Supply and demand: Why sustainability is the answer

There are many places a retailer might look for a piece of sage wisdom about the state of the market and its shift towards a sustainable future. But there’s one place many – especially those in the luxurious world of fashion – might have overlooked, and that’s eggs.

Thanks to a combination of animal welfare activism, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and the rise of organic food, the egg market has seen rapid shifts over the past decade or two. As an increasing number of consumers feel uncomfortable purchasing eggs from caged chickens, it no longer pays to cut costs by forcing hens to live in inhumane conditions.

As customers become more aware of the ethical implications of caged eggs, the increased demand means free-range farmers are able to buy more land, reduce their costs in other, more ethical ways, and have a better chance of sustaining themselves into the future.

 The same shifts are taking place in the world of fashion. As consumers increasingly demand more from their favourite brands, it no longer pays to be the fashion equivalent of caged eggs. In fact, it’s downright bad for business.

Many fashion retailers argue that making the choice to “go sustainable” will inevitably lower their margins or add to their costs. They hide behind this excuse, and claim that it’s simply not viable at their price point. I’d argue that in most cases, this simply isn’t true.

But it’s not good enough to ask your customers to pay the price for socially and environmentally conscious clothing. Instead of jacking up prices and expecting consumers to absorb the difference, retailers need to start using smart business decisions to keep costs down. It’s up to retailers to help make consumers’ decisions simpler and easier by thinking sustainably from the outset.

And by “sustainable”, I don’t mean greenwashing your brand or building token “green” messaging into your marketing mix. I mean actively assessing your entire business from the top down, and making tough decisions about your supply chain, your approach to waste and your factory conditions.

A boost in the bottom line

Sustainability is a business mindset too. If you can make decisions today that will see your brand appeal to the increasingly conscious consumers of the future, then you’ll be making yourself sustainable in all senses of the word. It’s economics 101. As demand for sustainable products increases, it paves the way for increased economies of scale. If businesses can learn to become mindful of every little decision they make, then there’s no reason why they can’t scale sustainably.

It’s certainly not an impossible feat, and there are a whole bunch of businesses whose footsteps retailers can follow. Certified B Corp companies, for example, are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

As demand for socially responsible, ethical and environmentally conscious clothing grows, there’s no reason why retailers can’t keep up by utilising the economies of scale in a positive way. Some time in the very near future, the only brands left standing will be the ones that start thinking consciously today. That’s the true meaning of sustainability.

Paul Elsibai is the founder of ABA Labels, a B Corp-certified, Sydney-based fashion group with social, ethical and environmental responsibility at its core.

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