Guest Post By Yona Lo, Content Marketing Intern at Brave Soles
For anybody out there who has ever considered starting an ethical business or even for those who are simply curious, I’m sure you wondered what it must be like to build a brand around ethical values. How is it different than your typical for-profit-only companies? How do your challenges compare?
1. Growing Your Brand Awareness
A funny quote that sums it up:
“Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does.” –Steuart Henderson Britt
Existing. One of the biggest hurdles many of our ethical brand leaders face is simply being seen by the people who may be interested in their products. As small companies that pay more upfront to ensure fair wages and positive environmental impacts, ethically driven brands often find themselves left with tight budgets. And marketing, one of the major drivers of brand awareness, is one pricey piece of real estate that these brands often struggle to afford.
We pay our workers living wages, we ensure everyone in our value chain is fairly compensated, we go to the effort to ensure that we’re not harming the environment in the process of making it, and all of that you know, takes time and money! We work with much narrower margins, so we don’t have that much disposable money to be throwing behind Facebook or Google ads. I think you’ll find for most ethical brands, it will be about raising awareness about your mission and why people should shop with you.
– Farrukh Lalani (Daria Day)
2. Educating for Ethical Awareness
An important aspect of doing ethical production is educating your customers so they know what they’re paying for. When was the last time Walmart came out with a podcast? Probably never. Big corporations capture customers by grinding down prices. Small ethical brands on the other hand, must take more proactive approaches to showing consumers why they ought to choose otherwise. You’ll find these ethical brand owners are not just business owners, but brilliant educators and thoughtful storytellers.
My mission is to create responsibly made products but humanize the apparel industry by sharing stories of the maker and involving our consumers in how things are made. I focus on education. You’ll see a lot of this in my brand story. I tell the Maker’s story, I do interviews, and I make videos. I really educate people on the process and I show visuals so people have an appreciation for what they’re buying.
– Adila Cokar (The Good Tee)
3. A Survival-of-the-Biggest kind of Economy
We live in an economy that not only favours but rewards companies that produce things for cheap and in large-scale quantities. A simple example of this is sourcing zippers. A company that is mass-producing a dress may get a price break when ordering 10 thousand zippers at a time. But a small local shop that might only produce 50 dresses in store, could never reap in such benefits and thus pay more for each zipper unit. A huge challenge for these small ethical brands then, is figuring out how to make their products as affordable as possible (despite managing greater expenses), while still sustaining their businesses.
So much of the world’s economy is built on scale. When you are a small fashion company, when you are the smallest of the small, if you can’t participate in the economy at that scale, you have to figure out how to participate in the economy at this smaller level, and still keep it reasonably affordable. So the problem is, everyone is used to paying for the cheap stuff that’s made at this [larger] level, when actually, our stuff is made better and we’re doing our best to keep it as affordable and honest and authentic as possible.
– Christal Earle (Brave Soles)
You may be thinking, wow, these challenges sound awfully similar to challenges that other small-scale businesses face. I agree. What I learned here is that running an ethical brand is actually not that different than running a small for-profit business. You’re still running a business, you’re still moving through the same processes, the only difference is that you’re choosing better.
You’ll be subjected to a few more constraints such as higher costs and smaller margins. You’ll definitely need to put in the extra work to share your story in a meaningful but generous way so people understand why they should be opting for ethical instead of economical. But these are the choices each of us make everyday. Do you want the vanilla bean? Or do you want the vanilla extract? Do you want the peaches from a can, or do you want them fresh? Each of them have their pros and cons. It’s a matter of what you’re willing to give, to live the kind of life you want.
If anything, I hope the takeaway for some of you reading this, is that ethical business practices are not nearly as unconventional or foreign as you may have originally thought. Maybe it even encourages some of you to consider taking some of these practices on, or starting something of your own. And for the others, I hope it gives you a greater sense of appreciation for all that these brands do because it is no walk in the park.
Stay tuned for the next segment of this interview series coming out next week on the journal.