As the backlash against fast-fashion claims yet another victim in Forever 21’s bankruptcy, H&M’s CEO Karl-Johan Persson has spoken out about his concerns for a culture of shaming consumers that blames them for abandoning fashion brands. However, the state of fashion today is symptomatic of a shift toward healthier purchasing habits. Consumers are beginning to embrace conscious consumption, and it’s time for brands to accept that product longevity is as important as sales in tomorrow’s business model.
Here are six ways for fashion brands to innovate their way back into consumer hearts:
Commit to change
If your brand house isn’t in order, now is the time to fix it. Apply scrutiny to your supply chain and manufacturing conditions and address any uncomfortable truths. If you don’t, your consumers or employees soon will. ASOS, Topshop, Misguided and Primark have all been called out for exploitative labor abuses in recent years. Don’t be next.
Shout about sustainability initiatives
Communicate your authentic positive actions widely, but don’t greenwash. Clothing brand Reformation’s bold statement of being the next most sustainable option to wearing no clothing at all holds it accountable to everyone, while Zara’s lower cost Join Life range, made of recycled materials and ecologically grown cotton, has grown rapidly since its launch three years ago. Consumers want to be informed about their purchase decisions, so make it easy for them to feel good about buying your brand.
Evolve your model
As more spending power shifts to sustainable purchasing, savvy brands are expanding their business model to embrace the circular economy with new services or initiatives. A sales-driven brand can only shift consumer perception by tangibly demonstrating their commitment to product longevity. This includes repair and care services of existing purchases, such as what you might see with Doc Martens and Patagonia.
While Farfetch recently announced its partnership with secondhand clothing donation service Thrift+, encouraging people to clean out their closets and replace them with new items from—you guessed it—Farfetch. It’s a smart move. Fashion for Good, a sustainable innovation research firm, showed that 80% of customers who returned garments for resale or recycling used the vouchers to purchase new items from the same brand. H&M launched a similar initiative, collecting 20,649 tons of textiles for reuse and recycling last year, up 16% from the previous year.
Embrace the loan don’t own model
Rent the Runway’s entire business is built on allowing people to rent fashion items. Now the High Street is waking up to this, too. Clothing retailer Urban Outfitters recently launched Nuuly, a subscription service that sends customers brands, third-party labels and unique vintage pieces. They can wear the clothes for as long as they like, and when they’re ready to move on, send them back and swap them for new items.
Authentic altruism makes smart business sense. Consumers—particularly women, millennials and Gen Z—care about what brands do beyond their core commercial activity. Accenture’s recent Global Consumer Pulse research found that retailers that can communicate their ethics clearly are more likely to see consumers spend with them and nearly half would switch to brands that align with their own values. Find a cause or social action that fits with your brand, whether that’s carbon offsetting, supporting developing nations or investing in new recyclable materials. Make this commitment explicit. It will reap dividends for your business, both in brand advocacy and sales.
Be more selective
Eliminating excessive choice can greatly reduce consumer anxiety. New entrants to market, such as retail disruptor Stitch Fix, aim to build customer loyalty by helping consumers navigate their fashion decisions. They do so in a low-risk way, curating ideal outfits based on the information supplied to their virtual stylist. Helping navigate their fashion options not only ensures consumers buy wiser but reduces one of the biggest burdens on retailers and the environment: the curse of returns.
There is no silver bullet to solve the woes of retailers, but there are countless opportunities for those innovative and entrepreneurial enough to embrace new business models and revenue streams. Now is the perfect time to show that your brand is part of the solution, not the problem.