If you’ve been around the ethical fashion scene long enough, you’ve seen this perhaps a hundred times. You’re scrolling down your Instagram, Twitter or Facebook feed and in between quotes reminding you to “cast a vote with your wallet” and “love animals like yourself” is a nascent brand, trying to get some action on the overcrowded, oversaturated blackhole that is the internet.
This is serious feedback from a potential customer: please, ditch the guilt trip.
The picture may or may not show their product. But invariably, the caption reads “I’m a designer who previously worked for fancy luxury companies/fast fashion brands but I have discovered how terribly wasteful the fashion industry is and so I decided to create my own brand, MegaEthix, to fight the good fight. I make vegan shirts with organic cotton and linen only. My goal is to clean the fashion industry by proposing a locally-made alternative to fast fashion brands. All of our items are made right here in my Oxford atelier.”
If you recognize yourself as one of these designers, don’t walk away just yet. Hear me out. This is serious feedback from a potential customer: please, ditch the guilt trip.
Here is the thing. When I shop, I don’t want to feel guilty. As Majo would say, guilt is a waste of time and energy. I don’t want it. Shopping ethical is hard enough. There is no easy way to sort through hundreds of brands, find the values, the price tag, the color, the cut, the print, the length that you’re looking for. When I’m shopping, I have 47 tabs open in my browser. Half of them are brands and the other half are articles on “the pros and cons of wool” and “should you ban polyester?” I am most likely lost in Jargon-ville and I feel as trapped as Alice in Wonderland. It’s downright stressful.
I still want the thrill of the chase. I want to see an item and think “YES! That’s the one. I want this. I need this.”
So I don’t need guilt. I don’t need to feel guilty and I don’t need to know about your guilt either. I need to know about your product. Your product is the only thing I care about. The only thing I care about is your product.
There are many ways to do ethical fashion, and although we can agree that a key component is “buy less, choose well”, it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to enjoy the process of choosing well. I still want the thrill of the chase. I want to see an item and think “YES! That’s the one. I want this. I need this.” And I want to feel this way because fashion is the medium I choose, the medium we choose to express who we are.
Beyond vegan, minimalist, zero-waster I am also Muslim, French, Algerian, feminine, strong-minded, bold, ambitious and that influences how I see myself and what I want to wear to express my identity. So while I’m choosing well based on a number of ethical criteria, I’m also choosing well based on my background, my personality, my needs, my attitude and let me tell you: your qualms about fashion have nothing to do with it.
So, here is my advice: ditch the guilt and lead with the product.
Take fashion pictures, not just pictures
Have a killer picture of your dress, shirt, cardigan, underpants. Style it. Make sure it’s high quality: no one takes a pixellated picture seriously. Be mindful of the background you use. Make sure to have a uniform background to make scrolling through your shop lighter on the eyes, but also make sure to have a couple of editorial shots as well.
Tell your brand’s story, not yours
Ok. This one is a bit tricky, especially as you’re starting out because it seems that you are your brand. The only reason it exists is because you went through this personal journey from mindless to conscious consumer. But what is your brand about? How does it relate to the customer you are trying to attract. Remember, your customer is not just an ethical shopper. It seems like a niche, but that’s way too wide. Your ideal customer is an actual person. She has a name, an age, a job, a family. Ask yourself what are her problems, what are her priorities, what is she into, where is she going, how can I help her. That is your message. If you fell like you’re struggling, take époque évolution as an example.
Now when you advertise on social media, talk to that customer specifically. Like époque évolution, tell them how you’re fixing their problem. Like époque évolution, tell them what your clothes do for them that’s unique: “we believe that style should be versatile and machine washable”. When I read this, I know what is their added value and I know if I’m their customer. No jargon, no buzzwords. That’s not to say you can’t mention the terms “vegan”, “recycled”, “up-cycled” or whatever else in your description. You probably should, but you also need to know it’s not enough.
Make your product the right, left and center
So you have great pictures, an amazing brand story to tell and a super catchy caption. Supposing I’m your customer, or I’m intrigued enough to click on the link to your website, I want to see more of… you guessed it! Your product. That’s all I care about. I don’t want to ask myself where is the rest of the collection you teased me with. It has to be right, left and center. All over. It seems like something that goes without saying, but brands too often go with abstract pictures of art on the front page of their brand. When you go this way, you don’t help your visitors, you give them more work.
I always want to support ethical brands however I can, and sometimes that means we have to have honest conversations about what it means to work in the fashion industry.