Adidas by Stella McCartney launched a new campaign featuring Grimes this week with glossy imagery, mountainous surrounds, and hot products from their "Hey World" collection, promoted with the message "some of the most sustainable sportswear on the planet."
The brand collaboration has a history of enlisting celebrities, including Taylor Swift and Ellie Goulding, to deliver their sustainability marketing, as many other brands have; but is it making a difference to the global sustainability cause? After all, these artists also promote brands without an overt sustainability message.
The campaign in question may raise more consumer questions than answers. Am I buying this because it's sustainable? Am I buying this because I admire this celebrity? Should I be buying it at all? Brands like Patagonia are telling us not to buy anything new, but to repair instead. This is a much clearer message and it is obvious how this helps sustainability.
Celebrity campaigns, however, do not have that same clarity and appear to be presenting the opposite message; buy this and you are being a sustainable consumer.
If the amount of new clothing produced increases at its current trajectory, they (brands) will continue to generate negative impacts in an unsustainable way.
This is the difficulty facing brands claiming to be sustainable now. Do we do what's best for the planet, or what's best for profit margins and ongoing sales, with a nod towards sustainable materials?
This debate has been discussed at length, but this type of campaign does not appear to offer clarity around sustainability, instead confusing things more. Sustainability is a complicated subject, and with the character limit in Twitter, for example, it's no wonder the sustainability marketing message is over-simplified. The most prevalent marketing platforms do not allow for a proper explanation of all the factors, forcing sustainability into a binary thing—it's either sustainable, or it's not—which is not the case.
As a consumer, is it better to repair my old jacket, or buy a new one that a brand or celebrity tells me is more sustainable? How do we know which to choose and where the tipping point lies? Does there need to be a shift around marketing campaigns to reflect this?
Rather than staunchly getting behind one "sustainable" brand, or bashing another one for green-washing, should we be asking marketing companies (or the relevant teams within brands), "why isn't the messaging clear, and what would make it clear?"
The word sustainable has become a hot marketing term. Consumers are often left with the task to verify the claims and vote with their dollars, as if we can purchase our way into a more sustainable world.
Consumers want to make more sustainable choices, but they need clear information in order to make these decisions, not endorsements from a celebrity who only concerns themselves with sustainability part of the time. Choices and decisions around sustainability are complex, personal and contextual. Acknowledging this in the information disseminated around new products, rather than just making generalized claims with no detail and then pushing these products with unrelated famous faces, may be a more constructive way forward.
The question remains, how does this differ from the fashion marketing campaigns of old, that got us into this mess in the first place?
As illustrated by the recent Extinction Rebellion X Stella McCartney's campaign, there is an inbuilt conflict between telling consumers to be more sustainable, yet buy more clothes. Extinction Rebellion are anti-consumption activists, who are currently spearheading a movement to boycott London Fashion Week, following the cue of the Swedish Fashion Council, who canceled Stockholm Fashion Week this year due to climate concerns.
Buying higher value items that are seen as "designer" may lead to more wears and less propensity to throw them in landfill. But the resources required to keep the fashion wheel turning are still contributing to climate change, even if garments are worn for years rather than days. We have less than 12 years to halt climate change. Is this type of campaign really making a difference?
With the heat around sustainability messaging and the meaning of "sustainability" when referenced in fashion marketing, a recent ruling in Norwaydemanding H&M clarifies the meaning of its "conscious collection" suggests that this area remains unclear for consumers, and it appears that celebrities may not be adding any clarity
By Brooke Roberts -Islam for Forbes