Growing Sustainable Fashion: Inspiring Brand Moves for DTC Companies
Although the fashion industry traditionally follows seasonal trends, sustainability is proving to be a year-round wardrobe staple among DTC brands and their customers. Recycled materials, circular fashion and ethical supply chains are capturing headlines as brands depart from a legacy of wasteful production processes and find new ways to revolutionize the fashion industry’s carbon footprint.
Despite the ongoing buzz and urgency, among both customers and brands, to address such issues, the sustainable fashion market remains a fraction of overall fashion sales. Additionally, consumers’ intentions do not yet match their purchase habits. As documented by ecological certification company Oeko-Tex, 69% of millennials report an interest in purchasing sustainable fashion, however only 37% purchase sustainable fashion. This points to a meaningful opportunity to convert that interest into a purchase.
As DTC fashion companies look to expand the ethical and sustainable share of the overall fashion market, they must consider the factors that are hindering consumers from purchasing more sustainable garments. The high price point of sustainable clothing, low awareness of the environmental impact and lack of trust in sustainability claims have been clear limiting factors.
Brand loyalty stands out as a key strategic move that DTC companies can immediately pursue to increase their share of the sustainable fashion market and help grow the industry overall. Brand loyalty can help DTC companies increase their relevance amongst consumers and break down some of their hesitations about sustainable fashion.
To increase brand loyalty in fashion sustainability, successful DTC brands often focus on one, or both, of the following:
- Brand message
- Brand inspiration
These levers are powerful ways to shape consumer perceptions and drive enduring loyalty.
1. Building Loyalty Through Pervasively Innovative Brand Messaging
DTC fashion brands that are truly pushing sustainability forward and not resorting to greenwashing are building lasting brand relevance and loyalty. Some consumers are wary of brands that talk about sustainability without the innovations in the supply chain, or a business model to back up the claims. DTC fashion brands that create innovative messaging on sustainability have a chance to win in the market.
The LA-based sustainable clothing brand Reformation offers a powerful example of a profitable DTC fashion retailer that has managed to combine growth with genuine innovation in sustainability. Reformation has made understanding sustainability more accessible for consumers, by publishing environmental impact data and content for each individual item on its website. Its sustainability report from 2020 also highlights how it works with supply chain partners to utilize clean chemicals and ensure that 75% of its fibers meet its two highest standards for sustainability.
Reformation has also been a pioneer in making sustainability content feel approachable through clever taglines like “Carbon is canceled” and “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option, we’re #2.” All in all, its commitment to building a community of loyal and environmentally conscious customers through DTC brand practices has shown great success.
2. Building Loyalty Through Distinctive Brand Identity
While important, innovation in sustainability messaging isn’t the only tactic necessary to drive DTC brand loyalty. DTC fashion companies must have distinctive, inspired products and a brand identity to match. The Business of Fashion’s profile of the divergent paths of DTC brands Vuori and Entireworld offers a cautionary tale of what happens when companies are not distinctly inspired. Vuori is a clothing brand that sells activewear and athletic clothing, while Entireworld was a leisurewear brand.
In October, Vuori secured hundreds of millions in investment to expand its activewear brand, while Entireworld shuttered. In addition to profitability, much of Entireworld’s failure was due to its undifferentiated product. Vuori launched new segments like men’s activewear and surf apparel, whereas Entireworld struggled to compete solely on its sweatsuits. Without new inspired apparel pieces and adjacent products, Entireworld failed to stand out in the marketplace.
“The high price point of sustainable clothing, low awareness of the environmental impact and lack of trust in sustainability claims have been clear limiting factors.”
Distinct inspiration has also allowed emerging fashion brands like Ahluwalia to gain an obsessive customer following. Ahluwalia’s designer Priya Ahluwalia has built her collection around repurposed vintage pieces. This signature look is gaining attention for breaking the mold and Priya has received industry-wide recognition winning the prestigious 2020 LVMH award amongst others. Ahluwalia’s pieces stand far outside the fashion norms that retailers like Zara and H&M adhere to, and this has built a small but loyal following for the brand.
However, the pressure doesn’t stop with consumer demand and creative competition, recent legislative pushes, like the Fashion Act in New York state, could require companies to “map at least 50% of their supply chains and disclose impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions, water footprint and chemical use.” This development indicates that the mandate for a more sustainable fashion industry will not diminish anytime soon.
Reformation, Vuori and Ahluwalia demonstrate that on the path towards sustainability, DTC fashion brands are far from uniform. However, at their core, these brands share a drive to grow through innovation and inspiration that sets them apart from competitors. Most importantly, sustainability is at the heart of their brand story.
Prophet’s Vice Chairman, David Aaker says “The concept of a signature story – an intriguing, authentic, involving narrative – applies the power of stories to strategic messaging.”
Learning to create and leverage signature stories has truly become a “must-have” management competence. Companies that focus on brand loyalty through innovative brand storytelling and an inspired identity have an opportunity to grow market share now and in the future in the sustainable fashion market.
Prophet is working with leading DTC companies in fashion and across industries on brand strategy, growth strategy and performance marketing. Interested in finding out more? Contact us today.
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