Can Fashion Brands Make Green Products Interesting to Chinese Consumers?

Green is hip in the fashion industry these days, and we’ve seen many big luxury brands join the movement in different ways. Both Gucci and Dior have incorporated recycled elements into their recent fashion shows, the US fashion brand Ralph Lauren uses recycled materials in their iconic polos, and even the Australian jewelry maker Swarovski has been promoting conscious design.

There are many ways for businesses to talk green, but what really sticks with consumers? Truthfully, talking about sustainability isn’t easy. It’s not as appealing as the latest runway show, and brands are torn about how much to disclose about their initiatives (and are consumers even listening?) Plus, one can always argue that fashion will never truly be sustainable. As long as you are consuming, you are contributing to a wasteful economy.

But with the environment under serious threat, many luxury brands have decided to be more responsible. Kering group took a leadership role by drawing up the Fashion Pact, an industry-wide movement aimed at aligning the fashion industry with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which was signed by 135 different brands (roughly 35 percent of the total fashion industry). The field is now hopeful that their combined influence and resources can help the sustainability movement and eventually cut the cost of going green.

Brands are investing more advertising money in consumer-facing sustainability campaigns, with many choosing China as a strategic region because it’s the most important market for the industry. One example is the Italian fashion house Prada with its latest Re-Nylon initiative serving as a good case study on how to educate Chinese consumers by leveraging short video stories, celebrity power, and expert opinions:

The product-driven model

Prada’s project started as a redesign of the brand’s iconic nylon bag but soon became an exercise in sustainability. Made in partnership with the Italian textile mill Aquafill, the new bag’s nylon material is actually recycled from sea waste into a new material called ECONYL. The manufacturer estimates that every 10,000 tons of ECONYL created save 70,000 barrels of petroleum. Prada’s new collection includes six classic bags made out of the material, while the prices are roughly 20 percent more expensive than their previous bags. But each Re-Nylon bag comes with a nice gimmick: a continent badge that shows consumers where their bag has contributed to the health of the environment.

Leveraging celebrity power

Celebrities generate attention, and this is especially true in China. For this project, Prada worked with the Chinese actor Wei Daxun, who has become known for his down-to-earth image and sense of humor in reality shows. In an interview with Jing Daily, Wei expressed that he doesn’t like to spend money on fashion, but said that “Green products enrich our spiritual needs for fashion products. This can shift industry approaches to fashion and move the needle to bring down the cost.” In the meantime, Wei has moved the needle himself regarding public consciousness about sustainability amongst his millennial fans. Under his post about the Re-Nylon initiative (which has been reposted over 392,000 times), fans followed suit by commenting that everyone should raise awareness about eco-fashion along with their favorite idol.

Celebrity fans might not be familiar with the exact science behind ECONYL, but using a celebrity to dispense the message can bring awareness on a larger scale. To give consumers a deeper understanding of the scope of this project, Prada launched a sustainability talk that was hosted by Shaway Yeh, a prolific advocate for green fashion, she introduced the history of Prada nylon products at the event. Also joining the conversation was the China head of Ellen MacArthur Foundation Fan Huaxing, and a Chinese designer Zhang Lei, who together discussed the history and future of green fashion at Prada and, more broadly, in China. The event attracted a full house, including fashion insiders and fans of Wei who documented the event by spreading the word on their personal WeChats.

Compelling stories

Made in collaboration with National Geographic, short videos that documented the project took place across five different continents and featured five different celebrities, each narrating their journey and discussing how ECONYL is made. For example, Wei Daxun took a trip to a manufacturing plant in a small town in Jiang Xi province to learn about the recycling process of production scraps. And regardless of the cost, Prada has promised to make all of the brand’s nylon products with recycled materials by the year 2021. Even though it’s still about purchasing expensive luxury goods, Chinese consumers will wear the Prada badge more proudly and, in the future, think twice about other luxury goods they should buy.

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Case Study, Consumer, Market Trends