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Progress over perfection: Sustainability in the fashion industry

We have only 12 years to cut carbon emissions in half to avoid catastrophic climate change - a terrifying fact stated during UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change PCC in late 2018. Knowing that the retail industry is the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil, it begs the question, what moves should retailers start making? This is a question we asked when we gathered Canadian leaders in the sustainable fashion industry for an open conference to not only highlight where the retail and fashion industry is heading but to discover the essential moves any industry can implement to gain consumer trust and sustainability.

Amongst the panel hosted by JP Shoiry, we had Kelly Drennan from Fashion Takes Action, Melisa Alessi from Frank And Oak and Byon Peart cofounder of Goodee an up-and-coming project, explore where sustainability stands in the retail industry. Here are the takeaways they all agreed on.

Businesses making moves towards sustainability
Over the last six months of 2018, industry-wide, companies have made public statements on their roadmaps to becoming more sustainable. For example, Ikea committed to sustainability, Starbucks Canada announced to donate all unsold food, A&W Canada made a public sculpture out of their plastic straws. These are just a few headliners. The important take away from these businesses is that they have applied the key steps we discussed during our conference. What ones? Keep on reading.

Sustainability doesn’t happen overnight
With sustainability being a common value amongst multiple generations, from Gen Z and millennials to baby boomers; does one become sustainable overnight? Does a business have to wait to be fully sustainable in order to communicate the different “green” incentives within their business models?

The simple answer agreed among the three panellists who put sustainability in the heart of their business strategies is to communicate every small and big change your company may be applying to become more sustainable. As Melisa Alessi shared Frank And Oak’s timeframe is as fast as they can, meaning every day they are taking a step in the right direction to essentially have a big impact once all the small moves have been executed.

A strong bulls^it filter
Our bulls^it filter is strong,” says JP Shoiry. Your modern day consumer is smart. Authenticity is essential in communication, and building trust isn’t lying when all information is literally within a consumer’s hands at any moment of any day. If a company states that they are using organic cotton yet when the savvy consumer reads the label sees “20% organic” lost trust is a given. However if a company communicated that they were now using a percentage of clean products or their intentions to move towards sustainability, the consumer would use their purchasing power merely to support a first move in the right direction and this goes beyond the fashion industry as 35% ranked ‘trust in brand’ as part of their top three reasons when purchasing.

Start with your supply chain

Over the last two years the consumer has become smarter along with information being way more accessible, says Kelly Drennan from Fashion Takes Action. It is essential to show traceability and knowing your supply chain in order to have a consumer’s trust.

When questioning when to communicate your supply chain to the public, the key is to “show intent and authentic intent,” added Byron Peart. When communicating any big or small actions towards sustainability, a quick fix to gaining consumers trust is through showing full transparency of one’s business’s supply chain. Whether there are weak points or points that need improvement, a consumer will trust any further action your company takes far more once you’ve illustrated negative and positive transparency.

Executives take note that a business’s supply chain contains on average 5.5 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as its own operations. The most impactful changes you can make start with the supply. Understanding the chain means regularly visiting factories and suppliers, in result identifying the changes that can be taken to be that much closer to a clean product.

Small steps make a difference, says Byron Peart. If you START to make changes, it will incite further action.

Once you’ve identified your supply chain and its weak points, it is essential to create a roadmap of small changes that will have a big impact and most importantly be open to modifying your supply chain.

Third-party seal of approval
76% of the public believe independent third-party certification is the best way to verify a product’s social or environmental claims. Visual markers on your packaging and online platforms are critical to gain instant support from a consumer and credibility. The public needs these recognizable certifications to truly support your green incentives and not question your supply chain. Now there are a handful of powerful certifications your business can acquire that will give this seal of approval. One of the most predominate regardless of the industry is the B Corp certification. Keep in mind, the key is to have a third-parties seal of approval, regardless of which.

Third-party seals of approval are important and in the end make your groundwork to being sustainable easier.” - Melisa Alessi, Director of sourcing and product development at Frank & Oak.

Influencers with a purpose
Through our experience in the digital marketing world, there is a quick, efficient and human way to integrate your message into different forms of communication and reinforces your third-party certification and that is through influencer marketing. Given our whole generation is more environmentally conscious, more and more influencers or social personalities are taking a stance and communicating their values publicly, and have instant credibility to their audiences. Finding an influencer with the greater good values in their heart is easier to find, and is an extremely efficient way to reiterate the different ways your business is sustainability conscious to the vast public.

It’s time for sustainability
Becoming sustainable is a social pressure every industry is facing in 2019. Executives must keep in mind that they must communicate not only small shifts towards sustainability that they are prepared to take but also the transparency of their supply chain to reinforce consumer trust. Communicating a roadmap publicly and having a third-party certification is what consumers need in order to truly believe and continue to support brands.

Keep in mind, “sustainability is a conversation and a movement long overdue,” as Byron Peart said.

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A micro-influencer with exceptional writing skills, Jessica Eve naturally takes on the role of content & influencer strategist along with being an editor.