that they can determine a company’s practices through demand. As more information is released to consumers through online media and communication, fashion companies will have to make dramatic changes to the structure of and control over their supply chains. A recent report by CSR Wire claims that up to 54 percent of consumers say that they do not trust a company’s eco, green or sustainability claims, apparently indicating that transparency and educational promotion of products into key strategies for companies that wish to succeed in the long run.
Brand and product transparency is becoming an increasingly important factor in the buying decisions of many consumers. A 2012 report from Cone Communications shows that 69 percent of U.S. consumers said they are more likely to buy from a brand that talks publicly about its CSR results, versus the 31 percent who would purchase from a brand that talks about its CSR mission and purpose. The REAL story behind a product is becoming tantamount to reliability, as conscious consumers expect companies to pro-actively prove they have nothing to hide. Businesses that are set-up on core values and beliefs of sound practices will gain more of a following than those that use unambiguous statements on ‘values’ and ‘statements’ rather providing clear evidence or results.
Crowdfunding is predicted to become the most influential form of customer involvement in building open, friendly, trusted and honest business ventures. Entrepreneurism has turned into a massive trend as a result of savvy consumers becoming aware of their ability to set up businesses that cater to their personal needs and desires to see honest and transparent products. Numerous fashion start-ups have gained recognition and support through pages like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, and are succeeding in creating product lines with true sustainable values at the core. For example, Alice & Whittles has recently gained funding for their venture into Fair Trade espadrilles handmade by French artisans, and Emmy’s Organics managed to design and fund completely biodegradable or recyclable packaging for their vegan snacks through their IndieGoGo campaign. Individuals are beginning to realize that they would much rather support a story they can understand, cherish and share, rather than one that only feeds a fabricated illusion of fashionable appearance.
Many businesses, even large ones are recognizing the demand for more ecologically sound practices and products. However, the aware consumer is beginning to demand much more than an ‘eco’ product; she wants one that actually contains new life inside. Whether the product can be composted or recycled, the draw of an item that doesn’t have to be sent to landfill is certainly one that is catching consumer’s eyes. Locality and national pride and heritage are becoming valued concepts that many labels are using to promote their products. As Perception Research noted in a July 2012 report: “Four out of five US shoppers (76 percent) notice “Made in the USA” claims and labels, and are more likely to purchase that product.”
The dawn of the not so clueless fashion consumer has arrived, and is proof that consumers hold the key to a sustainable fashion future. Of course, brands must also play a part in developing persuasive methods to provide guilt-free clothing that looks gorgeous, and governments have to drive legislation and monitoring of sustainable practices. “Fashion brands are going to make change desirable – they just need to get smarter at persuading people to use other ways of showing their status than conspicuous consumption,” said a member of roundtable debate hosted by the Guardian and Timberland in March.
We can all probably agree that transparency is the key a more sustainable fashion industry, and one that consumers will continue to demand as information and awareness spreads. All of us are consumers, and its up to us as a community to turn production from greed-based operations to mutually beneficial ones, with communication and egalitarian values as the founding principles, whether in fashion or any other industry.