Reassure your customers that sustainability is not synonymous with poorer quality. In particular, pay attention to the design/style, as well as the comfort of the items.
As ‘slow fashion’ grows in popularity, more fashion companies are jumping on the bandwagon. Renewable consumption has been gaining popularity for a while, as people recognize its importance, and many fashion companies want to be a part of this change. In this interview series, we are talking to business leaders in the fashion industry to discuss why they are embracing slow fashion and renewable consumption. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Prof. Sihem DEKHILI.
Sihem Dekhili is Full Professor of Sustainable Marketing at ESSCA School of Management. Her main research interests focus on responsible consumption, eco-labeling, ethical fashion and sustainable luxury. Her work has been published in several international journals. Her book “Sustainable Marketing” published in 2021 (Pearson Ed) obtained the prize “Syntec-FNEGE” for the best book in Management.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I grew up in Tunisia in a family that attaches great importance to knowledge. In particular, my engineer father passed on to me the desire to learn and later convinced me to enter the same engineering high school as him, in the agri-field.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
After studying agricultural engineering, my passion for knowledge pushed me towards a doctoral thesis that I carried out in an engineering school in the field of agri-food marketing, in the South of France.
When I obtained my professorship at the University of Strasbourg in 2008, my passion for the environment and nature led me to focus on ecological consumption behaviour. I have developed different research themes on this topic over the last 15 years including sustainable luxury and ethical fashion.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In 2016, I was invited on a research trip to Italy by my colleague, Prof. Anna Codini from the University of Brescia.
Italy is one of the best places to study fashion and this stay helped me to explore Italian consumer preferences towards animal-friendly fashion products. My research found that animal welfare is not the most important criterion in explaining consumer preference for fashion products. This varies depending on their social value orientation — in other words, their attitude towards the distribution of resources. People with a more pro-social (or team-oriented approach) give more importance to animal welfare attributes, while people who are pro-self (more ego-centric) are more reluctant about ethical fashion. My research has been published in academic journals.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” (Winston Churchill)
Different obstacles came to me throughout these years but despite sometimes difficult trials, I never gave up. Constraint became a force that pushed me forward.
Who is your fashion hero or heroine? Why?
One company with an original approach is American fashion retailer, Everlane. It is a pioneering brand in price transparency. To communicate fair prices, Everlane shows customers what it costs to make each product.
What are three things we should all know about “slow fashion”?
- Slow fashion should replace (not be added to) fast fashion.
- Unfortunately, slow fashion products are perceived as less fashionable than those of fast fashion.
- In the luxury sector, ecological items are seen as of lower quality than those of conventional luxury.
Can you please explain how it can be fashionable to buy less, wait a little longer, or even repair clothing?
By purchasing an ecological product or adopting sustainable practices such as repairing clothes, a consumer can signal to others that he/she is a pro-social and not pro-self individual. Thus, ecological behaviour can help to express self-identity.
In addition, many consumers of second-hand and vintage products are motivated by a search for uniqueness. Second-hand clothing is sought after for its singular and unique appearance.
Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Lead a Successful Slow Fashion Brand”. Please share a story or example for each. Some recommendations for the industry and brands to increase the chance of slow fashion success:
1 . Reassure your customers that sustainability is not synonymous with poorer quality. In particular, pay attention to the design/style, as well as the comfort of the items.
2 . When promoting a slow fashion product, talk about a mix of benefits: individual ones (style, quality, comfort, status, …), and then altruistic benefits (environmental and/or social advantages).
For example, to promote its vegan shoes, Bourgeois Bohème communicates a mixture of individual and environmental benefits. The brand stresses the lightness, breathability, resistance to water and style of the product that give it great performance and comfort. In addition, Bourgeois Bohème highlights that the shoes are eco-labeled.
3. Understand that beyond offering ethical items, fashion brands have a key role to play to help consumers adopt sustainable behaviours.
In January 2020, ThredUp, an American second-hand clothing platform, launched “How Dirty Is Your Closet?”, a free quiz that helped shoppers understand the impact of their wardrobe. After answering questions on the frequency of purchase, the number of items repaired and washing habits, consumers discovered an estimation of the carbon footprint of their closet compared to an average rate. They then received advice and discounts to help them reduce their footprint.
4. If the second-hand fashion market emerges as an alternative to fast fashion, it is important to be careful about the risk of rebound. The affordability of second-hand platforms could lead to over-consumption, with the risk of leading to addictive behaviour. This is because low prices and a perception that second-hand products have a low impact could lead consumers to purchase a large quantity of items. Transport is also a major issue to consider. Several second-hand platforms don’t allow direct exchanges between sellers and buyers even if they are located in the same geographical area.
5. In the case of luxury fashion, be aware of the tension between “luxury” and “sustainability”. If “sustainability” evokes sharing, rationality and altruism, “luxury” continues to be associated with exclusivity, pleasure, and egoism.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Take away the choice: stop offering sustainable products alongside conventional ones. Gradually, products with major environmental/social impacts should be eliminated from the market.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Linkedin: Sihem DEKHILI
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
About the Interviewer: Monica Sanders JD, LL.M, is the founder of “The Undivide Project”, an organization dedicated to creating climate resilience in underserved communities using good tech and the power of the Internet. She holds faculty roles at the Georgetown University Law Center and the Tulane University Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy. Professor Sanders also serves on several UN agency working groups. As an attorney, Monica has held senior roles in all three branches of government, private industry, and nonprofits. In her previous life, she was a journalist for seven years and the recipient of several awards, including an Emmy. Now the New Orleans native spends her time in solidarity with and championing change for those on the frontlines of climate change and digital divestment. Learn more about how to join her at: www.theundivideproject.org.