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Most Stores Miss the Mark When Marketing Ethical Fashion

“I’m not convinced that retailers are not stocking ethical fashion. I just don’t think they’re doing a very good job at communicating that it’s there.”

That’s what Kate Black, the founder and editor-in-chief of eco-fashion website and author of Magnifeco: Your Head-To-Toe Guide to Ethical Fashion and Non-Toxic Beauty, said Sunday at a Texworld USA seminar in New York titled, “Designed With Sustainability in Mind.”

Responding to a question from the floor (What’s the first step a big retailer can take to become more sustainable?), she continued, “I go to the really big retailer in Herald’s Square—and I only wear ethical fashion, I speak about ethical fashion so I will only buy ethical fashion—and I can’t find it.”

That’s not the case when she walks into one of H&M’s stores, however.

“H&M has its Conscious collection, but then they also have green tags that sit on every garment that uses recycled, organic materials. So that a consumer like me who only buys ethical fashion can go to H&M and I can see by the tag—I don’t know if other customers know this—but I think they’re there for me and I think they’re a really good roadmap to help me shop,” Black said, noting that communication needs to be more open.

With that being said, pricing is still a problem—and retailers need to step up their game when it comes to convincing shoppers why they should be spending more on ethical or sustainable fashion.

“Sustainability costs. It’s getting better, but it costs more,” she said, adding that stores need to do more to break consumers’ low-cost buying habits. “There’s a real reason why consumers are price-driven, and I get that, I don’t think we can change that, but there are consumers who can pay more and they do pay more.”

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Using the success of eco-friendly fashion empire Eileen Fisher as an example, Black said that if brands and retailers alike want to capture the attention of a certain kind of consumer, they would be wise to home in on that niche.

“Price is realistic. We can’t talk about ethical fashion without addressing the fact,” she said. “I’m sure you have this spread of pricing that you need to offer but you also need to give me that green flag that says ‘We made this area for you because you’re special and we love you.’ I don’t get that from a lot of retailers.”

Black’s suggestion: Promote the cost-per-wear benefits of a product, or offer a take-back program.

“If you’ve ever tried to resell your clothes, [consignment stores] won’t take certain brands,” she said. So if a store’s target demographic were the type to lean toward the disposable end of the market, a take-back program would not only encourage them to bring back their clothes once they’re done with them (instead of sending them to landfill), but it could also result in another purchase.

“If they only wear that jean because it’s on point for a week or two weeks, you can take it back and have a discounted portion in the store where it’s [marketed as] ‘gently used,’” Black explained. “You make money on the purchase because you buy it back for discount—it’s still your brand, you’re still supporting and standing behind your brand—and you’re giving other consumers the option to buy your brand at a cheaper price.”