How Social Media Is Driving Sustainability and Ethics in the Fashion Industry

The sustainable fashion industry is gathering pace as consumers start to think more about what they buy and try to lessen the impact of their purchases. Part of the reason for the growing success of sustainable and ethical fashion is social media and its ability to educate, share stories about brands, good and bad, alert consumers to the vast amount of choice that is out there, create communities and allow individuals to become key influencers as they to make their views and style choices known to their peers and the brands that they buy from.

Social activism has become a significant force for change and has had particularly notable results with respect to sustainability in the fashion industry. To date Greenpeace's campaign to detox fashion has attracted over 400,000 supporters. Greenpeace promoted its campaign primarily through social media with an engaging Japanese anime style YouTube video. They also encourage supporters to sign up to their Facebook page and Tweet their support. The campaign has been hugely successful with a number of fashion retailers agreeing to clean up their supply chain including the world's largest fashion retailer, Zara and the world's largest jean manufacturer, Levi's. Greenpeace also encouraged people to send in an Instagram photo with the name of the company that they would like to see detox next for the chance to star in their next campaign.

Labour Behind the Label is a campaigning organisation raising awareness of ethical issues in the fashion industry. Recently it called for Adidas pay US$1.8 million in severance owed to 2,800 workers from its former Indonesia supplier, PT Kizone and attracted over 50,000 supporters. Labour Behind the Label have also instigated a number of other campaigns including a call for brands to ban sandblasted denim by encouraging supporters to, amongst other things post to the brands Facebook page with a link back to the campaign website. This isn't the first time that Adidas have found themselves a subject of the public's disagreement expressed through social media. In June 2012, the brand withdrew its shackle trainer when, its debuton their Facebook page (ahead of its market release) prompted comments criticising the design as a symbol of slavery.

In addition to increasing awareness and driving change with regards to bad practices in the fashion industry, social media has also become a positive force in spreading news of companies that are getting in right, making a difference and have a great story to tell. Social Media includes a range of different platforms and networks which are being used to help ethical brands tell their stories. YouTube is perhaps the mostly widely used and for AW13 London Fashion Week, a series of ethical fashion videos were broadcast as part of Estethica before being posted on YouTube where they can be viewed, distributed through other social media and posted in blogs.

The significance of social media to marketers is due to the way that it can drive and accelerate social proofing. Social proof is the way that we validate what is the norm by looking at the behaviour of others. Social media greatly magnifies this process by allowing us access to a much greater number of people to validate ourselves against than most people could experience in the offline world. The strong online communities of influencers and advocates of sustainable and ethical fashion that grow on social media platforms play a key role in this social proofing.

Toms Shoes is just one interesting example of an ethical fashion brand that has managed to bridge the gap between the ethical and mainstream fashion market. Behind this success story is perhaps their ability to tell a good story using social media. Their One day without shoes Campaign encouraged users to spend one day without shoes and to tweet about their experience using the #withoutshoes hash tag. They amplified this message by partnering with AOL asked consumers to help distribute the #withoutshoes messages to over 1,000,000 before the event date and celebrity retweets gave a further boost. Tom shoes have also proved popular with fashion bloggers and on outfit sharing websites but it is difficult to tell if this is partly a cause of effect of their social media popularity, perhaps a bit of both.

Within the various social media platforms are communities made up of people with an interest in a particular subject, their impact however extends well beyond their actual community and the more they interact, the more they grow. There are a number of social media communities that are driving change in consumer habits by encouraging fashionistas to make do and mend, upcycle and wear vintage and second hand clothing. This coupled with a move away from trend led looks to individual style statements is helping to change what is considered cool. Street style photographs, fashion blogs and outfits sharing websites all help to inspire rather than dictate how people should dress and have helped to bring about a democratisation of fashion where consumers have more choice and access to many more brands than those available on the high street. Even the concept of buying less is becoming a topic of much discussion on social media as bloggers take on challenges to look stylish for a week, month or even a year just by wearing limited pieces of clothing or without buying anything new. Perhaps one of the most well known of these challenges is the Uniform Project where one girl pledged to wear a little black dress for 365 days as an exercise in sustainable fashion but there have been many more. Labour Behind the Label also runs a challenge called the six items challenge to help raise both funds and awareness of the issues surrounding ethical practices in the fashion industry.

As the world of social media and fashion 2.0 continues to expand and develop, so too will the ways in which we discover, share, become informed about and consume fashion. Hopefully social media will continue to empower consumers allowing fashion conscious individuals to embrace both style and sustainability and brands to find new models for working that ensure they are practicing and communicating their ethics in the most effective way. Social media has opened up communication and this can only be a good thing in terms of increasing transparency and choice in the fashion industry.

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