Sustainability: Consumers want the truth says Mulberry CEO

Retailers could play a more constructive role in supporting consumers wanting to shop ethically. From providing more transparency on production methods and focusing on the durability of products, they have the power to educate shoppers and instil better values so that they can make informed purchase decisions. At last year’s Retail Summit, the Sustainability Is Not Just a Phase; It’s Our DNA session looked at how some retailers are already investing in rolling out sustainable initiatives to encourage conscious consumerism. Here, we recap some of the key highlights from the panel, considering the role that retailers play in caring for the planet and encouraging consumers to shop with impact. 

Responsibility falls on retailers

It’s rare and difficult for consumers to consistently shop sustainably. But can retailers inspire a change in habits? Reusable coffee cups and the taxing of single-use plastic bags are examples of successful initiatives rolled out by marketers to combat mindless consumption. Retailers have a responsibility to educate consumers about the benefits of environmentalism and convert attitudes towards being more ethically minded.

“We have to give people choice,” says Emmanuel Eribo, co-founder at Løci, which sells trainers made entirely from vegan and recycled materials. “Løci provides shoppers with the option to make an impact without completely changing their lifestyle.”

Retailers are increasingly influential in consumer behaviour and they can dictate how sustainably customers shop. It’s up to them to change materials, adapt processes and normalise conversations around sustainability to cultivate standards that stand the test of time.

“Consumers need to consider the number of times they will use a product at the point of purchase,” says Laboni Saha, founder and creative director at luxury womenswear label L Saha, which intentionally focuses on creating timeless luxury items rather than trend-led designs.

Mulberry, likewise, has created products with made-to-last quality and offers preloved bags and repairs as part of its lifetime service. The company has also pledged to achieve net zero Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2035 and now uses fully certified sustainable tanneries, has carbon neutral factories and even launched its debut carbon zero bags.

Transparency is key

The fashion industry may be synonymous with seasonal collection drops and chasing sales profits. Still, designers are under increased pressure to dream up alternative workflows to rival existing exhaustive manufacturing processes.

Mulberry CEO, Thierry Andretta, says: “The next generation wants the truth around how we are continuing to optimise our sustainability practices.”

Retailers need to be upfront and transparent about their intentions and how they are committing to produce ethically.

With companies like H&M and Shein being called out for their greenwashing campaigns or unethical work conditions respectfully, customers are becoming increasingly wary and clued up on what sustainability looks like today. Consumers are actively looking at company behaviour and actions to inform their purchase decisions. Retailers committed to change need to be upfront and honest about their progress to cultivate trust and loyalty among customers.

Andretta adds: “I was surprised to learn how actively our Asian consumers look for the sustainability credential of a product when they are buying from us. They spend a lot of time online searching for the best price and researching what goes into making that product.”

Return to craftsmanship

In light of prioritising transparency, retailers have the opportunity to normalise the process behind making timeless pieces. Ethically-made items tend to be manufactured with greater care and more time than fast fashion lines, with employees being paid correctly and resources more sustainably sourced.

Saha urges luxury designers to create items that are not easily replicated by leaning into time-intensive craftsmanship. She decided to teach her customers about the value of her products by spending nine days making a dress and streaming the process online.

She says: “It wasn’t about showcasing my skill, but developing perception around the amount of work that goes into individual items. The real value of a garment is too often lost in translation. We need to tap into intricate skills to make desirable items and ease the culture of instant gratification fuelled by the high street. Luxury brands need to revive the illusion of scarcity, which re-values our time, resource and craft.”

Consumers want the truth; they want to know what products are made of and what companies stand for.

Løci, for instance, is a cruelty-free business that doesn't harm animals in the creation of its products, giving away 10% of annual profits to charity. Brands vocal about their objectives tap into consumer values and they need to be honest about their intentions and follow through on their commitment if they are using it as a marketing tactic.

“Whatever you pay for, you vote in support of that brand’s mission,” Saha concludes. “Consumers should take a moment to decide what they are choosing - whether that’s in a fashion or food context. Every company has their own agenda and wants to sell their own products, so it’s good for customers to be wary of that and remain informed throughout the decision-making process.”

Continue the conversation around sustainability and check out the It’s Cool To Care – Building A Sustainable, Community-Driven Impact Brand panel at this year’s Retail Summit. Featuring Katrine Lee Larsen, CEO at Copenhagen Cartel, the session will consider how businesses can scale up while creating sustainable, long-term success.