Our recent exploration of sustainability initiatives in the fast fashion industry raised one big question: faced with increasing consumer demands, how can brands make big changes without compromising their identity? For the fast fashion space, this is a tricky proposition – after all, their identity is built on providing clothing that is trendy and disposable. When consumers decide they want to support sustainable brands, how can the giants of fast fashion (or any industry) make those necessary shifts?
Incremental change is the safest approach, but when consumers are clamoring for something new, they expect brands to act quickly. The issue of sustainability is particularly time-sensitive, as reports continually surface about the environmental damage caused by industries including fashion. The change process isn’t easy, but consumers are ready to reward the brands that take the lead.
Principles of Change Management
Global Marketing leader Eileen Canady makes a compelling case that to be successful, brands must know how to manage change. Whether a re-branding initiative or a major, structural change that impacts brand identity, the process is the same:
- Demonstrate the Need for Change
- Have a Credible Process for Achieving Change
- Provide a Road Map to Guide Behavior and Decision-Making
Canady’s approach serves both internal and external functions. Industry insiders and executives at major brands may hesitate to make big changes like embracing sustainability as a brand pillar. Likewise, consumers used to the way their favorite brands operate need to understand why change is happening. When it comes to sustainability, the need is clear and consumers are already on board. In fact, research reveals that over 80% of consumers feel it is “‘important or extremely important’ for companies to design environmentally conscious products.”
The next step is to develop a credible process for achieving change – with an emphasis on credibility. Fast fashion giants Zara and H&M have received pushback from consumers and watchdogs who point out that their sustainability goals do not seem credible. Changes that seem like marketing ploys rather than real, achievable progress only serve to alienate those who have been loyal to a brand. Credibility requires transparency and follow-through; once consumers can see that brands have made good on their promises, loyalty is quick to return.
Finally, both industry insiders and consumers need a road map to navigate change. Again, marketing and consumer relations are integral to success. Brands must publicize their new goals and the progress they are making to achieve them. They should make consumers feel included in the progress, whether that means enabling behaviors like fabric recycling or publicizing “special” collections of garments made from sustainable or recycled fibers.
At every step, consumers need to be reassured of the value of their contribution to the brand’s progress.
Is Sustainability the New Black?
Can the fast fashion industry embrace sustainability as a long-term trend without compromising their bottom line? The push for greater environmental responsibility from corporations only continues to gain steam, and it doesn’t seem that the “trend” towards sustainability is going anywhere. Successful brands will capitalize on the value that consumers give to sustainable brands and products.
Fashion industry innovators have made great strides towards making resale fashion and sustainable fashion attractive to consumers. If fast fashion brands want to maintain their cultural relevance, they will have to carefully manage a shift towards an industry that rejects waste and values environmentally-friendly products.