Rising with Sustainability as a Consumer, Retailer and Partner

Photo Courtesy - Arezoo Jalali

The fashion industry is at a very exciting juncture in its trajectory of sustainability. Consumers, manufacturers, designers and retailers are more seriously exploring ways to lessen their carbon footprints at this tipping point. But a greater effort among and between shoppers and retailers to leverage purchases going forward can make a significant difference globally — right now.

There has been a staggering 71% rise in popularity of searches for sustainable goods over the past five years, with growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), commissioned by conservation organization WWF in May 2021. In April 2021, Mastercard’s study across 24 countries revealed a whopping 85% of adults were willing to take personal action to combat sustainability challenges.

Can Retailers Assume an Advisory Role with Their Customers?

This is a defining moment for retailers to assume an advisory role with customers. Shoppers are overwhelmed with the nuances of sustainability. They are looking to retailers for guidance and clarity, and whoever assumes this role will lead.

At first blush, some retailers might think: “Training customers on how to make conscious fashion choices goes beyond our role. That’s time intensive and contrary to the concept of selling clothing.” But, you always trust those who have your larger interests at heart. Value-added selling builds long-term loyalty.

Customer thinking is affected as such: “I’m impressed that this salesperson is knowledgeable and thoughtful, rather than a hard-sell. She seems to share the same eco-friendly principles I do. I’ll return to this store!”

Early adopters in retail who match an eco-friendly expertise with a commitment to selling sustainable products will lead the pack. So, what types of sustainable steps can you take now, either as a consumer or retailer in an advisory capacity to customers?

Here are four easy tips: Make strategic purchases, shop wisely, maximize what’s in your closet and buy innovative, sustainable products.

Make Strategic Purchases

Your sales team has a unique opportunity to build a long-term, consultative relationship with the customer on sustainability.

• Ask the questions. Your sales staff can partner with your customers by asking key questions, such as what they currently have in their closet relative to the potential purchase. Simple, but rarely done. Since 85% of textiles thrown away in the United States are dumped into landfills or burned, including unused textiles and unsold clothes, a little planning is useful!

• Cover the basics. Sales professionals should make sure the basics or classics are covered. Identifying clothing that can offer multiple looks, avoiding one-off pieces and mismatches and not unequivocally agreeing to everything the customer chooses all support sustainability.

• If the “shoe fits…” The perfect fit can be elusive, but a little extra time to find the right size or style will not only mean a happier client (and repeat business) but a happier planet. The United States alone sends about 21 billion pounds of textile waste to landfills every year.

• Seek and carry sustainable products. Many big brands are going eco-conscious, such as Levi’s and Adidas. So, making the shift toward supplying more sustainable products is not hard to do, but it will become more challenging as the playing field expands.

Shop Wisely

Giving clothes a second (or third) chance is one way to shop that is kinder to the planet.

• Consider consignment stores. Pre-loved stores can be quite chic and are rapidly gaining in popularity.

• Secondhand stores. Consider eBay, Depop or Facebook’s Marketplace. • Rent clothes. Google “subscription clothing rentals” to find sources.

• Buy quality. If it’s high quality, it’s likely more sustainable, as these products will last longer than ones from fast fashion retailers.

• Invest in clothes that are trans-seasonal. Your wallet will also benefit.

Maximize Your Closet (and Encourage Customers to Do the Same)

A very helpful, ethical approach to fashion is to leverage what is already in your closet. After all, you have invested time, money and precious memories into your wardrobe. If you’re a retailer, ideas like these can be shared by your sales team.

• Donate unwanted clothes. If it’s been 10 years, it may be time…

• Mix and match tops. Try new pairings of blazers, purses, shoes and belts to refresh outfits that feel played out.

• Organize your closet. Keep track of what you have!

• Mending. Repair your good clothes and get used to using an iron.

• Maintenance. Wash your jeans inside out to preserve the fibers and avoid fading. Fold your sweaters to keep their shape. Make sure you have a good tailor and cobbler. Use eco-friendly laundry products and wash on a colder setting.

Buy Innovative Sustainable Products

For both shoppers and retailers, the landscape is changing almost daily with new sustainable products that are recycled, up-cycled or use plant-based material. Smaller, innovative brands are often nimble enough to meet the rapid changes we are seeing. The industry is relatively nascent, so younger brands can help differentiate offerings for retailers and shoppers. Thinking outside the box in your market category can help you lead in the Wild West of slow fashion.

After several years of researching sustainability issues in the denim jeans industry, Behind the Buckle (BTB) developed and patented the first and only fashion belt for women and men with a hidden, removable adjuster. The adjuster, located “behind the buckle,” can tighten or loosen a pair of jeans (or any garment with a button at the waist) up to two to three inches, making them renewable again.

The company sells online but is in active talks with national retail chains as it aggressively seeks eco-friendly products to add to its product lines. One of BTB’s hottest products has been the Snap Belt, which can also be worn under a top as it’s flat, buckle-less and gender-neutral. Several BTB styles come in vegan and vegan cactus leather, but all belts can extend the life of your garments.

There is no doubt: This is an unparalleled window of opportunity for retailers and shoppers alike to step forward, change old habits and make an impact with eco-friendly fashion choices.