How New Brands Should Communicate About Sustainability the Right Way

For new footwear brands starting out, addressing sustainability in the design and manufacturing process has become vital as more consumers — especially younger shoppers — seek out ethical and eco-friendly products.

What’s also important, though, is finding the right way to talk about your sustainable attributes — and that can be a tricky endeavor. No one wants to get busted for “greenwashing” (claiming to be more environmentally friendly than you really are).

In the FN x FIT Footwear Business Foundations educational course, designers, executives and FIT educators from across the shoe industry share insights into what makes a footwear company successful, including tips on marketing practices, which are outlined in Module 4 of the online program. (Other modules tackle the history of footwear and entrepreneurship advice, guidance on manufacturing and design, essential tips for brand building, plus more.)

[Click here to learn more about Footwear Business Foundations as well as to enroll.]

When it comes to marketing around sustainability, the experts in Footwear Business Foundations say the key ingredient is transparency.

“If you think about it, food products tell you every ingredient that’s in it, with the calories on menus up on walls. The apparel industry is starting that journey. The footwear industry is starting that journey, [which] is to start to talk about how the product is made and the process,” says Todd Blumenthal, assistant professor at FIT and co-founder of SPRQ.

For footwear brands, there are countless ways to address sustainability, whether it’s by using plant-based or recycled materials, reducing carbon output from business operations or finding solutions to send less product to landfills.

Designer Dee Ocleppo-Hilfiger, for instance, has focused on creating high-quality timeless designs that customers can wear for years. “My philosophy has always been quality versus quantity,” she says in Footwear Business Foundations. “I think if you have a really well-made pair of shoes … they’re not going in the trash the next season.”

But whatever route you choose to take, be honest about where you are in the journey and share not only your current accomplishments but also your future goals, advises Frank Zambrelli, chairman of the Accessories Council and executive director of the Responsible Business Coalition.

“Tell me the full story, so I believe you,” says Zambrelli. “Because if you just tell me everything that’s positive and good about your business, it means you’re not telling me a bunch of other things. … We understand and respect businesses if we believe them, like we believe the people in our lives. … We’re long past the moment where just positive copy makes people believe us. You’ve got to tell the truth.”

Footwear Business Foundations, powered by Yellowbrick, is a comprehensive online program that offers over 15 hours of instruction and “project time.” By completing the course, participants not only receive a non-credit “Completion Certificate” from FIT but gain essential knowledge to build their own business.

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