How do we make sustainable fashion mainstream— ethics or aesthetics?
One of the biggest struggles in the sustainable fashion industry is making the “ethical” or “sustainable” mainstream, rather than a niche alternative market viewed squarely within the hippie domain.
Which begs the question: Should brands align their marketing messages to ardently communicate their beliefs to consumers? Or should they market their designs?
The simple answer is both— integral to the rise of ethical fashion in mainstream fashion culture are brands that are appealing in their aesthetic as well as ethics.
However, Angela Roi is an interesting case study as a brand that asserts its aesthetic more than its ethics.
Angela Roi is a luxury vegan leather brand that makes it’s bags from high-quality vegan leather, whose bags are made in fair working conditions in Korea and Vietnam, and are designed in New York.
While it is easy to understand what vegan leather is not—animal product—understanding what it is important as well.
Angela Roi makes their bags from EPUL (Excellent Polyurethane Leather), which is less damaging to the environment than other forms of faux leather, such as the common PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride).*
The founders of Angela Roi say they market themselves to a mass audience, making the quality of design to be its selling point, rather than the fact that it’s vegan.
“Although we are vegan, we are not promoting ourselves as a vegan brand or pushing vegan activism,” says Roi Lee, co-founder of the brand. “We approach it this way because we don’t believe in radical change in society. We cannot force other people to wear what they don’t like.”
Instead, Lee argues, market research has shown that handbag customers (vegan or not) care about design and quality of a product above all else, so that’s the marketing message that Angela Roi promotes. Plus, he notes, veganism gets a bad rap thanks to more extreme activists. He’d rather a customer walk in, love the bags for how they look and feel, and then be pleasantly surprised to find out that they are made with vegan materials.
Taking a firm stance on an issue inherently means that you will not please everyone— which, depending on who you are, has different implications.
Pragmatically, in the framework of profit, every brand seeks an audience beyond the realm of the ‘conscious consumer.’
I, on the other hand, suppose I have the luxury to have opinions. That’s not to say every blogger on the Internet will embrace opinions— far from it. I’ve had my share of countless influencers being *totally obsessssssed* with everything (#sponsored?) and providing no creativity or authentic voice in the realm of brand work.
However, no matter where one falls— brand or blogger— one’s thing is clear. Content creators, media makers, to designers, all have the ability to initiate conversations and shift public opinion. Now, the way that shift occurs varies from individual to individual.
For some, I suppose, it will be the quieter interaction in finding that the bag they are swooning over happens to belong to the world of sustainable/ethical fashion.
For others, it will be an eye-opening marketing campaign, angry online think piece, or jarring ad to get them to think differently.
I know I fall in the latter.
How do you think the sustainable fashion community should align itself—
a focus on ethics, or aesthetics?
a focus on ethics, or aesthetics?
*Although EPUL is a better alternative, it is important to note that there inherently more environmentally friendly materials, such as Piñatex.