Turning Conscious Fashion Into a Lifestyle
These days, consumer lifestyles are heavily defined by what we wear. It’s a way to signal to others that we are part of a certain subculture, and that we’ve made an effort to belong. Street style, hipster, outdoor, adventure, surf— you name it, and there’s a panel of brands, language, events, and communities that give people a way to access a consumer identity. People buy the brands, follow the brands, read the blogs, go to events, and pick up on slogans and sayings. Brands understand lifestyle, and tailor marketing just for them.
Given the growing interest among Gen-Z and Millennials about supporting conscious brands, the popularity of brands like Tom’s Shoes, the rise of the independent outdoor adventure lifestyle, and the success of the women’s ethical fashion movement, why has a mainstream lifestyle for men centered on ‘conscious’ brands yet to emerge?
While there are plenty of small ‘eco’, ‘ethical’, and ‘sustainable’ brands, influencers, and blogs targeted to men, we can imagine a much more accessible, mainstream lifestyle in which men consciously choose to spend only with conscious brands, therefore representing the values of those brands. In fact, not spending with these brands would be seen as uncool.
Even though the ingredients are present with current sustainable brands to push the emergence of a conscious lifestyle — sophisticated branding, beautiful design, engaging marketing, and an audience hungry to show their values through their spending habits — a real lifestyle has yet to fully emerge. Let’s look deeper.
Succesful Conscious Consumer Brands
While there’s no agreed upon definition of what constitutes a ‘conscious brand’, the tenets often include the following: A commitment to sustainable practices, following a code of ethics, driven by a larger mission to do good in the world, and delivering measurable impact. There are great examples of brands that blend on-trend design with sustainable and ethical practices, while pushing their mission to the forefront and engaging their customers with their mission.
Conscious brands like TOMS, Parker Clay, Patagonia, Nisolo, Apolis, Bureo, Rareform, and Yellow Leaf do an excellent job of using authentic branding and storytelling that focuses on their use of materials, support of maker communities, supporting a cause, embracing circular economic thinking. There are thousands of brands making the same conscious effort to create a positive impact with their business model.
Mind, Body, Spirit….Fashion?
Many consumers already embrace a personal lifestyle centered around conscious practices with their mind and body. Practicing yoga, eating organic food, and supporting local businesses all fit together as a mindful and conscious lifestyle.
Yet the missing ingredient for most of these consumers is stepping beyond the mind and body choices they make, and extending it into their spending with conscious consumer brands. By pushing the conversation beyond mind and body to include clothing is the missing link.
While some consumers own one or two conscious brand items, it scarcely defines their outward appearance. In other words, they are disparate — glorious pieces on their own, but not part of a cohesive conscious lifestyle. How might we nudge the emergence of a consumer lifestyle around the tenets of sustainability, ethical practices, and mission driven practices?
What’s holding back a ‘Conscious Lifestyle’?
Despite successes of ‘conscious brands’, there are a number of challenges facing them.
- Out-of-reach Pricing — Often pricing is way above fast fashion and mainstream brands, while boutique brands pricing is often even higher. Paying $200 for a sustainable skateboard positions it as a premium product, and not accessible.
- Confusing Messaging & Storytelling— Many sustainable brands make their ethical practices secondary or tertiary parts of their brand messaging, meaning that many consumers are completely unaware of the positive benefits of the brand.
- Lack of Mission Engagement — Conscious brands spend a lot of effort talking about their mission with consumers, but don’t give consumers a way to participate in the mission themselves.
- Poor Impact Metrics — Brand throw around the terms ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainable’ very loosely, and the meanings of those terms are ambiguous in the minds of consumers. Not enough brands do a great job of clearly defining the impact they make.
- Lack of Exposure — Too many consumers are simply unaware of most of the conscious brands that are out there. Boutique and larger brands still struggle to get mainstream exposure.
How to breathe life into a ‘Conscious Lifestyle’
By embracing a shared strategy around the five pillars: Marketing, Branding, Social, Transparency, Collaboration, and Experience conscious brands can work together build to build a lifestyle around conscious consumerism.
- Elevate conscious sub-brands and labels on products. In order for consumers to signal to other people their support of conscious brands, we need more outward signs of consciousness to define a clear status choice. H&M’s Conscious Collection uses a green tag, RED uses their co-brand, and Patagonia has that message embedded. Brands that speak to conscious choices should push labels and messages to the forefront.
- Push slogans front and center — Much like basketball and street style brand to push statement pieces forward, brands should use large typography on shirts, bags, and other items to push messages of conscious consumerism front and center.
- Make brand storytelling around impact relatable — Be on the level of Nike. Brands need to tell stories about transparency, impact, sustainability, personal stories. Simple metrics, faces, and positive outcomes.
- Position conscious brands as superior to fast fashion — Fast fashion is extremely unsustainable and wasteful, yet consumers don’t know it. A campaign to associate fast fashion with bad behavior while positioning sustainable fashion alternatives as markers of good behavior would go a long way.
- Make conscious brands part of living a mindful life — Much like the organic food movement has drawn a clear contrast between cheap, processed fast food, and higher quality and healthier organic food, in the minds of consumers, conscious brands should make an effort to position fast, cheap, and unsustainable fashion as a poor choice, and make sustainable fashion as the more enlightened choice.
- Move impact to the core of brand messaging — While conventional marketing wisdom says we should make sustainability and impact secondary to design and other base appeals in marketing, consumers actually need a clearer understanding of a brands impact. Too many brands use sustainability or impact as part of a single marketing campaign, or line of clothing, instead of showing how they take a conscious approach to everything they do as a brand.
- Cultivate celebrity ambassadors — Create an influencer network that goes beyond the occasional celebrity photographed wearing ethical fashion. Collaborate with celebrities living a conscious lifestyle today to deeply represent conscious brands and talk about the positive impact those brands make. This builds audience and improves brand perception.
- Get conscious brands in the hands of social influencers—When people see others embracing conscious, label forward fashion, with powerful messages, it signals that they can also reflect that lifestyle. Mainstream brands have done a good job of getting products in the hands of social media influencers. Sustainable brands need to push harder to promote their brands this way. There are regular people on social media who embrace a conscious lifestyle and are hungry to promote brands they believe in.
- Let consumers participate in the mission — Moving beyond conversation, conscious brands need to innovate and give consumers new ways to participate in the brands mission. Through trips to communities where brands give back, sponsored storytelling opportunities, and participatory events, conscious brands can make their consumers part of their story and mission.
- Offer tools for uncovering sustainability — Tools like beauty apps that let you uncover the ethical story behind beauty products have been successful in helping consumers navigate the space. Apps that allow yo to quickly photograph, scan, or look up products you own and get the backstory will go a long way to improving understanding of what is a conscious brand.
- Introduce better rating systems — A universally embraced rating system for conscious brands is desperately needed. We quickly decide which movies to see based on Rotten Tomatoes, which restaurants to eat at based on Zagats, and which food to buy at Whole Foods based on their ethical scores. Yet a trusted source of reviews and auditing for conscious brands around impact, transparency, and sustainability has yet to emerge.
- Collaborate with purpose-driven agencies to highlight impact — The impact that many conscious brands make is poorly understood by consumers. Companies like Tom’s still rank lower than Nike in consumers impressions of ‘goodness’. By working with purpose-driven brand and creative agencies like Enso, Hyperakt, A Hundred Years, and others, conscious brands can more clearly illustrate their purpose and transparency to their customers.
- Embrace ethical initiatives — Efforts like the Ethical Fashion Initiative have a mission to connect brands with artisans in the developing world to manufacture their goods. This gives brands a way to embrace ethical production with a trusted partner. While a few dozen brands have embraced these collaborations, more brands should do this.
- Promote conscious brand umbrellas — Some attempts have been made to promote and create standards for conscious brands — B-Corp and GoodGuide, just to name a few, but none of these efforts have succeeded in achieving mainstream recognition. By creating a standard label, like the organic food label, that help consumers quickly identify conscious brands and make informed purchasing decisions, will go a long way.
- Embrace Partnerships to Push ‘Conscious’ as a lifestyle— Brands like 31 Bits, Nest, and others have benefitted from brand partnerships with mainstream brands like Barneys. These partnerships expose these sustainable brands to a much larger audience and push the idea of a ‘conscious’ lifestyle to a wider audience.
- Promote ethical marketplaces — Sites like Enrou, Modavanti, and Ecohabitude are fantastic e-commerce retailers focused primarily on women’s fashion, but no retail sites exist for conscious mens fashion. Giving these marketplaces more exposure gives consumers places to go and shop for ethical brands and navigate the landscape.
- Elevate fashion concierge startups — There are a dearth of new startups helping mens choose fashion ‘looks’ for them, and deliver fashion to their doorstep. Companies like Five Four Club, Bombfell, and more are doing this, but no experience has emerged around conscious mens brands yet.
- Encourage innovative retail experiences — Apps like Not My Style help consumers learn more about the ethical implications of their purchases. In London, boutiques like The Keep only carry the best ethical fashion brands, but in the US and other countries, there are scant examples of these types of retailers. We need more of these in trendsetting neighborhood like Venice and Brooklyn.
There’s no magic bullet to create an instant, digestible, and popular conscious lifestyle. But by brands and startups taking the steps listed above in unison, we can move closer to the emergence of a true conscious consumer lifestyle that men can discover, embrace, and make part of their identity. The challenges are real, but the solutions are available — it’s a question of a coordinated effort on behalf of sustainable brands to push the lifestyle to the forefront.