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From G7 to fashion weeks – why the industry needs to cut the sustainable chat and take action

One minute we’re talking all about saving the planet, the next, it’s onto the indulgence and excess of fashion weeks. No wonder there’s so much questioning around what the industry is about right now. 

At the G7 Summit last month, François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of luxury group Kering, introduced the Fashion Pact, a deal that saw 32 brands from Adidas to Prada, coming together to commit to stopping global warming, restoring biodiversity and protecting the oceans. 

The initiative was mandated by French President Emmanuel Macron, who asked the industry to set practical objectives for reducing its environmental impact.

Practical is the keyword here. While collaboration between so many different players is in itself great progress, reflections on many of the goals are that they have been light on detail as to how they’re going to be achieved. 

Meanwhile, as has been pointed out by others this past fortnight, fashion week season has kicked off and we’re back into that completely contrasting feeling of celebration and excess once more. “Fashion month is a party,” Orsola de Castro, co-founder and creative director of non-profit Fashion Revolution, told the Business of Fashion. “It’s huge fun, but it’s the kind of fun that is no longer funny.” 

Within that is of course the volume of waste and climate impact generated from the shows themselves, but in addition, the culture of consumerism they continue to feed.  

In London we have Extinction Rebellion protesting against the very existence of fashion week itself, while in New York, the biggest stories have conversely been about the large-scale theatrics of shows from the likes of Tommy Hilfiger and Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty. Let’s not forget, fashion weeks are about marketing – appealing to buyers, press and consumers individually to encourage them to buy and buy-into the new collections in one or other of their relative ways. 

By their very nature, they therefore clash with a more sustainable approach to supply and demand. All of which makes one question how much hot air really surrounds the topic of sustainability – no matter how much it’s “trending” – when looking across the industry at large. 

Back to the G7 pact and the biggest question that sits there then, is how will any of these promises turn into reality? As in, literally what are the methodologies behind them? 

The fact is, what we really need is less talk more doing. To put it into the simplest terms, the contradiction of fashion week doesn’t sit well with the notion of ‘actions speaking louder than words’. But neither do promises that aren’t backed by some tangible outputs to follow. 

The same goes for the sheer volume of broader sustainable pledges being made by the industry. Everywhere you turn you see promises to use 100% renewable energy by 2020, to become carbon neutral by 2022, to reduce water consumption by 2025. The same can be said for chemicals, materials, recycling, waste… the list goes on. 

That’s all well and good, but only if progress towards those things actually happen. On our side, we’re tracking them all, and the list of promises is growing at a substantially faster rate than that of the actions being made in response. This is absolutely key. It means that currently the announcements are serving in the main as PR initiatives – a way of hiding behind something that is several years away, or about buying time while you figure out what to actually do. 

The result is that we either have too many pledges that risk not being met, or those offering too little too late – such as to be carbon neutral by 2050. In Greta Thunberg’s words, this is a climate emergency

Last year, Fast Company reviewed various environmental goals set for 2020 by large corporations as well as countries, questioning which of them were on target to actually be met in time. It reads like a mixed bag, though does demonstrate progress in parts. 

The same can be said for fashion. Kering itself has always been one of the most vocal about its goals, setting them out in 2012, then reporting back on what it had and hadn’t achieved in 2016. It reset its targets in 2017 with a broader 2025 sustainability strategy in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Included in that was cutting the group’s carbon emissions by 50% and reducing its overall environmental impact by at least 40%. Not small aims. An update is expected in 2020. 

H&M is another that’s always gone big. It’s reportedly on target to hit its goals of both using 100% organic or recycled cotton, and eliminating hazardous chemicals in its production, by 2020. Future aims include becoming climate positive by 2040. 

The difficulty with all this is the sliding scale of what attaining such goals mean, not to mention how they’re measured. 

One of the ones I have the biggest issue with in the industry broadly is the idea of moving to entirely “sustainable cotton” by 2025. This isn’t so much in the goal itself by any means, but in the naming of it. What is sustainable cotton? Strictly speaking, most of the time what we’re talking about is rather “better” cotton. As in, it is literally better for the environment than that which is otherwise farmed in the conventional manner. Usually this falls under those certified via the Better Cotton Initiative and others including Organic and Fair Trade. 

This sort of language use is critical because of how misleading it can be to the consumer. It instantly gives the impression that fast fashion, like Zara as well, for instance, will be absolutely fine by 2025 because the materials used will indeed be entirely sustainable. Not true. They’ll just be less bad at that early part of the supply chain. Arguably, that’s not enough. 

The same goes for what is the lesser of two evils when we hear certain companies have managed to achieve zero waste to landfill targets, yet are continuing to incinerate items. Does the ban on incineration in France mean landfill will then be on the up? 

When it comes to greenhouse gases, there was a feeling in a recent meeting I had with some members of UK parliament, that regulation for companies to declare their emissions makes the industry immediately more accountable.

What didn’t seem to be acknowledged is that the fashion industry doesn’t know the true numbers around its emissions. As I’ve written about before, it’s not completely possible right now because there is simply not enough accurate information out there for it to report this – and it doesn’t have direct control of its supply chain in the majority of cases to discover any of it itself further. 

We know this from our work with Google to build a tool that shines a light on the raw materials stage of the supply chain – Tier 4. What’s available right now is at best globalized averages, at worst, completely unknown. The result, therefore, is guesswork. How for instance can H&M become climate positive in a true sense, if it can’t trace back the impact it is actually having? It can’t. You can apply the same to Burberry, to Nike, to whoever else you like.

A few years back there were headlines about 2020 being the “magic year for fashion” based on the industry embracing sustainability. Arguably, even in the midst of fashion week season, that has already happened. But it doesn’t mean anything if it’s just being talked about.  

Change can only take place if these goals become tangible. That’s our entire mantra as a business – drive transformation by enabling action. Enough with the pledges therefore, what we’d rather see is the industry diving deep, staying quiet, building new solutions and starting to show us some results. 

How are you thinking about sustainability? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick fashmash social media

10 tips and tricks for getting the most out of your Snapchat strategy

Snapchat
Snapchat is gaining serious traction in the fashion industry

With 150 million active daily users worldwide and 25-34 years olds as its fastest growing demographic, Snapchat is increasingly an appealing and pivotal part of social media strategy for fashion brands.

The problem is, with a severe lack of discoverability on the platform (there’s no search nor content surfacing), gaining traction isn’t the easiest task unless you’re spending money on ad products with the company. The same goes for the lack of metrics on hand; meaning building out what that content plan should look like isn’t a terribly straightforward one.

A paid-for strategy might well be for you, of course, and is in fact all that Snapchat itself will support. Burberry, ASOS, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, John Lewis and more, have all done so, working across the three ad products available (Snap Ads, which appear between Stories and Discover content, Sponsored Geofilters, which are location-specific overlays on images and videos taken, and Sponsored Lenses, which are augmented reality additions to selfies taken by users).

But underpinning that, needs to be a strong organic content plan – an understanding of the ways in which to get the most out of the platform year round, and use your other channels as a basis to push followers to it. At our recent #FashMash Bootcamp, a masterclass dedicated to Snapchat, we put forward 10 tips and tricks to get the most out of it, as well as lots of examples of brands to learn from within the fashion industry already doing it well.

Snapchat
Our Snapchat-themed #FashMash Bootcamp underway and documented on… Snapchat


1/ Tell stories

The key thing to recognise with Snapchat is how transient the content is. Arguably that affords you the ability to throw bits and pieces up and not worry too much. But more to the point, it means you need to make a big impact in a short amount of time to convince users to return. Storytelling is critical therefore. This is a storytelling platform. You need to think about what you’re creating along those lines accordingly. Even if your content is a basic behind-the-scenes view, does it have a beginning, middle and end? Storyboard out what that looks like before you start in order to capitalise on it to its greatest extent.

In terms of what the content should be, think around providing some seriously unique access – exclusivity beyond what you offer on other channels. Burberry has done this well, so has Agent Provocateur; both of them recognising this is not a place to copy and paste the same assets. The other critical consideration is around humour. Snapchat is all about entertainment. It’s playful, funny and whimsical, which may be an entirely different direction for your brand, but it’s a critical way to think in order to win on this platform. You want your content to have an “I would screenshot that” moment and being emotionally engaging is the secret sauce to making that happen.


2/ Get creative

Use the tools on hand within the Snapchat platform. The very heart of this app is the fun and frivolous nature of its messages sitting hand-in-hand with that humorous storytelling vibe – from the quirky illustrations you can add to the emojis, bitmojis, lenses and filters. Be native to the platform by integrating them into what you send. It will instantly lift your work to be more in line with what users expect to see. Gucci is a great example of a brand that has played with it in this way, thanks largely to its partnership with street artist GucciGhost, aka Trouble Andrew, last fashion week. But also check out the likes of Sophia Webster, ASOS and Primark.

If you’re up for advertising spend, your next best move is indeed a Sponsored Lens or Geofilter. The former tends to drive engagement, the latter is good for reach. Fashion has heavily experimented with both, the likes of Chanel through to Ugg creating entertaining and quite unexpected lenses, while River Island introduced filters to 280 of its stores.

Snapchat
Gucci on Snapchat


3/ Don’t overproduce it

If there’s one thing that Snapchat isn’t about, it’s a polished, beautiful, laboured-over image. Forget that. It’s raw, candid and in the moment. It’s effortless, but rough around the edges. Again, if you want to feel like you organically fit alongside what a user is viewing from their friends, you don’t want your content to feel like an advert. Amateur is the aim.

Valentino is a great brand in this space, sharing real and regular insights into what all goes on in its showrooms, without feeling too stuffy or produced. Art direction is fine, but it needs to feel native to the platform. Remember it’s shot on a smartphone, which almost instinctively leads to an insider view and a fly-on-the-wall style, so embrace it.


4/ Pick your personality

Another part of treating the platform natively, comes in thinking about how your content is presented. It almost goes without saying that video is critical, but where Snapchat sits differently to most other channels is that success is frequently found in having someone’s face on show within that. Users are used to a very personal view from the interactions and the selfies they have from friends; the augmented reality Lenses only push this further. If you’re approaching this as a brand therefore, it’s about hiring people that can achieve this for you. Are you working with an influencer (see point 7) or can your own team step up as personalities?

Everlane is the prime example here. It uses the platform as its primary social media channel, anchoring each and every post with insights from its candid and personable team members, Red Gaskell and Isadora Sales. They have come to represent the brand, making their stories and what they talk about, must-view content. It works within a feed of friends otherwise, and makes you feel as though you do indeed, know them yourself.


5/ Mix it up

The beauty of Snapchat is indeed the fact that it’s content so readily disappears, giving you the ability to experiment and see what works for you. Such ease of creation also provides the ability to mix up the type of content you produce, however. As with any channel, too much of the same thing gets repetitive. Think about how you can ensure a variety of content to keep it interesting for your team to produce and your viewers to watch – from the subject of them particularly, to whether they are stills or videos, and indeed include any of the creative tools in point 2.

Warby Parker is a particularly strong example of a brand posting regular and very varied types of posts. At this point in time, the industry at large, is leaning most heavily towards posting about product, followed by lifestyle and events, as per the below chart from L2. Can you think outside the box on this and lean towards ever-greater storytelling compared to your competitors, weaving in that piece around humour from point 1?

Snapchat
L2’s view on Snapchat content type by fashion brands


6/ Engage your community

To truly embrace the candidness of Snapchat, it’s important to engage your community. This isn’t a one-way channel, but rather an opportunity for authentic conversation. It’s about messaging far more than broadcasting. Encourage followers to send you Snaps by asking them questions in your story, invite them to screengrab certain posts you put up, and of course take that view into the real world with on-the-ground activations tied to your Snapchat feed.

Bloomingdale’s for instance ran a scavenger hunt with different geofilters placed around their stores that users had to send selfies of themselves with to win certain prizes. On an even simpler basis, rumour has it the team at Everlane send at least a selfie back to every Snap they receive.


7/ Work with influencers

As with so many other platform, working with influencers is a sure-fire way of authentically gaining traction and relevance with new audiences. It’s more important than ever with Snapchat however, where discovery is distinctly limited, as noted. For users to find you, they either need to know your exact username or have taken a picture of your Snapcode. Using influencers is therefore a smart route of enabling wider reach as well as engagement.

This is something the likes of Rimmel has done with Cara Delevingne and Tommy Hilfiger with Gigi Hadid. The latter has posted about the brand on her own account to drive new traffic to it, as well as hosted the occasional takeover on the Hilfiger channel around key events like fashion week. Treat those partnerships as you would on any other social network – make decisions based around what and who aligns with your brand, not just how many numbers they might extend to.

Snapchat
Gigi Hadid on Tommy Hilfiger’s Snapchat


8/ Think about timing

Ensure you create a rhythm of posting. The whole purpose of Snapchat is to foster FOMO (fear of missing out), meaning you need to give your viewers a reason to return on a regular basis so they feel like they really are missing something if they’re not there. The ephemeral and transient nature of this platform provides the perfect opportunity to do so. Consider having weekly segments like Everlane does with its #TransparencyTuesday campaign and Chubbies does with its True Thighs fictionalised series – both go-to campaigns that viewers know to tune in for.

At this point in time, the fashion industry is otherwise largely focused on delivering content around fashion weeks or other events. Given there’s no back catalogue for users to flick through, that’s often a wasted opportunity. That’s not to say it’s essential to post everyday, but it’s only by regularly being present that you get seen here.


9/ Connect to commerce

All the aforementioned tips around storytelling, personalities and dialogue still stand, but on Snapchat, product reveals and showcases also have a big part to play. Consumers reportedly want to see your stuff, but the question then stands as to how you connect that engagement through to conversion? There is of course no direct route for links to e-commerce pages, nor any metrics around anything you’re putting out (unless you’re paying for ad products, as explained), but there are ways to start seeing uplift if you approach it creatively.

Think outside the box with your content strategy if conversion is a key objective. Can you drive codes through Stories that shoppers can bring into stores, giving you an anecdotal mode of ROI at least? Or could you share direct product codes within your posts, as Ann Taylor LOFT and Revolve have both done? Everlane has even experimented with Snapchat Discover publisher Sweet recently to test the idea of shoppable content via screenshots and emails.


10/ Spread the fun

As noted, discovery on Snapchat is really hard. There’s also no way to know how many followers you have or have gained with a campaign, unless it’s a paid one. Your number one job with any content strategy on the channel is therefore to look at broader means of getting people on board. You should be pushing your Snapcode out to further social platforms, as well as the real world, but more than that, cross promoting what you produce in order to drive awareness around the content itself.

Everything you post can be saved, reuploaded and shared elsewhere; teased and pushed accordingly. Fendi has even used its Snapchat Tour campaign as an opportunity to create an entire series on its own website, letting something that was once 24 hours long, live on long thereafter. Influencers come in again here too in order to help push numbers, but if you have a big following on the likes of Facebook, you might also want to think around some paid promotion on mobile using the “snapchat.com/add/username” link to drive awareness and direct click-throughs to the app and your account.

These tips and tricks were compiled with the help of Karinna Nobbs – our partner in crime for #FashMash Bootcamp. Head over to Forbes for further insight into 10 fashion brands particularly nailing their Snapchat strategy.