How Businesses in Fashion Can Approach Corporate Social Responsibility
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The public relations and fashion industries have one thing in common – they never sit still.

Fashion is constantly evolving, adapting to the season and the newest trends. Similarly, public relations is constantly adapting to social movements and evolving consumer expectations of industries and businesses, including those regarding corporate social responsibility.

People have become more aware of how their buying decisions impact the wider global community and care how businesses in fashion source their materials, treat their workers, and consider their environmental impact.

Recent studies show that most people (75%) are more likely to start shopping at companies that share their values and that 65% of people expect businesses in the fashion industry to commit to corporate social responsibility.

In response, some businesses and fashion designers have made social responsibility a central component of their brand identity, while others have redesigned their policies to reflect their acknowledgement of social responsibility and issues their customers value.

PR and corporate social responsibility are not the same thing, but they are related.

If approached correctly, a business’s corporate social responsibility efforts can help elevate its brand. However, if a business approaches social responsibility from a purely PR standpoint, people will likely notice and it can make the business seem unauthentic.

Understanding how to approach corporate social responsibility in a way that is good for their brand image, customers, and the cause they support can be challenging, but not impossible. Here are 3 things businesses in the fashion industry should consider when approaching corporate social responsibility.

What Makes Sense for Your Brand?

The fashion industry is vast and encompasses many types of products and services, including luxury brands, fast fashion, and socially conscious options.

Historically, the fashion industry has been viewed as both a champion for social responsibility and calling attention to important issues, as well as a villain, criticized for exploiting communities and the environment.

Acknowledging the fashion industry’s history with corporate social responsibility can help present-day businesses understand how they fit into the larger network of fashion businesses trying to do more than make a profit.

For example, fast fashion soared in popularity, giving people the option to buy fashionable clothes at an affordable price. These pieces, however, were not made to last and have caused a spike in clothing waste in the last few decades. As a result, consumers are increasingly interested in “upcycled” or “refashioned” clothing.

Businesses who acknowledge this might consider starting an upcycled or recycled clothing program as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts.

Businesses that are unsure of how they should approach corporate social responsibility should start by looking introspectively. What types of products does it sell? How do these products impact the world?

By doing what makes sense for their brand, businesses are more likely to genuinely care about the issue at the heart of the social responsibility efforts and project a sense of authenticity to their customers.

What Is Important to Your Customers?

Businesses should consider where their brand values and their customers’ values intersect. Through research, surveys, and social listening, companies can get an idea of what their customers care about.

Fifty-eight percent of people (58%) think that fashion industry should use ethically-sourced materials.

Others think the fashion industry should not use sweatshop labor (53%) and use recycled materials (48%) and renewable energy (47%).
For example, Adidas announced that it will only use recycled plastics by 2024, eliciting a positive response from consumers like Kaitlyn Dmytryszyn.

Businesses that understand what their customers want will be better situated to adopt corporate social responsibility programs that will be received positively by their target audience.

How Are You Naturally-Positioned to Make an Impact?

Once businesses consider what makes sense for their brand and what values they share with their customers, they should then think about how they’re naturally-positioned to make an impact.

Businesses in the fashion industry tend to have a wide range of scope – some are local, while most depend on a global infrastructure to source, manufacture, and sell their products.

Locally-owned and operated businesses might be uniquely-positioned to impact the local community, while global businesses might be naturally-positioned to adopt policies that impact the wider global communities.

Smaller companies might be better situated to reach fewer people with whom they’ve built a close relationship with a detailed call to action, while larger companies might be able to reach a larger of number of people with a more general call to action.

Smaller, local businesses might find they are naturally-positioned to make a direct impact on the local community, by giving local community members jobs or by collecting donations for a clothing drive.

Larger, global businesses, might find they are naturally-positioned to address larger social issues, like climate change, ethical-sourcing strategies, and eco-friendly factories.

No level of impact is more or less important than another. Businesses should consider what approach to corporate social responsibility is most organic for their size and scope.

Businesses Should Consider Their Brand Purpose, Customers, and How They Can Make an Impact

Businesses in the fashion industry can approach corporate social responsibility in a way that benefits everyone, by considering the issues that are most relevant to their brand and their customers’ values.
Businesses still unsure of how to approach corporate social responsibility should work with PR firms to outline a strategy and determine how social responsibility naturally fits with their brand identity.

About the author: Toby Cox is a content writer at Clutch, a B2B research and reviews firm, where she covers topics relating to public relations, PR firms, industry trends. She is currently working on a series about consumer expectations of companies regarding corporate social responsibility. 

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