No matter what industry you’re in, this has been a tough year. For some sectors, life will return to business as usual. But others are still pivoting and learning to adjust to a world that will never quite go back to normal. For retail, and particularly fashion brands, the pandemic is likely to leave a mark, as people around the world have changed their wardrobe-stocking habits. Fortunately, retail clothing brands that can adjust their mindsets to match will be able to thrive in this new world.
Shrinking Budgets and Growing Options
Since Covid-19 started spreading, people everywhere have been spending less on non-essentials. That means that luxury brands, in particular, are taking a hit. In part, it’s simply because people have less money to spend. Unemployment rates are up and consumer confidence is down.
At the same time, spending all that extra time at home has convinced people to minimize the amount of stuff they have. Some people baked bread, some learned to knit, and some decluttered. In the UK, for example, two out of every five households cleared out junk. This has led to a dramatic rise in the options available for shoppers in second-hand stores and sites like Vinted and eBay. Comparing 2020 with 2018, eBay sold more than a thousand percent more used items and nearly 200 thousand percent more used designer clothing.
Supporting Local Businesses
When trouble appears, communities come together. Small retail stores got hit hard this year and, in response, consumers have been making more of a conscious effort to shop local. While on the one hand, people are shopping more online, they also want to support their neighbors and local economies.
Taking the Time to Think Sustainably
It’s no secret that fast fashion – cheap clothing that is replaced quickly – has a terrible environmental impact. The negative environmental effects of the fashion industry include landfills full of barely-worn clothes, oceans full of microplastics released from synthetic materials, 20% of the world’s industrial water pollution, and 10% of the world’s carbon emissions.
Inexpensive clothing also comes at a more direct price to the workers who produce it, which has been highlighted by the struggles they’ve faced this year. For example, at the very beginning of the pandemic, fashion companies canceled billions of dollars worth of orders that were already in production. In countries like Bangladesh, where over 4 million people work for low wages in the garment industry, these cancellations were enough to spark a humanitarian crisis over and above the pandemic itself.
Under normal circumstances, knowing the unpleasant facts isn’t always enough to change our ingrained habits. However, the pandemic upset our daily routines enough that a lot of consumers are taking the opportunity to change their habits. Because they’re going out less, they find themselves needing fewer outfits and have the time to pay attention to where and how their clothing is produced.
In fact, as part of its cross-brand recycling program, L’Oreal’s Hong Kong Green Beauty Consumer Survey found that 70% of consumers say they have a more serious attitude towards environmental issues and are willing to take more actions to reduce their use of plastic, and a 2019 survey led by Hotwire found the 47% of consumers worldwide had ditched products and services from a brand that violated their values. The message from consumers is clear; sustainable fashion is in, fast fashion is out.
The Solution: Be Local. Be Sustainable.
With consumers focusing more on local, sustainable fashion, retailers will need to demonstrate that they’ve changed with the times. Retailers who can prove that they meet the new, more ethical consumer standards will be able to thrive in a more conscious world.
Being a local presence doesn’t have to mean that you have a store around the corner from your customers. It’s about making consumers feel like you are part of their community. In fact, localizing your online presence is more important than ever. Ecommerce was growing quickly even before the pandemic began, and has risen dramatically since. As in-person events shut down, whole fashion weeks went digital, and retailers need to follow suit with optimized eCommerce localization.
Going Local With Ecommerce Localization
Ecommerce localization starts with the product itself. For fashion, that means making sure that the products you offer are locally appealing. The local climate and culture will influence what your customers want, and standard sizing may vary between markets. To figure out what products to offer, retailers will have to get to know their audience well. Local SEO research can help. Knowing the search terms your customers use will not only help them find you, but will also give you some insight into what is important to them.
Once you know what to offer, you’ll be ready to set up your website for local markets. Website localization is all about the details. Fluent local language, culturally relevant product descriptions, and convenient payment, return, and contact options will all make it easier for customers to do what you want them to do: notice your products and make the decision to purchase.
The last step in eCommerce localization is marketing. You’ll need to find your customers where they already are. For example, over the years, Christian Dior has capitalized on local Chinese shopping seasons, like Singles’ Day, and has repeatedly become the first luxury brand to use new features on China’s WeChat messaging platform. These local efforts led to $21.6 million in revenue in the first half of 2020.
Localizing Sustainability Communications
Climate change and human rights are global concerns. But communication about them still needs to be localized.
As with any larger localization effort, the first step is language. For example, the Hugo Boss website includes a page dedicated to their sustainability efforts. It’s available in both German and English and includes clearly outlined values, accomplishments, and measurable goals. Similarly, Ferragamo’s sustainability page, which is available in eight languages, includes a timeline of specific measures they’ve taken over the last seven years and breaks down the brand’s sustainability efforts into categories. They prove that they are thinking about their materials, production process, employees, and the surrounding communities.
However, as with all localization, communicating about sustainability must go beyond translation. Certifications are one of the most recognizable ways to show your commitment to sustainability. Many of the most recognizable standards, including Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, and the Global Organic Textile Standard, are international. But Australia primarily recognizes the local GECA label, the US has several domestic eco-labels for energy usage, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is currently developing its own standards, and the EU has at least another 13 active certifications.
Sustainability Itself is Local
Putting aside how companies communicate, different elements of sustainable fashion itself carry different weight in markets around the world. For retailers to succeed locally, they need to understand what efforts are most meaningful to consumers in different parts of the world. Climate, culture, and history will all influence what matters to their target markets in different locales.
The same is true when it comes to ethical labor practices. For example, when Selfridge’s department store shut its doors in March of 2020, the company also announced that it would continue paying employees. As a British icon, safeguarding the wellbeing of its local employees was critical. Meanwhile, in the US, the growth of the BLM movement brought attention to the lack of diversity in advertising and hiring at companies like Anthropologie. To satisfy their increasingly racially aware US customers, who demanded ethical treatment and fair representation, they would need to pivot their hiring and marketing practices.
Go Above and Beyond
Consumers are looking more closely than ever at what goes into the things they buy. However, they’re also looking more broadly at the people they buy from. Companies whose CEOs have expressed racism and homophobia can lose business, even when those values are irrelevant to the product or its production. On the other hand, brands have learned to earn customer loyalty by contributing where it’s needed, even when their contribution is irrelevant to their products. For example, Gucci’s Chime for Change program supports educational causes in Africa and Asia, while Cartier’s Women’s Initiative promotes female entrepreneurs from around the world.
Right for the World. Right for Business.
Creating an ethically and ecologically-sustainable business model is the right thing to do. It’s also the only financially viable option for the long term. Brands in every industry need to work toward sustainability and then they need to support their own efforts by communicating the work that they do to customers in their own language.
Both of these steps demand localization. Once you find out what sustainability initiatives are the most important in the markets where you operate, you’ll be ready to find the best way to get the message across.
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