Sustainability and environmental consciousness can be powerful forces in cementing customer loyalty, but the first step for retailers is offering attractive, high-quality products — particularly in the apparel and textile verticals.
“Our customers, who are typically women in the their 50s and older, don’t come in to Eileen Fisher explicitly looking for something sustainable,” said Amy Hall, VP of Social Consciousness at Eileen Fisher. “They are looking for style, fit, and certain kinds or shapes of fabrics. But when they do find that there’s a ‘cool’ sustainability factor, they feel better about the purchase, and they often become a loyal customer.”
Hall and Eileen Mockus, CEO of Coyuchi, an organic home textiles brand, spoke at an NRF session on Jan. 13 titled Is Sustainable The New Sexy?
Mockus agreed that although there has been an increased interest in sustainable textiles, “at the end of the day the customer is drawn to a great product. And if the product also has a great backstory, it binds people to it.”
Both Coyuchi and Eileen Fisher promote sustainability not only with how their products are initially produced, but with programs that recycle and repurpose them.
“There are big issues around waste, because 85% of all textiles end up in landfills,” said Hall, “I’ve even seen statistics that 40% of the clothing we buy doesn’t even get worn before it’s donated or thrown away. We have maxed out our landfills, and many of these items seem like they are compostable, but they are actually full of toxins.”
Eileen Fisher takes back its own used clothing at all of its stores, and the garments are resold or remade if possible. “It’s one of the two fastest-growing areas of our company, along with e-Commerce,” said Hall.
The Coyuchi For Life subscription and replenishment program is designed with a sustainable and circular component, with customers returning items after a set period. “It all coincides with what we’re doing on the production side, in the fibers we use, the blends and the finishing elements,” said Mockus. “The products are recycled and remade into something else, although renewed and resold is also an option.”
Both executives agreed that it’s a mistake for consumers to assume that organic and sustainable means uncomfortable or frumpy. In fact, “sustainability is the new luxury, because it’s a positive association for consumers that can drive brand loyalty,” said Mockus. “From the standpoint of innovation, there’s quite a lot happening in textiles with cleaner processing and better fibers. However, luxury is not the only segment of the market where this is supported. You can have sustainability at all price points.”
There’s another key requirement, according to Hall: “If it’s not beautiful, you won’t make the sale.”