Fashion in 2022 is an industry in the midst of a massive shift. What worked before, won’t work moving forward. For firms looking to be socially impactful there are a number of things that you should probably stop doing, and an even bigger list of things you should definitely be doing. As a company focused on the future of fashion a generation from now created by former charitable operations nerds we have thoughts. I was recently part of a great conversation through a great organization I’m a part of called the co lab which inspired me to put this little piece together.
Here are 10 best practices fashion companies from scrappy sole proprietorships to major corporations should take into account in 2022:
- Get Comfortable With Radical Transparency. The bottom line is that consumers increasingly see through jargon, buzzwords, greenwashing and other nonsense and vote with their wallets. Transformative fashion CSR begins with a commitment to radical transparency from the top down and bottom up. That means implementing systems to track KPI’s and map supply chains; it means being intentional with HR and leadership positions, especially when it comes to ensuring historically marginalized groups have a seat at the table. It means ensuring that the people making your gods are fairly compensated and you can prove it. It means a paper trail.
- Authenticity is King. Everyone can smell a veneer a mile away. Fashion brands looking to ensure their CSR is up to snuff in 2022 have to master dynamic storytelling. Glossy annual CSR reports aren’t authentic, they’re manufactured narratives. Sharing your CSR journey is key to this. If you’re a small fashion company that means you’re communicating with your market as you source and find producers or hone your supply chain. It means you are sharing wins AND losses and effectively communicating shortfalls. It means taking accountability publicly and fully. It also means not appropriating across the board: not with patterns, textiles, marketing, content or concepts. It means bringing members of groups you’re looking to serve to the table and compensating them fairly if they’re benefiting your company.
- Kick Greenwashing to the Curb: Don’t just tack on “sustainable”, “social impact”, or “eco friendly”. Invest in auditing your suppliers and supply chains. If they’re not “perfect” yet, communicate that and have actionable steps you are taking as you grow to get to where your rhetoric says you are. Performative statements about the planet while pushing fast fashion or over-consumption is a great example of this. In 2022 fashion companies need to say things with their whole chest. Make a commitment to leave greenwashing in the past.
- Empower Your Employees: If you’re a fashion company with a few employees, you need to form your CSR strategy with them as stakeholders. If you’re a large firm you need to be consistently budgeting for assessments and benchmarking while brining in outside experts to objectively assess KPI’s and frameworks. There should be a concerted effort to bring employees to the social impact table through dialogue and finding out what matters most to or motivates them in the social impact space.
- Partnerships are Your Friend: None of us can do everything alone. That goes triple for corporate social responsibility and social impact! Explore joint venture initiatives and partnerships with vendors or players in your supply chain to address issues near and dear to your community or customer base. Find an actionable challenge to tackle together and be driven to use it as an opportunity to create awareness or content about core issue areas. Talk to nonprofits in your local or issue areas and partner to help them throw an event or cultivate new donors. A rising tide lifts all boats. Talk to cultural or arts organizations abut working to visualize important data to educate the public about fashion-sustainability or human rights issues. Lead through partnership.
- Nobody Wants a Free Tote: Seriously, gimmicky merchandise won’t solve any problems, and leads to additional overconsumption. Take that money and donate it directly, or better yet use it to fund something that gets your community directly involved. For instance, if your a sustainable fashion company, instead of sending someone their 239th tote bag…plant a tree in their name! Or if your corporate social responsibly focus is still being decided, why not use tote bag money to invest in some paid customer feedback to identify what’s most important to your supporters. Your team can create a shortlist that supporters can then rank or add to. Use the data to inform your full CSR strategy.
- Audit your Culture: Corporate Social Responsibility is just as much internal as it is external. Find out what drives your employees, what causes THEY care about or what they enjoy volunteering to do. Sit down and chat with employees and figure out which service areas the team shares. Build from there. If you have the budget, offer employee donation matching and volunteer opportunities. If you have an HR department, sit with them to review policies, procedures and internal materials for inclusive language and to identify areas of improvement.
- Realize that Fashion is a System, and as a Fashion Company you’re part of that System: Long, but very important. Fashion is a centuries old system. That means it is intricately tied to historic systems of oppression that continue to this day. Educate yourself, your teams, and vendors on how your company is tackling tough truths related to human trafficking, exploitation, slavery, wage theft, workers’ rights and more. Be able to articulate to stakeholders and the public the ways in which your company is working to rectify or at the very least mitigate perpetuating these interconnected issues. This is *huge* and why intentionality is so important. Work it into content and into your communications. Fashion historical context is fundamental and complex. Hire outside DE&I folks (from historically marginalized groups) to help here. Objectivity is key.
- If you’re a Fashion Startup, Consider Pre Exit Philanthropy: This is something I’m particularly passionate about as a former fundraising management consultant. Pre Exit Philanthropy is a newer field within the world of fundraising where founders pre-determine a percentage of their future revenues or windfall from the future sale of their company to a single or group of charities. For example, at Little Red Fashion, I will be donating a minimum of 5% of my net windfall from the eventual sale of the company as founder to charities in the following areas: Cerebral Palsy Research, Material Grants to disabled or adaptable fashion designers, and Literacy focused organizations.
- Be Agile Slow moving CSR of the past doesn’t fly in 2022 and beyond. The world is increasingly smaller and fashion companies must be able to achieve social impact without hijacking important events, or shifting focus onto profits instead of impact. There is a delicate balancing act between educating and awareness and “-insert group/issue here-washing” Agility sometimes means resisting the urge to jump onto a social media bandwagon early and waiting until you’ve spoken directly to affected folks and learned the best way their community wants your brand to approach. I find the best way to be agile is to have systems like community advisory boards etc. built into a business model so they can act as a soundboard for agile pivots or entrée into working with historically marginalized populations.
That’s it for Little Red Fashion’s 10 best practices for fashion CSR in 2022. For information about how to work with us to achieve social impact through literacy and the donation of free books to children’s hospitals, classrooms, and beyond reach out here!