We all know that fast fashion, or the quick production of inexpensive clothing that adheres to the latest trends, is inherently problematic. Factory conditions are abhorrent. Factory workers receive wages that are impossible to live on. Cheap clothing isn’t made to last and is likely to end up in a landfill. However, it’s difficult to resist those insanely low prices and trendy items, no matter how bad we know it is for the greater good.
That’s why it is so exciting to watch the fashion industry gradually making the shift to “slow fashion.” There are several retail companies right now who are putting sustainability and ethical business practices at the forefront of their branding. By putting an emphasis on quality over quantity and timelessness over trends, these brands are attracting consumers who want clothing that will last and that they can feel good about wearing. Although they may be spending more for the item initially — maybe $30 for a T-shirt rather than $5 — that item will last much longer, decreasing the cost per wear significantly.
Here are some of the retail companies that are putting slow fashion in the spotlight — and doing it well.
Everlane’s branding focuses on quality basics and closet staples through photography that is heavy on neutrals and understated fonts that let the clothes do the talking. It makes sense that this back-to-basics approach is then backed by a sustainability strategy. When you go to Everlane’s website, you’ll find that among the details listed for each item of clothing is the location of the factory where it was produced, with a link that leads you to more information about the factory, including its owner, number of employees, details about the materials produced in the factory, and more.
In addition, for each item they provide a “Transparent Pricing” infographic that breaks down how much that item costs to make, including materials, hardware, labor, duties and transportation. In their sale section, labeled “Choose What You Pay,” they provide you with three reduced-price options, and when you hover over each price, details pop up regarding what that amount of money will cover. For example, for a pair of sneakers currently on sale, the lowest price option “covers the basic cost to develop, produce and fulfill this product,” while the two higher price options help to cover office overhead, or office overhead and future product development. Use of language such as “transparent” and “choose” makes consumers feel empowered in determining where their money will be going and how much will be going there, encouraging them to come back for more.
You can tell where Patagonia’s priorities lie as soon as you visit their website, with header sliders that direct you to information about environmental groups you can join or donate to. Their website also features information about the company’s commitment to sustainability and fair working conditions. For example, they provide ample information about the factories and mills they work with and how they select them. They also work with factories that are noncompliant to improve conditions. Employees are provided with opportunities to participate in various types of environmental work such as internships and volunteering. Through Patagonia Action Works, they connect interested individuals with activist groups in their area.
When it comes to their product lines, they are also transparent in providing details about the factory where each garment was produced, as well as extensive information about their supply chain and where they source their materials.
So, Patagonia is about more than outdoor-wear — they are helping to protect that outdoors for generations to come and inviting their like-minded customers to help them. Their social media content is in line with this mission, featuring stunning photos of outdoor activities that revel in the beauty — and the importance — of Mother Nature. In fact, across their website and social media they embrace highly saturated, crisp and rich photography that helps showcase the great outdoors and highlights the necessity of preserving it.
Reformation is a fitting name for this company that specializes in quality women’s clothing that is timeless and flattering. They are reforming the fashion industry by setting an example, and reforming consumer’s closets by encouraging them to shop sustainably. Their website features information about the fibers they use to create clothing, the fabrics they select, the standards they hold to their factories, and their most recent sustainability report.
However, Reformation’s branding is challenging the stigma that sustainable fashion is boring or unflattering. Rather, their pieces are well-crafted, feminine, luxurious — and in many cases, glamorous. In fact, they even offer a wedding collection, which is currently featured on their home page.
Their photography is thoughtfully composed and looks as if it belongs inside a high-fashion magazine. Neutral backgrounds, minimalist hair and makeup, and an understated sans-serif font allow the beauty and elegance of the clothing to shine through.
Besides not purchasing any new clothes (which is, for most of us, highly impractical), reselling and purchasing used clothing is the most sustainable shopping option. Sites such as thredUP, Depop and particularly Poshmark have risen in popularity due to how easy they make it to buy and sell used clothing from your desktop or smartphone. Rather than scouring for hours through the racks of a thrift store, you can use filters to narrow down your search. So, for example, if you’re looking for a pair of size 28 wide-leg jeans from Gap, you can easily find what you are looking for in seconds. At the end of the day, they aim to show others how sustainable, second-hand shopping can help users easily update their closets without depleting their bank accounts.
Poshmark’s branding in particular is fun and approachable, drawing a younger generation toward the benefits of second-hand shopping. For example, its Instagram feed is filled with memes, flat lays and images of users mailing or receiving their packages — adding an element of excitement.
Plus, Poshmark refers to the people who sell and shop with them as a “community.” This verbiage helps create a sense of belonging that draws people into using their service. Even their logo, with its play on an infinity sign, evokes a sense of unity and approachability that implies that anyone can join their platform and network. And once you join that network, Poshmark is not shy about sending users notifications that have nothing to do with buying or selling, but that instead are positive mantras or funny observations, further creating the impression that users have joined a community of like-minded friends.
As climate change becomes an increasingly prevalent conversation, the fashion industry needs to adapt to help improve the planet as well as conditions and pay for factory workers. Branding will be essential in changing the attitudes toward sustainable and second-hand shopping and in drawing customers to abandon cheap, trendy, disposable clothing for garments that are potentially pricier but will last for years to come. Language, logos, fonts, photography and all other aspects of branding across digital and physical platforms can help drive the growing popularity of slow fashion for generations to come. The brands listed above serve as role models for the rest of the industry to make “sustainability” not a trend, but a lifestyle.