Friday 30 September 2016

How Asos Treats Its Workers–And Why You Should Care.

Ten years ago, the notion of mail order was deeply untrendy. It involved the use of a catalogue as thick as a phone directory, and clothing lines that never came close to being on trend.

In the Age Of Amazon, of course, everything has changed. Small ethical retailers are able to advertise and sell their wares to customers across the globe. A world of fashion is at our fingertips. Choice and price has never been better.

But there's a darker side to the retail revolution. Slaking our thirst for online purchases has meant the growth of gigantic fulfilment centres where the items we order are picked, packed and despatched. Fast turnaround of orders means tight picking targets. For the people that work in these centres, that can mean a working day where breaks are discouraged, and any infraction can lead to a loss of earnings.

Buzzfeed News has just released a scathing exposé of the fulfilment centre for online fashion giant Asos, based in Grimethorpe, Yorkshire. It reveals a world where deadlines are the only metric for success, and that workers that cannot maintain the blistering pace find themselves 'deselected' for shifts. In an economic climate where Asos is the only game in Grimethorpe, that can mean facing a very uncertain future.

Picking targets can be as high as 160 items an hour, from a warehouse that has nearly 26 miles of walkways. Failure to meet those targets will frequently see workers pulled up to management offices to explain themselves. If that target line slips further, supervisors discourage staff from taking tea or toilet breaks.

The uncertainty of the so-called 'flex' system run by Transline, who employ agency workers for the centre, is another source of tension. Asos employees can be stood down or expected to work overtime at very short notice. Workers claim it's a one-way street–many have 40 hours or more overtime in the bank, with no sign of it being reimbursed either in payment or time off in lieu.

Monitoring of staff is both pervasive and invasive. CCTV is everywhere. Staff are subject to mandatory searches, and even random pat-downs from security personnel. ASOS claims this is because of the high value of some of the items that pickers will handle. But that culture of mistrust rolls both ways. As one worker at Grimethorpe says:

“We are all being treated like thieves, from the start and all the time. Higher management and HR seem to say, ‘We’ve got 4,000 employees so probably we’ve got 4,000 thieves.”

Asos argue that they have invested massively in an area that has suffered from unemployment following the closure of the Grimethorpe pits in the early 90s. They also shrug off complaints as coming from a tiny percentage of disaffected staff.

This is not the story told by service worker's union GMB, who have a strong presence on the site. Deanne Ferguson for the organisation says:

“I say to people when they get a job at Asos that they’ve left their ambitions at the door, because you go in and you’re worked like a robot. Transline are churning out workers like you would not believe. There are hundreds of hundreds of people in that place – thousands – and they’re just not treated fairly.”

Our View: every Christmas we see horror stories coming from the huge fulfilment centres that feed online retail giants like Amazon. We know that staff are treated without respect, and expected to work long but uncertain hours for little more than minimum wage.

But it's a complex situation. As consumers, we blithely expect items to come through the door with no more effort than the poke at a tablet screen. The power of a piece like the Buzzfeed News exposé, which I urge you all to read, is that it makes us think a little about the complex systems that go into something that we all take for granted. Above all, it gives us a reason to care. We simply can't use the excuse that worker abuse means nothing to us for cultural reasons, or that it's so far away. The poor treatment of ASOS employees is right here, right now. And we need to give a damn about that.

Thursday 29 September 2016

Fashion Offers A Fresh Start For Prisoners

Rehabilitation. It's a word that gets used a lot around the world's prison population. Locking someone up because they have committed a crime should not, in the vast majority of cases, be about punishment. Instead, it can be an opportunity to set a life gone off the rails back on track, to get an education or a skill that will keep you straight when the jail door closes behind you.

Unfortunately, those chances can be thin on the ground. Prison labour is unskilled, extremely poorly paid and offers few chances to make a genuine change. The sort of situation, in other words, that we would be campaigning against if it was happening on the factory floor on the other side of the prison gates.

But, as an inspiring piece in The Guardian points out, there are outliers in prison labour that are starting to make a difference. Fashion is going to jail, and it's bringing a chance to start again with it.

Social enterprises like Fine Cell Work in the UK are working with prisoners to learn embroidery skills. The pieces that they make have been exhibited in the V&A, and sold on to conscious designers like Pier favourite Stella McCartney. Working in 29 jails across the country, Fine Cell Work are offering a real opportunity–even if the pay isn't quite what you'd expect from skilled labour.

In Mexico, meanwhile, a captive labour force of nearly a quarter-million is commonly used for repetitive, low-cost tasks. Yet some entrepreneurs are seeing that force and realising that we, and they, can do better. Jorge Cueto-Felgueroso's company Prison Arts sells high-end bags decorated with tattoo-inspired designs in shops across Mexico and online. He was inspired by his own experiences in jail, when he was incarcerated while awaiting trial for fraud–charges for which he was found innocent. The 200 workers for Prison Arts are extremely well-paid by jail-cell standards, and profits from the venture are plowed straight back into the programme. Jorge says:

“The bags we make are just a sub-product of the whole process. What’s important is the help we offer with rehabilitation and the reintegration into society afterwards.”

And there's the point to the whole enterprise. Prisoners who are given a chance to learn a new trade or skill are far less likely to slip back into old ways when they leave. Support and encouragement in a positive direction is vital in a successful rehabilitation programme. Ventures like Prison Arts and Fine Cell Work are making a difference, ensuring that a spell in the slammer doesn't lead to a wasted life.

Tuesday 27 September 2016

Riches From The Sea

We know that ocean plastic is a big problem. Sea creatures from fish all the way up to mammals like whales and dolphins suffer as they ingest or are entangled in our throwaways. Will the giant island of floating junk in the Pacific become a man-made monument to our wasteful ways?

As regular readers of the blog will know, there's another side to this story. Forward-thinking entrepreneurs are looking at the huge amount of plastics in our ocean as an opportunity rather than a problem. They want to harvest the stuff and make new items out of it.

One of the front runners in this race to the new frontier is Italian company Aquafil. For the last forty years, they have been leaders in nylon production. But you can't lead by looking backwards. The board of Aquafil have spent the last five years putting together a plan that could not just reinvigorate the company, but show the way to a holy grail of sustainable fashion.

In association with a team of university researchers and scientists, Aquafil have found a way to use nylon as the product of a closed-loop system. For late-comers, that's a process where the raw materials used to make something can be broken back down and reused. The process initially used old carpets, but the Aquafil team found that discarded fishing nets would work perfectly.

Along with other examples of industrial waste and fabric scraps, the process 'unzips' the important Nylon-6 molecules, enabling the production of brand new nylon that can be used in exactly the same way as fresh product. Better yet, this new yarn uses over 50% less energy and carbon dioxide emissions than polymers made using traditional methods.

The best bit? This is no pipe-dream or proof of concept. Aquafil fibre is already being used by brands like Levi's and Speedo. Scaling up the process can only get us closer to the ideal of a truly closed-loop system. More to the point, it also transforms waste like ocean plastic into a desirable commodity. I would not be surprised if an enterprising company is already setting up expeditions to go fishing for old nets and waste. It's estimated that there are 640,000 tons of fishing plastic discards up for grabs. There's gold in them there oceans.

For more, check out this Magnifeco story.

Friday 23 September 2016

Zara Goes Ethical?

In a move that has wrong-footed many commentators on the fashion scene, a new player has quietly launched a collection of sustainable clothing. New to the ethical scene, that is. This new player is possibly fast fashion's biggest name–Zara.

The #JoinLife Collection is a capsule range of sustainable clothes made from organic cotton, Tencel and recycled wool. The garments are stylish and comfortable, with a loose, eco-hippy vibe. Even the boxes that the clothes are shipped in comes from recycled material.

Zara have also announced a more wide-ranging ethical plan, which includes in-store recycling bins, eco-efficient stores and a general move towards a corporate policy that supports sustainable development and responsible worker management.

If this sounds at all familiar, you're not the only one to notice. The move seems to have come straight from H&M's playbook, whose Conscious Collection launch in 2012 was swiftly followed by a land-grab on the ethical side of high street fashion. Many observers still view this stance as green-washing, citing the limited nature of ethically-sourced garments in H&Ms range.

Is this new move by Zara just an attempt to steal a little of their Swedish competitors thunder? Perhaps. But we should also note that parent company Inditex's Annual Report, released early this year, made a lot of noise about sustainable development. It's possible that the #JoinLife Collection is just the first step on a path to a more responsible fashion industry. Because let's be clear–Inditex are one of the biggest players in the market, and if they're starting to take ethical fashion seriously, then everyone is going to pay attention.

Thursday 22 September 2016

How Will You Spend Your #firstfiver?

Over the last couple of weeks, a strange new item has been appearing in the wallets and purses of the nation. The first major innovation to UK currency in decades has given us the plastic five pound note.

The benefits of moving from paper to plastic when it comes to a hard-used item like the fiver are pretty obvious. It's much more hard-wearing, so it can stay in circulation for longer. It's waterproof, which is a relief for those of us who don't check their pockets before putting their clothes in the wash. Most importantly, it's much more difficult to forge, requiring a highly complex set of processes to manufacture.

Our Aussie cousins have been using plastic currency for years now, so the technology has been successfully field-tested. Apart from rampant nostalgia, there's really no reason to see the disappearance of the paper fiver as anything but a great step forwards.

But what do you do with your first fiver? Surely this is an occasion that should be marked with a little celebration. Does it go towards a breakfast treat? Perhaps a glass of prosecco to toast the future?

Well, a lot of people are doing the right thing and donating their first fiver to charity. Social media, using the hashtag #firstfiver, has been all over it. Honestly, it seems like a lovely idea to me. A fiver is the perfect amount for a charity gift: not too little, not too much. It's a gesture, but one with positive benefits. So why not make that first plastic note do something worthwhile? I'm sure you all have a good cause that could benefit, but if not, just do a search on #firstfiver and you'll find plenty of ideas.

Personally, I haven't been given one yet. But once I do, I know what I'll be doing with it.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Challenge Accepted!

As the autumn edition of London Fashion Week rolls around, so too does the Green Carpet Challenge. Launching in 2013, the annual event is designed to show how sustainable fashion can hold its own on the red carpet.

This year's event, sponsored by BAFTA, was the most glamorous yet, with a ton of fashion icons and movie stars showing up at British film's Piccadilly HQ. Host and queen of the scene Lilia Firth welcomed guests in a stunning William Vintage gown, along with her husband, actor Colin Firth.

And what a rollcall! Victoria Beckham and Vogue editor Anna Wintour hoofed it to London fresh from New York Fashion Week, while Keira Knightley and Helena Bonham Carter brought a shot of Hollywood sunshine to the proceedings. Keira teamed her cream dress with a fairly-mined gold ring from Chopard's Green Carpet Collection.

But the hit of the show for some, including ethical fashion writer Lucy Siegel, was the launch of a new range of bio-degradable mannequins from Italian company Bonaveri. Made from a sugarcane derivative called BPlast, the mannequins look and feel just like traditional dummies, but are made using a significantly smaller carbon footprint. Bonaveri says:

“It has been a difficult path full of surprises; but thanks to commitment and expertise we are able to offer our customers a product which is environmentally conscious and aesthetically impeccable."

The Green Carpet Challenge event, which also included a screening of The Last Monday In May, is another step up towards the influence of ethical fashion on the mainstream. It attracted gushing headlines across the planet, and highlighted how Livia and her company Eco-Age are luring in an audience with a little dose of glamour.

For more, and to check out a slideshow of images from the night, do slide over to Vogue, darling.

Friday 16 September 2016

Give As You Live!

We talk a lot about 'conscious consumerism'–the idea that we can be better citizens to the planet simply by shopping in a more thoughtful and considered way. Which is a great idea in theory, but somehow loses something in practice. If it means a hit to our weekly budget, or that we have to go out of our way to find ethical or sustainable products, then we are much less likely to go down the conscious route.

But the boom in online shopping has forced something of a step-change, and has made the idea of conscious consumerism a lot more realistic for many of us. Much apart from the way that we can now connect with and buy from our favourite ethical retailers, there is a push towards charity giving as you shop.

Sites like QuickQuid have been a savvy shopper favourite for years. They work as a portal to the big online retailers, and by signing up you accrue points that mean you save money or snag rewards. By attracting more shoppers, the portals earn commission which allows them to make money and pass the savings on to you. Simple, eh?

Now there's Give As You Live. It works in exactly the same way as QuickQuid, but instead of rewards you earn money for your favourite charities. Sign up is simple and straightforward, and you're not limited to second-rate retailers. You can even do your weekly food shop. Worried that your charity might not be supported? There are currently 200,000 good causes to choose from, from well-known names like the Big issue Foundation all the way to local churches and social clubs. You can always reach out and persuade your charity to sign up, of course!

Give As You Live are clear about how much you'll earn for your cause: percentages depend on the charity and the retailer. Nothing's hidden, and there's a dedicated support team ready to help. They've raised over £7.5million since starting in 2010, and have won a stack of awards for the good work they've done for the sector. I honk on about finding clever new ways for charities to raise their fundraising game. This has to be one of the smartest.

Our View: Give As You Live seems like a no-brainer to us. An easy and transparent way to earn cash for charities while carrying on the retail adventures that you'd do online anyway. It costs you nothing but a couple of extra clicks. If you're already used to doing things the QuickQuid way, there's no learning curve at all. Check them out, and see if you can shunt some money towards your favourite good cause.

Start here.

Thursday 15 September 2016

Both Sides Of the Story

The tone of our last couple of posts has been a little... well, bleak, I guess. It's hard to be light-hearted when the world seems to be collapsing around your ears.

The thing is, though, a lot of that attitude can simply be down to viewpoint. Shift that and things can take on a different, more hopeful sheen.

The reportage that is starting to build around the parlours state of fast fashion is good news for one reason. In order to solve a problem, you first have to acknowledge that the problem exists. And all of a sudden, the public has become aware of the massive issues surrounding the way we make and consume mass market fashion. As Orsola De Castro notes in a great article for The Huffington Post, the situation is comparable to the food industry. There have been huge changes over the past twenty years as we have woken up to the fact that what the big food business wants is not that good for us. Sure, there's still a long way to go, but legislation and public will is moving us slowly towards a more sustainable model.

There's a sense within the fashion industry itself that things need to change. As climate change becomes a clear and present danger, old methods can no longer be considered. Sure, we can sneer at the limited runs of so-called sustainable clothing from high street behemoths, or their tiny percentage of ranges shifted over to organic methods. But at the same time they are beginning to adopt practices and procedures that ethical superstars like Patagonia and Nudie Jeans have had at the heart of their business since the beginning. You have to start somewhere. The simple fact is that you can't turn a juggernaut around on a dime. These things do take time.

And there are increasingly encouraging signs of change, particularly when it comes to worker relationships with the big brands. No less an entity than Gap, long resistant to to any sort of supply-chain transparency, announced last week that they would be opening their records as to which factories they use in developing countries and markets. This is a huge step-change for a company who have lost a lot of good will for their stance on, for example, compensation for Rana Plaza families.

Now, you could argue that this is simply a PR exercise to put a bit of shine back on a tarnished public image. Or, you could view it as the first step in the right direction for an industry that has long been walking on a dark and dirty road. Either way, the end result is a positive one. If the destination is worth getting to, does it matter how you make the journey?

Look, this post is a bit of a meander, I know. But it's really important to try and hold onto a sense of perspective in an area where the situation can change very quickly. The View From The Pier can sometimes be foggy and hard to see clearly. But we do our best to give you a reasonably balanced idea of what's going on. There is despair, but there's also hope. We need to hang onto that.

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Drowning in Fast Fashion

As more and more mainstream publications are noticing the big problems with fast fashion, we're seeing some heavyweight journalism pointed at the sector. And worryingly, the news is worse than we thought. As a forensic investigation from Newsweek makes clear, the model that most clothes retailers have adopted is leading us into environmental disaster.

The problem is that fast fashion is all about cheap, low-quality clothes, and lots of them. Inditex, the business behind well-known names like Zara, refreshes their retail line not seasonally, not monthly, but weekly. That means a lot of clothing that simply isn't built to last. Worse, the clothing is of such poor quality that goodwill and second-hand stores simply won't take them. They're even being rejected by charities that re-route second hand clothes to the needy in third-world countries. The items are simply not fit for purpose. Indeed, some African countries are now calling for a ban on imported second-hand clothes. According to recent figures, over 80% of unwanted clothes will go into the incinerator or landfill, with the associated environmental impact.

That poor quality even impacts the traditional route for low-end textiles–down-cycling for industrial use like wiping rags and insulation. Clothes made from this fabric falls apart much more easily. What happens when they can't be used anymore? You guessed it... Back to landfill.

You can't even safely compost modern clothing, even if they're made from modern fibres. These items go through so many industrial processes, from bleaching to dyeing, that they're loaded with toxins–which again easily leach into groundwater if a landfill has been improperly sealed, or are released into the air when burned.

The numbers of unwanted clothes going to waste is utterly mind boggling. New York City alone sends 200,000 tons of textile waste to the tip every year. Any recycling programme can only nip the very tip of that away. And most municipal collection programmes are under-promoted and hardly used.

The inference is clear: we're drowning in low-cost, low-quality clothing that doesn't last and clogs up the environment. The brands that have adopted this unsustainable approach, though, don't want us to stop. Instead, they're using limited edition ranges of organic clothing or recycling events to persuade us into believing that something is being done. It's not enough, and everyone knows it.

There are green shoots of change. Both H&M and Levi's have trialled jeans that have a much higher than average percentage of recycled cotton. And urgent research is being done into the holy grail of sustainable fashion: cradle-to-cradle recycling. But nothing is going to happen quickly. Articles like the Newsweek expose are at least showing just how much trouble we're in. The big question is whether we can save ourselves before the tide of toxic landfill clothing swamps us for good.

Friday 9 September 2016

The Prison Factories Of Cambodia Making Your Fast Fashion

Back in May we talked about a Vice piece on the conditions faced by garment workers in Cambodia. Now Fashion Revolution have picked up the story, and the truth about what these people face as part of their everyday working lives is becoming clear.

It's not pretty.

To recap on what we already know: Cambodian workers in the garment trade often face a four-hour daily commute, standing up in the backs of cattle trucks. But the workplace itself is no golden paradise. The factories resemble prisons, with watchtowers, barbed wire and frequently, security details made up from armed police officers.

These officers are often part of the excessive response to peaceful worker protests. One demonstration as part of a campaign to pay a minimum wage in 2014 led to four deaths. Attempts at unionisation are met with intimidation or even arrest.

Conditions in the factories are frankly inhumane. Without air conditioning, they soon become ovens, and work with dangerous, insecurely guarded machinery is the norm. With mandatory overtime, insistence on double shifts and insufficient time for breaks, it's not surprising that there are accidents. Yet managers will insist that these incidents are downplayed or even ignored. Nothing can get in the way of the push for profit, and people are just another cog in the machine.

Here's a quote from one Cambodian worker that sums up the situation:

“I worked from July to September of 2014, during the summer holidays at university. The name of the factory is TaiEasy, located in Krakor district, Pursat province. I worked in the “product safety” department, verifying that the machines were in a good condition, but also doing administrative work. I earned $115 per month, and the company additionally provided us with 5kg of rice.

My schedule at work was from Monday to Saturday from 7am to 11:45am, and from 12:45pm to 4pm. However, except for Saturdays, we were asked to do overtime until 6pm or 9pm, depending on the day. And we would not get paid extra. What I could not understand is why the salary of my Vietnamese or Filipinoe colleagues was higher, even double or triple, than for us Cambodians. Most of the time it was us teaching them how to do their tasks when they came in as newcomers. And apart from the salaries, another difference between us Cambodians and the others were the holidays: Cambodians did not have any, just for the Khmer New Year and other national holidays. The other workers from other nationalities did have a few days of holidays, I can’t say how many days though.

My bosses were Chinese and Filipino. Especially the Chinese did not treat us Cambodians –not so much the others- very well. Even though they could not speak Khmer, they had learned a few pejorative ways to refer to us and to call our attention, always threatening us with getting fired when they thought we were too slow. Not only that but also we were only allowed to use the bathroom twice a day during working hours. I left the job when my summer holidays from university were over, but I still have friends working in the factories and the situation has not improved. “

The whole article by Idair Espinosa is well worth a read. It'll give you an idea as to exactly what fast fashion means to the people who make the cheap clothes we have come to see as normal: exploitation, humiliation and potential injury or even death. Is a cheap top really worth that?

Thursday 8 September 2016

Sing A New Song

In what seems to be turning into the Start-up Of The Week slot, let's take a look at a new initiative that's seeking to freshen up the image of sustainable fashion.

Birdsong aims to be different in every way. The brand has built a network of artisans from across the globe that have one thing in common: they're groups of women who are using their skills to fight for a better way of life. Birdsong currently work with 17 women’s organisations, reaching 483 female makers on the margins of society. This includes elderly, migrant and low income background women, women recovering from addictions, single mums, and survivors of human trafficking who are finding a new trade as goldsmiths.

By teaming these women with contemporary designers, Birdsong are able to produce modern clothing with a story, that helps to give a life and purpose back to the most down-trodden. But don't assume this is just a charity exercise. The items that Birdsong sell are designed to transcend the seasonal trap, and built to last for years. Using short lead times and limited runs, they can move quickly, respond to customer demand and still keep costs to a realistic level.

The Birdsong ethos even extends to the marketing. Their mantra is 'no Sweatshop, No Photoshop.' Instead of the usual over-glossy shoots common to the industry, Birdsong use models they find on the street, in shoot them in a natural way that includes no re-touching in post. It's all about celebrating the natural beauty all around us, and walking away from toxic, unreachable images that tell girls that they can never be pretty enough.

Birdsong's online platform has helped them to reach a solid base of fans, including celebrities like Bake-Off's Ruby Tandoh. But there's always more to be done. Founders Sophie and Sarah are fundraising to launch a pop-up shop, showcasing the quality of Birdsong's clothes. The good news is that they're already nearly two-thirds of the way there. Why not take a look, and see if you can help spread the word?

Birdsong's Crowdcube campaign is here:

Or check out the video below.

In a sidebar, I'm happy to note that this entry marks our 700th blogpost on The View From The Pier. We'd like to thank everyone that reads and helps to share our work. It's very much appreciated.

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Time For Tea... But As A Jacket?

The search is on for new, sustainable substitutes to the materials that we take for granted–but are incredibly greedy of resources and pollute the planet. From plants like nettle and hemp to more unusual replacements for leather made from pineapple or banana, there's a huge push to find the next big thing in renewable materials.

As an Englishman, I'm happy to report that the latest innovation to emerge in the field comes from a humble but vital source: tea. As The Swatch Book reports, two scientists, one based at Central St. Martin's College, the other at Iowa State, have both been busy with an approach that makes fabric from green tea cellulose fibres.

The initial product isn't promising: it's a sort of soupy, lumpy mash. No good for drinking, and certainly not wearable. Bacteria is added which over the course of several days creates a film of cellulose. This film is the important stuff. When dried and treated, it has the look and feel of leather.

There are significant advantages to this sort of product, above and beyond the potential cut in toxic chemicals that are part of the process used to tan leather. For one thing, it's completely biodegradable, opening up new paths to cradle-to-cradle production–that is, the ability to totally break down one garment and use its raw material to make another.

But it's early days, and there are issues with cellulose clothing that are yet to be properly addressed. For one thing, it's simply not as hard-wearing as leather. It's brittle at low temperatures, and vulnerable to air and moisture. Scaling up the process for mass production is also going to be a major challenge. Growing cellulose film is labour and time-intensive work. But the approach is getting positive notices and, more importantly, funding.

So, although it'll be a while before we can wear tea jackets or shoes, the future could be bright for cellulose clothing. Let's face it, it's no more wacky than some of the candidates for leather replacements we've seen in the past. Remember mushroom leather?

Friday 2 September 2016

Sort Your Sock Stuff Out!

Yes, I'm banging on about socks again. But bear with me. This is important stuff.

Did you know that 616 million socks are discarded in the UK every year? That's an awful lot of material going straight to landfill, which could easily be re-used. But how do you go about it?

The lovely folk at Love Your Clothes have a solution for you. Well, in fact they have 101 ways in which you can give a little love to those sad, neglected items at the back of the sock drawer. From cushions to draft excluders, dog toys to wrist protectors, there are a multitude of uses for your old feet furniture.

As part of the new drive to Sort Your Sock Stuff Out, LYC have released a video to point you in the right direction. It's a muppety-rap mash-up featuring a gang of–what else?–sock puppets. Watch the vid and you can enter a competition to win £750 in Virgin Experience vouchers!

So, just cos there's a hole in one of a matching pair, why throw out both? Do something fun with your socks... Or just be like me, and embrace the joy that is mismatched sock action. Get sock-sy with it!

Ok, I'll stop now. Enjoy the film, and check out the tips at

Thursday 1 September 2016

The Importance Of Branding To Ethical Business

These days, as any entrepreneur knows, it's not enough to have a great idea. You have to be able to market it in a way that lets people know as quickly as possible who you are and what you stand for.

In other words, you need a brand. This is doubly important if you're selling an ethical product or service.

Over on the Virgin Unite blog (Virgin are of course no slouches at this whole branding thing), some successful ethical business minds are offering useful and practical tips to help get you started. There's some real wisdom on display here.

Logos are desperately important. The right image can convey a lot about your business in a single glance. Get the design right, and it'll work on everything from posters to badges to social media avatars. It's like a flag that announces you and your business. Again, Virgin have nailed this, to the point where even the red of the logo is used in uniforms and livery.

Talking about social media... It's essential, of course. It can give you an opportunity to connect much more deeply with people if you use vectors like Twitter and Instagram to not just sell a product, but tell a story. The House Of Wandering Silk, for example (@wanderingsilk) use Instagram to show work in progress, and to highlight the people who make their amazing raw silk scarves and saris. It helps that the photos they post are drop dead gorgeous, of course.

Transparency is vital. If anything, it's the keystone from which everything in an ethical business should be grounded. People Tree, who are a pioneer in the Eco-fashion business, know all about this. CEO Safia Minney explains:

"Being transparent about who made our products, pioneering environmental innovation and creating a positive social impact through making our products is the DNA of People Tree and you must communicate this to your consumers through every aspect of your brand.”

There's a chance as well to use your brand for good. As Rachel Faller of Tonlé makes clear:

"a successful brand is one that educates its customers, and then provides a solution."

Her rebranding of Tonlé in 2014 as a zero-waste company was launched with a series of hard-hitting videos that have been used as educational tools, providing what she calls a 'light-bulb' moment that can change people's attitudes in a moment.

Our View: Those of us that think marketing and branding is just the icing on the cake of business need to understand that things have changed. In an ever-crowding marketplace you need to stand out, and using clever branding tools, a sharp logo and smart use of social media can be the way to get your ethical business off the ground and engaged with customers who want to not just buy your stuff, but hear your story.