Asking how can you make your business -or your life- more sustainable is like asking how can you make your life healthier. There are many things you can do to push your company and your product towards a more sustainable practice in the same way that there are so many steps you can take to lead a healthier life. You could change your diet, make sure you get proper sleep, start meditating or cycling to work. Which one should you prioritize depends on your individual circumstances. You can make this decision based on lifestyle or financial situation, as well as considering your family history or your previous experience with these habits.
I believe we should look at sustainability in the same way. There are many ways you can build a sustainable brand. Let’s look at the easiest steps you can take towards building a more sustainable brand.
This is, perhaps, the most obvious solution. When you have a physical product (for example, a clothing line) you can start by looking at the environmental impact derived from the materials you use. You can as well improve the manufacturing process and see how you can re-engineer your products in a more efficient way.
The way you design your product can also heavily impact the carbon footprint of your collections. You can design things to be easily recyclable or impossible to recycle. You can also come up with a design that makes your product easy to use and to care for. This way you are making sure that is used over and over. Creating a fantastic, durable product is probably the best way to make your brand sustainable. By giving one single product more life, you remove the need of discarding and re-buying. This means less natural resources used, and fewer things going into landfills.
Some businesses are scared about what this “minimalism” approach to sustainability can have for their bottom line. Those businesses are shortsighted. The fact that the consumer is being more careful with what they buy means they are also able to afford to pay higher prices for the products they do buy. And many of them are perfectly happy paying more for a product that they know is more sustainable.
Use better materials
This is probably the simplest step to take, which is probably the reason a majority of sustainable brands are focusing on it. It’s low-hanging fruit…but is still a great start. Not all materials have the same environmental impact. And the truth is this impact is not exactly easy to calculate. There are potentially harmful consequences to the environment in all the steps of producing a certain material. The good news is that this means that there are many ways on which you can improve the impact of your products.
Start by looking for safer and cleaner production methods (that use less water, energy, or pesticides). You can also reengineer the dyes and finishing agents to the products, avoiding the so-called “forever chemicals”. Another option would be to choose materials that are either biodegradable or fully recyclable. Even just deciding to use higher quality material, one that is more durable, already improves the sustainability of your collections.
Depending on which product are you working on, your options will be vastly different. I recommend you look into your whole production process, looking at all the steps it requires and the potential harm each and every one of those steps has. Then, ask yourself – how can I make this better?
The chances you have of making your product more green doesn’t end when said product changes hands. If you are really committed to having a positive impact on the planet with your business, you can help your customer consume this product more responsibly. You can even add more products and services to your practice that help them do so.
Sustainability-as-a-Service is something that is gaining traction very fast in Fashion at the moment, particularly Luxury Fashion. For heritage brands, this means coming back to their roots: quality, durability, expert craftsmanship.
In-store repairs like that of Denham Jeanmakers or the recently launched “The Restory” for Manolo Blahnik are a great example of this. These services allow you to continue an after-sale relationship with the customer, increasing brand trust and loyalty, and lengthening the life of your products significantly. Some brands offer this as a “warranty”, some as a paid service – that is up to you.
Another initiative that is gaining traction is the resale market. So much so that a lot of brands are even introducing the possibility of shopping for preloved items. From hypermarkets like Carrefour to high-end e-commerce boutiques like Net-a-Porter.
There are plenty of ways you can improve the sustainability of your product. Try going beyond the obvious ones.
The way that you function as a business also makes a huge difference in how big your environmental impact is. From the tools that you use, to the way you interact with your teams and suppliers.
Optimize your assortment
Believe it or not, you can improve both your bottom line and the environmental impact of your business at the same time. How? Seling less…but better.
Returns and heavily discounted items are two of the biggest threats to any business. A product nobody wants to buy (or keep), is just a waste of resources and money. I oftentimes argue that the biggest driver of unsustainability in fashion is not greed – but ego. As designers and buyers, we want to create new, innovative things. We want to create “cool” things…but these do not always align with what the customer needs and wants.
Most customers need flattering, comfortable, wearable, and durable items – even if what we see advertised is the trendiest, newest stuff. So, an “easy” way to make your collection more sustainable is to let aside what you want to do and focus on what the customer wants. How can you do this?
- Repeating orders of your best sellers.
- Increasing the percentage of NOOS (Never Out of Stock) options : these are items you will always have available.
- Limit the quantities on new styles or silhouttes, or trend-related garments.
- Before launching new styles or fits…ask your audience! Gather intel about wether or not they would like to purchase this item. You can even consider pre-sales for limited edition garments.
Improve your distribution and logistics.
A product that is being imported from the other side of the world has a much higher environmental impact than one that has been produced in-house. Not only do you save on the emissions caused by transportation, but you also remove the need for the single-use plastics that are used to protect goods from humidity when they are being transported overseas.
It seems like nowadays every single brand that launches online has the pressure to deliver worldwide, and offer free shipping. But this “worldwide free shipping” comes at a cost. Whenever possible, source your products and materials from local sources, and also try maximizing your reach to local customers before going international.
On top of that, you can look at sustainable packaging options for your products. From recycled and plantable cardboard to compostable mailers. And, of course, you can also offset the emissions resulting of your activity.
Work more efficiently.
You can also make your operations more sustainable by trying to operate digitally as much as you can. Believe it or not, I still have some clients that insist on printing every single invoice and hand-delivering them to their accountant. Think not only about the paper and ink used but also the absurdity of a person hand-delivering printed digital invoices.
Luckily, the pandemic has shown us that we don’t necessarily need to be sitting next to each other in order to communicate and collaborate. You can reduce your carbon footprint by making sure that every meeting that could have been an email – is an email. And more importantly, that every international business trip that could have been a Zoom call – is a Zoom call.
Another key way you can reduce the environmental impact of your business is through better communication. But…how? You might ask. With proper communication you can guide, educate and inspire your customer to choose and use your products in the best way possible. “Best” here means “most sustainable”.
Help them make better decisions.
You can start by informing the customer better about your product so they can really make an informed decision. See, e-commerce giants like Amazon or Asos have smartly designed their UX (user experiences) to maximize sales conversion. One of the ways they do this is by urging the client to buy without thinking about it. The result is many a purchase done without paying attention to very important details, from the sizing to the product compatibilities.
In the best of cases, if you realize that the item you bought doesn’t serve you, you will return it (with extra carbon footprint added to this operation) and this same product can later find a proper home. In the worse of cases you keep it, but never use it, and it just keeps gathering dust until the day it ends up in a landfill.
Give your customer as much information as possible about your product so that they are confident that this is for them, and so that they know how to best care for it.
Show them how to use it.
Once the product goes from your hands to the customer’s, now it’s their responsibility to make the best of it. And yet, there is so much you can do to help them achieve that.
The labels and tags of a product are like instructions on how to use this product. You can choose to be very minimalist about it and limit the information to what you are legally obliged to by law…but you can also go beyond that and choose to inform the client about the best way to care for and enjoy what they have just purchased from you. Tell them how to store it, how to clean it, how to fix it if it breaks…But also, the best way to use it. It’s in your hands to help them enjoy this product as much as you enjoyed creating it.
Inspire them to do better.
You can inspire your customers to lead a more sustainable lifestyle by using your platform to promote greener consumer practices. Marketing is not just about selling: is about creating a community, and about giving value to the customer. This strengthens your brand by associating it with the values you want to promote.
Follow the old 80/20 rule of marketing: 80% content, 20% promotion. Use that 80% of valuable content to provide your customer with inspiring stories and useful tips that can inspire them and help them live a more sustainable lifestyle. Some examples. of how you can do this :
- Share sustainability-related news to inform them of the challenges you are trying to address. Help them understand said challenges and who these affect their life.
- Collaborate with other sustainability-focused businesses to maximise your reach and show them that this is a fight we win together.
- Interview or sponsor sustainability advocates and influencers.
- Create articles, videos or posts with actionable advice they can apply to their day-to-day life.
What strategy is best for your sustainable brand?
Well, that is the most important question, and that is not one a blog post can answer. The best strategy for your business depends on your unique circumstances. Some of the above advice and techniques might match your brand strategy perfectly, others might make no sense.
If you are really looking to move forward in your sustainability strategy – get in touch! Book a free coffee meeting with me today so we can talk a bit about your brand and see what is the best way to bring it forward.