Content Marketing as a stepping stone for fashionable sustainability

According to the technology trends 2013 open & big data as well as content marketing are pushing fast forward towards business efficiency. Mainly businesses with online involvement are quickly adapting these trends. Referring to eMarketer, online apparel and accessories is the fastest growing category of online sales among nine major categories. Here I see the highest need for technology adoption and new analytic utilization to prepare for upcoming trends while responding to real-time activity in this space.

So what does the power of big data means for the business of fashion?

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier (authors of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think) insist that through loyalty cards and other methods fashion businesses are able to collect and analyze far more data about people’s interactions with fashion products. Both agree that individual preferences will become much better known, more comprehensively and in greater detail than ever before which provides valuable insights for the fashion industry. J. Jang, E. Ko, E. Chun & E. Lee, who created “A study of a Social Content Model for Sustainable Development in the Fast Fashion Industry” (I am going to explain this study later on), state that these numbers can help designers identify in which direction to go, but disagree with Schöneberger & Cukier, and making clear that human intuition will be needed precisely because data can never tell the full story & surprise and serendipity are central to human nature. But generally speaking all experts are convinced that this real-world data can build predictive models that can find patterns, establish correlations and infer probabilities with enough accuracy to help fashion businesses to identify emerging fashion trends.

L.N. Balaji (president of ITC Infotech Inc.) talks about the imagination of a clothing store where the apparel is arranged according to its popularity on social media. Better yet, imagine a design studio where customers can recommend shades, patterns and colors for apparel and even play with virtual fashion games. Schöneberger & Cukier confirm this statement by reporting that retailers and fashion giants continue to use Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms to gain ideas and suggestions from customers on everything from designs to retail preferences.

Balaji announces that technology will bring fashion crowd-sourcing to new heights!

“This real-time market intelligence is a must-have tool!”, Balaji promises and supports the arguments of Schöneberger & Cukier who point out that the customer is now an important part of the manufacturing and product line planning process by testing styles and providing valuable insights into preferences and patterns-which then can translate into products they would actually purchase to benefit the fashion industry. The predictive insights of big data are not limited to understanding customers only. Marketing and advertising will become more efficient too, experts agree.

So we can say that the fashion industry is going through a technology revolution with players becoming more open to effective data analysis for business direction; and more data-driven and flexible to take into account real-time opportunities. These new customer engagement channels are more and more used as the foundation of content marketing strategies.

In my opinion, content marketing should be used to inform and convince the customer about sustainability of their products in order to reduce increasing environmental issues and inhuman work conditions. Mainly the fast fashion businesses, or as Jang, Ko, Chung & Lee say the “MacFashion” industry, should improve their sustainability concepts, promote them and create an ethical consumption attitude in the consumers mind.

Adriana Herrera (founder & CEO of Fashioning Change) advises the possibility that fashion social content marketing can focus on environmentally friendly products, customer service, fair employment opportunities, fair allocation of profits, diversity of quality & design, and ecosystem promotion and it should be necessarily concentrated on. I totally agree with her that unfortunately the Fashion design has shifted from a focus on quality and timeless construction to mass production and consumers are turning over poorly constructed products as fast as they can.

Herrera mentions a report by the Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability which states that 8 out of 10 shoppers say they like the idea of buying non-toxic, safe, sustainable, and sweatshop free clothing and accessories but never make the leap because of the misconception that “buying green” means spending more money. By the way, her startup is a great website (Wear This, Not That ) that connects online shoppers to over 18,000 stylish, money-saving, non-toxic, sustainable, and sweatshop-free apparel and accessories which maybe can give you a feelings that “buying green” not necessarily is more expensive. Well, and this online shop is successful!

Well, I mean everybody can imagine that a sweatshirt by Primark costing 5€ cannot be made under human and environmental friendly conditions. Showing people other opportunities to change their ethical attitude a little at least plus the awareness of benefit sharing is of big interest for me. I am convinced that the fast fashion firms should concentrate on social contents which show sustainability inform and convince the consumer to improve their ethical consumption – the need is increasing.

Moving on to a great study by J. Jang, E. Ko, E. Lee and E. Chun in The Journal of Global Fashion Marketing (2012) who did a pioneer research on this  `Social content model for sustainable development in the fast fashion industry´ are emphasizing that present fast fashion brands like Zara are using social content based on consumer participation in the production and marketing stage. It is a study that develops sustainable social contents for vitalizing eco-friendly experiential marketing with the understanding of a social content model and this shows that it is possible!

First, they had in-depth interviews with 8 experts from fast fashion and ethic fashion brands on sustainable social content for fast fashion which led to 5 sub-themes they presented: independent designer participation, storytelling, an eco-friendly identity, clear differences between reform and redesign, and consumer perception change. These sub-themes, which can be applied to fast fashion brand’s requirements, emerged from existing ethical brands’ present processes. Second, they developed 5 sustainable social programs for the MacFashion industry. The detailed programs were a 1:1 sponsorship, eco-friendly design sourcing, a reform style contest, redesign consulting, and an eco-fashion gallery.

All of them suggest that a brand should follow the procedure seeking consumer agreement based on sufficient promotions for the importance of the sustainable side and development need for each program and then consumer involvement can increase naturally.

Through social content and active customer participation, fast fashion brands can establish an intimate relationship with the customer, contributing to the sustainable growth of the brand as well as lower working capital and inventory levels à All in all, for proactive fashion businesses this can lead to higher sales and an improved ROI. This statement is supported by all experts I mentioned here and in my opinion, the fashion industry as a powerful market segment that employs 1/6 of the world’s population, should consider to quickly implement content marketing to popularize fashion’s ethicality.

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