Fashion + Sustainability

How can storytelling help to combat greenwashing in fashion?

The story so far

For years, storytelling has been used as a device for brands to communicate their values and connect emotionally with audiences. Luxury fashion brands such as Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and Dior have used storytelling to communicate their label’s heritage, values and ideologies. Green marketing has been adopted by companies across many sectors since the 1990s but the market is over saturated. Mass “greenwashing” has meant that attempts to convey sustainable values now come across as disingenuous. With it’s ability to forge emotional reports with audiences, does storytelling hold the key to the success of sustainable fashion?

The ugly truth

You may think that this doesn’t apply to you because you don’t get your clothes from Missguided or Pretty Little Thing. Your old trusty jeans have likely cost the environment dearly, before they even make it to the shelf. The cotton in one pair of jeans is grown using ⅔ of a pound of toxic pesticides and herbicides. These chemicals, long since banned in most western nations, spread into the soil and water, causing immune and nervous system disorders, cancer and a hoard of horrifying defects. Over 2000 gallons of water are used to cultivate the cotton and dye the materials to make a singular pair of jeans, which is then discharged; flooding the local rivers with toxic chemicals and damaging ecosystems. 

The reality is, we are all guilty of being overly laissez-faire when it comes to sustainability. We’ve heard all the facts, seen all of the statistics but are able to turn a blind eye because the fashion industry allows us to do so. It is clear that the way the industry communicates with their audience needs to change. Storytelling is perhaps the key to success, whereby brands create narratives that emotionally connect us to the sustainable movement.

Loving what you’ve got

One brand who has done this to great success in American outdoor brand Patagonia. The company is well known for its sustainable approach and high quality products that stand the test of time. Patagonia has used the long lifespan of their products as a means of creating an emotional connection with their audience. One advertising campaign featured customers discussing the sentimental value of their Patagonia items; establishing a narrative of how clothes should see you through life, rather than just a season. The brand has continued to tap into storytelling marketing techniques, running it’s Worn Wear program and adverts. Again, these adverts offered personal accounts from customers who discuss the long wear of the products; using the hashtag #betterthannew. 

Hitting the mainstream

While niche brands like Patagonia are making huge strides in the fight for sustainable fashion, sustainable storytelling is now hitting the high street. However, even the most unlikely of brands are starting to pave the way for more sustainable narratives in their marketing. H&M is probably not the first name that springs to mind when you think about environmental consciousness. However, they are one of a number of brands changing their tune to meet demand. Their “Close the Loop” campaign in 2015 was a storytelling initiative designed to help reinvent the brand. This was largely in response to the public’s increased concern for the environment and demand for sustainable alternatives. The campaign promoted H&M’s recycling programme. One advert featured celebrities such as Iggy Pop and plus size model Tess Holliday and the slogan “there are no rules in fashion but one: recycle your clothes”. 

Trousers with a tale

While advertising is certainly an effective medium, some brands have woven storytelling deeper into their day-to-day business. MUD Jeans attract customers through their circular economy and leasing initiative. This is where customers, after making a purchase, can return their denim and speak about their experiences with said item. These stories are then attached to the returned denim, which is sold as vintage pieces. Effectively, the returned pieces become storytelling devices themselves. This also allows customers to connect with one specific article or with the brand as a whole. 

Whether it’s through advertising, social media or as part of in store initiatives, storytelling holds the power to drive sustainable fashion onward. Emphasising the benefits of investing in long lasting pieces, promoting recycling and giving vintage pieces a story to tell, are all effective ways of conveying your brand’s genuine concern for the planet and interest in sustainable options. It is also important to remember that changing consumer behaviour is the end goal of sustainable fashion storytelling. These are just three examples of how brands can provide consumers with practical and easy ways to get involved in the sustainable movement and to break the cycle of fast fashion.

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