Communicating about your sustainability efforts seems to be a tricky challenge to take on for many fashion brands. Let alone integrating it into your brand identity and storytelling in a compelling way. We’ll guide you through the matter with a little help from expert Dörte Lange from online fashion platform Lissome.
Dörte Lange is an award-winning designer and art director working across print and digital for international design studios, fashion and lifestyle clients, and print publications such as ELLE and ELLE Decoration in Berlin, London, Lisbon and Munich. In 2016, she launched the online mindful fashion platform Lissome: a magazine and creative agency with the mission to elevate the notion of sustainability. Besides digital media content, Lissome also offers consulting.
What makes it so difficult to communicate about sustainability?
We live in a fast-paced, convenience-driven world in which the customer demands quick answers but, sadly, the topic of sustainability is a complex subject. When we look at the production and consumption of clothes, we can see that fashion has a huge impact on human and environmental well-being at all the stages of its lifecycle: from the growing and production of raw materials to the processing and cut and sew stages, to global transportation, to the usage and the end of life of a garment. To communicate this complexity in a way that is engaging and empowering is often quite a challenge.
But I think from the consumer point of view things are starting to shift. People ask for more transparency. Don’t be afraid to talk about your efforts in an honest way. Becoming more sustainable as a brand is a process. What matters is that you have the right intention and a roadmap in place. Even if you’re not there yet, your customers will appreciate your efforts and want to know the goals you set for the future. They want to feel that they can trust you to be honest as a brand.
“I feel that things are slowly shifting. Important issues like the climate crisis are becoming mainstream and consumers are starting to ask questions about the products they buy.”
How do you translate the sometimes very technical nature of sustainability into an aesthetically engaging story?
First of all, when you craft a story, you have to remember that it’s not about you. The story you tell needs to directly relate to your audience. You need to understand what the people that you’re trying to reach care about and tell your story in a way that is relevant to them.
The way and style in which you tell your story are guided by the personality of your brand. Are you talking to your customers as an authority, as a nurturing friend, as a visionary or a rebel? Your unique brand personality will come across in your tone of voice, in the words you use and the images that you create and share.
Be specific in the way that you communicate and do it in your unique way. When you talk about the topic of sustainability, come from an angle that makes it relatable to your specific audience and tell it in a way that aesthetically resonates with them.
Which fashion brands have a strong brand identity with a focus on sustainability?
Patagonia and Reformation are both good examples but their style of communication is very different and unique. Patagonia grew out of a small company that made tools for climbers, it was founded by and for people who love to spend as much time as possible in the mountains or the wild. Their environmentalism is rooted in a deep and close relationship with nature and they’ve been supporting environmental protection from the start. Reformation, on the other hand, has made sustainability sexy and fun, and translated it into a visual and verbal language that is relevant for their audience of sassy millennial fashionistas.
“I love fashion for its creativity and aesthetics, but at the same time I’m a political person committed to environmentalism and equality. People feel the need to link their purchases to their personal views and opinions.”
How do you communicate about sustainability and make it inspiring?
Personally, I believe that meaningful relationships make us thrive as human beings. Loving friends and family around us, activities that bring us joy and carefully selected items that we have a real connection to. So when I talk about sustainability at Lissome, I shift the focus to mindfulness and I talk about paying attention. If you carefully select the clothes you are wearing, you start curating your wardrobe. I am creating an antipode to our throw-away culture of disposable, fast fashion and I am sketching a new vision that is based on human and planetary well-being.
What is the formula to a successful brand identity?
To clearly communicate your story, you need to have an in-depth understanding of who you are as a brand. And this is where brand strategy and brand personality come into play: Why do you exist? What is your mission? What are the problems that you are solving? And how are you like as a brand, what are the attributes that describe you? At the same time, you need to understand your customers: What are their needs? What are their aspirations? What do they care about deeply?
Once you have a clear idea about your brand personality, it must be translated and deeply embedded into your visual identity. Your visual and verbal language determine how you act in this world and how you are being perceived by your customers. Consistency is key.