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Apr 3, 2018

Brand Positioning: How to get your ethical products into stores

What can we learn from People Tree?

Get ready to be inspired

So, this past Saturday morning, I was casually browsing on my iPad in bed enjoying the serenity of Easter weekend and this tweet popped up from Face The Fashion about an article featuring Melanie Traub, Managing Director of People Tree.

This article written by Pui-Guan Man of Drapers, an online fashion business news source, has SO many takeaways and so much that you can learn from it that I couldn’t just share it and be done with it, I had to write about it!

In this blog post, I will highlight 7 nuggets that you can take from this article and apply to your own business to make them your own.

The best thing is, you don’t have to be in the sustainable fashion industry to learn from this example!

Seven things you can learn from People Tree:

#1: Treat your ethical brand like a business, not the green alternative
#2: Sustainable fashion can be fashionable
#3: Find out what your customers want
#4: Look for alternative ethical materials to get the look you want
#5: Excel in one area before moving to the next
#6: Make your USP strong, not greenwashy
#7: Become certified and enter award nominations

#1: Treat your ethical brand like a lucrative business, not the green alternative

This was my biggest takeaway. Basically, if you want to get into major retail stores (on or offline), you have to speak the retailer’s language which usually isn’t earthy crunchy.
It’s business.

And in order to make positive changes in your industry, you need to become an industry leader, not remain ‚the green alternative‘ which means, you have to rock your business, not your values. You already rock those, but a retailer may not care about that.

The sustainability aspect may be the reason why conscious customers come to you in the first place, but it’s not going to convince a major retailer.

Also, if your products aren’t what your customers want, they’ll walk away quicker than my lab vacuums up breadcrumbs under my dinner table.

Conclusion: Concentrate on your products first.


Here’s How

To get into stores as an ethical brand owner, you have to make it clear to retailers that you mean business! Highlight your products first and afterward, tell them that you can help their growth because demand is rising for sustainable and ethical products. If you have numbers from increased sales from another store or even from your own online sales, you’ll really be speaking their language.

Highlight your products on your website and mailings/advertisements. On your About, Giving back, Mission statement, etc. pages, highlight the sustainability aspect. You can add a statement/slogan of sustainability on your homepage, but it’d be wise not to plaster ethical statements and overshadow your products.

Look at People Tree’s website. They only wrote one thing about sustainable fashion at the very bottom where they added their fairtrade badge and a statement in a small font size. On the German site, they added 2 sections with links to separate pages on the bottom: 1) Fairtrade producers highlighting the people who make their products and their 2) Mission statement.

In your product descriptions, you can write how everything is made in a crystal clear way. For example, if your bamboo was ethically sourced in China, anchor link that statement to that particular section on your ‚How our products are made‘ page and describe exactly what that means because just using those words will not convince customers it’s ethically sourced. In fact, it sounds like greenwashing and/or an oxymoron, so please understand that not everyone is going to believe you if you just say so. Conscious consumers need proof because we’ve been lied to so many times in the past that we now have trust issues.

#2: Sustainable fashion design is fashionable

When you think of a hemp dress, what do you picture? Well, I’m actually asking the wrong person. I really need to ask the general public, not someone in the industry who knows better. 🙂 But yeah, remember when sustainable fashion looked a bit dumpy, potato-sacky and old-fashioned? That is so not the case anymore, but not everyone knows that, so you have to make more of an effort to inform others that sustainable fashion is indeed fashionable.


Here’s How

Continuously show how your fashionable designs stand up. Do your own fashion research – I’m sure you do, but just wanted to throw it out there. What’s going on in your industry, what are the trends, what are the classics, etc?

With your new collections, create your own runway shows. You can do this at a low cost. If you don’t have money to hire models, use your friends who would be more than happy to help you out. If you do hire models, please, for the love of all women worldwide, hire those who eat and look happy and healthy.

If you want to get into major retail stores, you have to speak the retailer’s language which usually isn’t earthy crunchy. It’s business.

#3: Find out what your customers really want

In Japan, People Tree cater to an older and more traditional customer but they realized their customer in the US/Canadian market was more affluent and younger which helped them design new and more appealing collections in that market.


Here’s How

Get to really know your customers. Ask them either via social media, surveys or better yet, interview them. You may need to give your customers a freebie or 20% off their next purchase for giving you an in-depth interview though, but definitely not for answering on social media and usually not for answering a survey.

#4: Look for alternatives

If you have a material or ingredient that isn’t exactly what you – or rather your customers – want, they’ll be slightly disappointed and feel like they’ve ‘settled’. If there’s a way to make changes so that your customers are truly happy, be it a softer material, you’ll more easily be able to turn your customers into raving fans.


Here’s How

Do your research and find someone who can help you make the necessary changes in your products. Use this opportunity to explore the many ethical possibilities to get it right and make your customers 100% happy.

Make it clear to retailers that you mean business! Highlight your products first and then prove to them that you can help their growth because demand is rising for sustainable and ethical products.

#5: Excel in one area before moving to the next

This goes for any business. If you become known for one thing first, you’ll attract one customer type (avatar/persona). Having a nice loyal group of fans who are ‘similar’ in their profiles will help you hone in on their needs and your messaging. Once you perfect that skill and have a decent sized customer base, then expand into new areas of business.


Here’s How

Let’s say you sell women’s organic cotton underwear. I invite you to kick some as* in this genre and with making your female customer happy before moving on to please men.

Men are gonna be happy if their women are nicely dressed underneath anyway, but if you want to start offering a men’s underwear line, wait until your women’s line is rockin’ first because this will give you a larger customer base to work with.

You can then encourage your existing women’s customer base to start gifting men’s underwear which will make going into the new market for men easier because you’ll already have sales and ratings.

#6: Make your USP strong, not greenwashy

Your USP (Unique Selling Position) is what sets you apart from the rest. Since your direct competition are other ethical brands, your sustainability position is not ‘special’ in that sense because they’re all doing similar things for similar reasons.


Here’s How

Remember #1 above? You’re a business first, so talk the talk. How are your products going to make your customer feel? What’s in it for your customers? Think about them, not how your products are necessarily made.

#7: Become certified and enter award nominations

Conscious consumers need proof because of their trust issues. They need to see that you’re doing the right thing and share their values. You just saying so will ease their minds a bit, but if you’re certified and have won awards in the area of sustainability, you’ll gain loyalty faster.


Here’s How

See what it takes to be certified in your specific area, whether it’s fairtrade or peta’s cruelty-free list, etc. Certification is not easy which is a good thing when you think about it. It will also take a lot of time and perhaps money too but will be worth its weight in gold in the end.

If certification isn’t in the cards for you just yet, see what kinds of awards there are and apply to win them.

Want to attract stockists and get your stuff in stores?

What experiences have you had with retailers? Please comment below and let’s talk!

Rock On,

Photo credit: Raw Pixel on Pixabay.

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