The High High Horse of Sustainability And Why It Doesn't Work
In 2010 I was given some wise advice by someone who worked in the area of trend predictions.
She told me that we were going to see an exponential rise in the awareness of sustainability and sustainable products and lifestyle.
I didn't pay much attention. I was too busy stripping deckchairs and wondering how they could be useful... [little did I know then, that was what it meant?!]
She was completely right... in 2019 'sustainability' was the most searched for term in fashion.
What happened after that, I have found pretty concerning.
Late last year, I was asked to participate on a panel discussion with reference to the use of the phrase 'greenwashing' and whether or not is is acceptable to use it in a brands marketing / sales strategies.
I was amazed to hear, that *more than a few* brands also taking part in that conversation, did think that it was acceptable?!
I couldn't believe it. I would never discuss their names. More on that later...
Suffice to say, I was shocked.
Especially after a previous weeks zoom call with think tank Deloitte, which was entirely based around the ethos of a company and the resulting impact on the workforce [and in turn leading to, in many cases, real change in company structure and the resulting positive environmental and economic impact], which can have an enormous ripple effect.
I was so confused after having been a part of both of those discussions. I knew which one was morally right and I knew how we choose to operate here at Wyatt & Jack, in the most transparent and ethical way possible.
Without really knowing that sustainability was going to be a buzz word [at the time, the most popular phrase for what we're doing here was 'up cycling' - I don't like that word either!] lets just kill all the buzzwords!
In fact, trending words to me, seem to create more problems than they solve.
In terms of sustainability, we see companies that use the word without really knowing what it means, or how far back you need to trace your supply chain in order to know whether or not it truly is sustainable.
More recently, I've been made aware of companies using recycled fabrics and throwing around the term 'vegan'
A couple of weeks ago, I had a very informative and interesting conversation with a lady at the Vegan Trademark Society. She was explaining how difficult it is for them, to register anything as entirely vegan, in the cases whereby the fabrics are recycled...
She explained that its almost impossible for the Society, as there may have been teeny tiny factors that are untraceable, or exposure during its transition or journey, that may mean the ingredients cannot be classed as vegan, even though on the surface of it, there are no obviously animal derived ingredients.
And yet we see, [as im sure we all do!] recycled products all the time, tagged with the word Vegan. Again, more on that later...
So why can't we have it all?
As in, why can't we be a sustainable brand, yet still work to the time frames of a 'faster' fashion brand, but with a much better ethos and working conditions?
Whilst I entirely appreciate that sustainability is linked to a slower manufacturing process, taking into account a fairly sourced supply chain, whereby the living wage is paid and working conditions are good, I also think there's a *little talked about* aspect. A separation or divide between the sustainable approach and the introductions of new methods that mean we CAN compete with the larger, fast fashion brands- in fact, we can do it BETTER...
How about, training and investing in the development of your staff, to enable them to feel confident enough to turn around well made, long lasting products, quickly and with confidence?
That seems to be an alien concept. Word on the street is, that if something is classed as sustainable, it has to take ages?!
Where did that come from? No, really... that's a genuine question... Who decided that?
Consumers are often put off buying sustainable products, either because the price point is higher [or 'fairer' I should say...] OR because, and this is the new thing that im concerned about...that they are worried about being belittled or not getting it right?!
People have a sense of ownership over Sustainability. Everyone thinks they have a greater understanding of it, than anyone else...why is this?
Is it because you can now gain a qualification in sustainability?
So, does that mean that people who have lived for years in a self sufficient way, with very little, or no carbon footprint or environmental impact, are less qualified to talk about it? Or share ideas?
Does that mean if you're a self confessed 'influencer' because you have a large social media following, inclusive of people who are also aware of the idea of sustainability [PREACH!] that YOU are more qualified to talk about it than someone who has to shop at a certain supermarket, as they live on a low income or have to feed lots of children, but have managed to make a few plastic free swaps and feel like they want to take part in the conversation?
Is there no room for them on this supposedly inclusive platform of sustainability? Because lets face it, it is a CONVERSATION. An ongoing one.
And if we had all been getting it right the whole time, we wouldn't currently be in this shit storm in the first place- no?
Its become a competition.
All that will do, is put people off the idea as they feel like they will never achieve the giddy heights of being respectably sustainable- on Instagram!!
Come on guys. Together. Thats how we achieve things... NOT by pointing out the flaws of others...
So someone writes vegan in their product description, because they're not aware of the full meaning? So someone writes sustainable in their product description, because their unaware of the processes that make it that? What do we do? Call them out? Humiliate them?
Well, if they're 'greenwashing' as a marketing strategy, which in my opinion is intentionally deceiving, yeah, call em out...
BUT, if they're just finding their feet as a business and can't afford to replace every single thing with a more sustainable option, but they're making little changes, lets support them in that- especially if they're being transparent in their journey to improve.
DONT call them out! Or humiliate...
Share your knowledge... not to gain likes, not even publicly, but maybe a friendly email sharing your experiences with them... Surely we don't do EVERYTHING 'for the gram?' [ps-If you do... then THAT needs calling out too!]
Sustainability needs to be a community of learners and sharers of wisdom, not a name and shame.
Plus lets not forget the people who knew what sustainability was and chose to live/ work / raise a family that way, BEFORE it was trending on twitter!