GREEN

How To Make People Actually Care About Sustainability

And curb the greenwash.

14/12/2016 10:25 AM AEDT | Updated 14/12/2016 3:15 PM AEDT
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How do you shop?

When you see the word 'sustainable' etched into the fine lines of a product or ingrained into a company's ethos, what does this mean to you? How does it make you feel?

It may ignite a fire in your belly, or perhaps you're more inclined to turn away and disengage.

"Sustainability is an interesting one. It can have a really broad definition -- like making sure that your actions are minimally impacting the environment -- or, it can be specific. In fashion, we can talk about sustainable fibres that are contained in certified organic cotton," Courtney Sanders, co-founder of online fashion store Well Made Clothes told The Huffington Post Australia.

It just so happens that a lot of the terms that drive this ethical space are, by their nature, quite subjective.

Sanders is part of a wave of businesses born from ethical, purpose-driven models that are driving customers to consider their personal values when they shop.

Launching Well Made Clothes earlier this year with her co-partner Kelly Elkin, the online store stocks a range of small and large ethical clothing brands from across Australia, New Zealand and beyond.

Each brand must tick off at least one of Well Made Clothes' eight values -- handcrafted, environmentally sustainable, locally made, fair labour, minimal waste, vegan, gender equality and supply-chain transparency -- to be featured.

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What's coming up this season on Well Made Clothes.

"Before we started this, we had both seen the misidentification of terminology that companies often use -- and sometimes, not even on purpose. It just so happens that a lot of the terms that drive this ethical space are, by their nature, quite subjective," Sanders said.

And when it comes to communicating with consumers, this leads to messages being misconstrued.

This creates so much white noise and confusion that when companies use them correctly or do have a message, consumers are already turned off.

"Speaking from my experience in the fashion industry, when businesses who do have a purpose in aiming to reduce their impact use these teams in a meaningful way, they can have an impact," Sanders said.

"There is potential for these trends to be hijacked for marketing purposes. This creates so much white noise and confusion that when companies use them correctly or do have a message, consumers are already turned off."

Send a clear message

According to Sanders, curbing the green-wash and switching on customers comes from transparency.

"It boils down to ensuring people clearly understand what you are trying to do," she said.

"Use the terms that you want as long as you are clear in what your definition of those terms is."

Tap into personal values

Which brings us back to Well Made Clothes' value system.

"Those values are reflected on the brand and product pages of our website so that consumers can clearly see what they are buying," Sanders said.

"We have noticed that customers react well to shopping like that. People respect transparency and being armed with information to make decisions. A lot of the time, they are not."

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What matters to you?

'Pick your battles'

The beauty of this value model lies in allowing consumers to pick their own battles.

"This is the whole point of Well Made Clothes. The fashion industry supply chain, from seed to retail store, is so complex and rife with so many problems that it is almost impossible for a brand or customer to be absolutely perfect," Sanders said.

"We say pick a battle or make shopping decisions that reflect your own values.

"If you care about the environment, choose brands that are sustainable. If you care about animal rights, choose vegan brands. If you care about human rights, choose certified fair brands."

Widening the circle

It is one thing to preach to the converted. But what about the rest of us?

According to Sanders, this comes back to delivering purpose through high-quality products.

Some people come to us because they want to shop ethically, and others come to us because they stumble on a cool dress.

"In our instance, we made a decision from the start that the site had to be design-led. Everything that we stocked had to be beautifully designed and functional -- as well as meeting our values," Sanders said.

And that is how she speaks to the next circle.

"Some people come to us because they want to shop ethically, and others come to us because they stumble on a cool dress. It's a bonus that it is made from certified organic cotton," Sanders said.

"Even if it is the most ethical piece of clothing, if it isn't well-designed and no one wants to wear it, it becomes waste. And waste is one of the biggest problems in the fashion industry."

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