The Rana Plaza catastrophe in Bangladesh killed about 1,100 people when an eight-storey building collapsed in 2013. Ever since, there has been an awareness in the world demanding for more accountability and transparency by fashion retailers. So, what is Transparent Communication ? It is disclosing information about the product cycle and supply chain by fashion retailers. It means communicating the social and environmental initiatives by fashion retailers along with their progress, results and impacts.
Fashion industry has always been targeted for its supply chain practices. Factories and manufacturing units of fashion retailers make news quite often for their conduct with factory workers and business operations. While the constant scrutiny growing each year, fashion retailers are attempting for a more “transparent communication” as part of their branding and communication strategy to gain positive popularity among consumers. Raw material sourcing, animal cruelty, labour handling and general business conduct are a few areas which can create infamous headlines if not handled sensitively.
Fashion Revolution releases its annual Fashion Transparency Index which reviews and ranks fashion retailers on how much information they disclose about their social and environmental practices. The 2020 report shows an average score (on a scale of 0-100) of 23% with more than half the brands below 20%. It also finds that of all the information fashion retailers disclose, maximum information is about their own commitments and policies. They disclose less about traceability of products or the outcomes, results and impacts of their social and environmental initiatives. Being sustainable and ethical is a new trend in the fashion industry, however, it is still at a dismal 3% increase with more companies joining in.
The situation, although, is improving in absolute terms over the years with more and more fashion retailers eyeing to gain transparency. Not only that, companies are also marketing their initiatives to ‘more conscious than before’ consumers who increasingly prefer sustainable products in this new age. With consumers becoming more conscious and sensitive to ethical practices and business conducts, fashion retailers are gradually disclosing more information about social and environmental policies, practices and impacts. They are increasingly becoming self aware and are adopting sustainable business practice as an integral part of their supply chain. And a lot of this might be forced by the changed consumer behaviour, mindset and attitude. But a change nevertheless.
Stefan Seidel, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Puma Group said in an interview with Fashion Revolution, “Besides believing transparency is the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense”. Adopting a more transparent communication strategy is a wise way to garner more empathetic customers and build brand equity. It creates a story around the products and generates emotion among the customers towards their purchase. #WhoMadeMyClothes is a way to hold fashion retailers accountable about the manufacturing process of their clothes and answerable about their processes. It is also a means to keep consumers informed and socially aware of their purchases.
In a world where information travels fast, fashion retailers are becoming aware of the importance of keeping customers on their right side. Any incident can be magnified and largely hamper the brand image. Hence, fashion retailers are conscious of their actions and take no time to communicate the same to their customers. Additionally, it is a clever marketing strategy in an industry that otherwise thrives on competition. It provides an opportunity to gain an edge above competitors and develop a stronger brand loyalty.
In the absence of any precise and scientific definition of ‘sustainable fashion’, fashion retailers and consumers feel free to develop their own understanding of the concept. However, to standardise the same, concept of Certificates comes in handy. Since 2013, fashion retailers have been branding their products as “Fairtrade-Certified” which connotes fair and sustainable production of the product. This certifying generates trust among the consumers for the particular brand and as a result develops strong brand equity. Not only do they gradually prefer this brand over others but also feel a sense of pride in owning the product.
Necessity is the Mother of Innovations
When consumers demand transparent communication, fashion retailers are forced to innovate. It is important to ensure that correct information is passed on to the consumer to maintain the trust. For consumers to be able to access information relating to that product, the data needs to be integrated with it. Currently, this is handles by QR codes or NFC Tags that the users can scan to access information related to the product. Nike was the first to take advantage of this and showed the consumers how adding a new digital touchpoint can create user value. NikeConnect was viewed as digital-first, innovative and interesting which was a great way of connecting directly with the younger generation.
It’s never too late ..
Organic products have formed a part of most economies in the form of traditional handlooms, handicrafts and artefacts made with eco-friendly materials. It is not a new phenomenon any more than the shape it has taken. Many traditional, small and mid scale fashion retailers have great knowledge of their processes and products. They communicate the same to their consumers with a sense of pride and have integrated it in their brand ethos.
What the world awaits is this sentiment making its way into mainstream, large fashion companies. Giving insights into their product cycle through seamless integration of digital touch-points will prove as a great branding and communication strategy. It especially appeals to the more conscious and aware younger generations as they are the most hungry for information. The power of Transparent Communication provides great potential for brand growth and positioning. It holds great potential for brand building which is yet to be explored and exploited by fashion retailers.