Following Law on the Runway founder Rachel Fischbein’s presence as a panelist at San Francisco Fashion Community Week’s conference on sustainability, we thought it might be helpful to write a blog post on green and transparent marketing.
The fashion industry is slowly but surely changing. Consumers today approach their purchases differently. As a matter of fact, about 66% of consumers say they’re willing to pay more for sustainable brands. If your brand is ethical and sustainable, you might be tempted to focus an important part of your marketing strategy on those elements. There are however guidelines and laws surrounding this practice that must be taken into consideration when wanting to put forth your brand’s values.
The core principle behind “green marketing” was established by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in their Green Guides. According to the FTC, “marketers must ensure that all reasonable interpretations of their claims [whether explicit or implied] are truthful, not misleading, and supported by a reasonable basis before they make the claims.” When making environmental claims (for instance, saying a product is degradable), these must be backed by generally accepted tests, research, or studies conducted objectively by qualified individuals. Here a few elements to keep in mind to be in accordance with the FTC’s guidelines.
Be precise You must be very conscious of the way consumers will perceive your products because of the way you describe them. Using terms such as “eco-friendly”, on their own, can be deceptive. Think one step further and explain what you mean when using such global terms. For instance, when describing your product as eco-friendly, do you mean that it’s made with recycled materials? Is it more environmentally beneficial? How so? If you claim your product is recyclable, be precise in regards to how much of it actually can be recycled. Are you only referring to the product or to the packaging too? If only minor components can be recycled, claiming that your product is recyclable would be deceptive. If the materials used can technically be recycled, but the product itself can’t be accepted in recycling programs, claiming it is recyclable would also be deceptive in this case.
Be careful when using images An image is worth a thousand words and that is exactly why you must be very careful about the way you use them, especially when presented in combination with text. As mentioned before, you must make sure that all reasonable interpretations of your claims, even if they’re implicit (which is most likely the case if you are using an image), are truthful and not misleading. Do the images you’re using convey a message that goes beyond verifiable claims? For instance, if a consumer could be lead to believe, because of the images you are using, that your product has no negative impact on the environment whatsoever, your claims would most likely be deceptive. If you still wish to use images, present them with a precise written message to counter any misinterpretation.
Refrain from needlessly using seals of approvals and logos There is an increasing number of certifications and seals of approvals available to companies. While those might make a customer more confident in their purchase, they must be used with caution. For instance, the USDA organic seal cannot be used unless your product was certified with the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations. If your product uses both organic and non-organic sources for a single fiber, you cannot use the term “organic” to describe your product. As for independent third-party certifiers or organizations, you should refrain from awarding your own products with certifications, even if you believe they meet all the requirements. Also, if you are part of an association or organization with an environmental mission, do not use the organization’s name or logo in conjunction with your product unless that organization has evaluated the environmental attributes of your product.
Claims concerning transparency and origin are much less regulated than sustainability claims are. However, there are a few rules of thumb you should be following.
Made in USA claims
If the majority of your product was made in the USA, do not automatically assume that you can say your entire product was also made in the USA. According to the FTC, in order to make such a claim, your product must be “all or virtually all” made in the U.S. (that includes all 50 states, the District of Columbia as well as U.S. territories and possessions). Your product’s final assembly must also take place in the U.S. Therefore, in order to be able to say your product was made in the USA, there needs to be no or negligible foreign content. On the other hand, if your product was made with a significant amount of U.S components, but not enough to say it was made in the U.S., it would be a good idea to use expressions such as “made in the USA of U.S. and imported parts.” Mentioning the percentage of U.S components would also be effective, as it would follow the FTC’s guidelines without preventing you from showcasing the positive aspects of the products you are selling. However, stay away from deceptive phrases such as “created in the USA,” as one could easily believe such a claim means your product was fully made in the USA, and not just designed there.
Transparency As mentioned previously, there are very few regulations surrounding supply chain transparency. California adopted in 2010 the California Transparency in Supply Chain Acts, which aims at eradicating slavery and human trafficking in supply chains. While this law only applies mid-size and large companies with annual revenues of $100 million or more, it might be a good idea to use it as a guideline for your own policies. Consumers want to know where the products they purchase come from. If your business is successfully following its supply chain from A-Z, it might be a smart move to dedicate an entire section of your company’s website to transparency. Such a page could contain a code of conduct for all the manufacturers and suppliers you do business with, a list of goals you might have, and tentative action plans to meet them. The goal here is for your customers to understand what your brand is about and your products’ history.
As with all Law on the Runway posts, please use this as general information, not as legal advice. If you have any questions, you may email firstname.lastname@example.org.