Updated: Sep 1, 2020
Storytelling for Sustainability is Most Effective When it is Human-Centered & Intersectional
When the pandemic hit in the first quarter of 2020, many events had to make a grand pivot from live to online. I had the pleasure of joining C4I founders and fellow advisors Mariel Jumpa and Lizeth Soto in helping the San Francisco Sustainable Fashion Week International (SFSFWI) transition from being a live local event into an international, online conference.
While I focused on the storytelling aspect by producing panels and assisting with the conference schedule, Mariel focused on activating digital communities and Liz designed all digital marketing collateral. Overall, the online event allowed us to tell stories of sustainability that came from experts of multi-cultural backgrounds, allowing us to create a diverse, inclusive perspective of what sustainability can mean to many different communities around the world.
Below, I share some of the key takeaways of the conference, with this one being my favorite: Sustainability is Most Effective When it is Human-Centered & Intersectional.
If you are a brand wanting to communicate your impact, your audience will want to see receipts, aka. proof of your commitment. And no, you don’t have to get everything right immediately, but you do have to have a solid short and long-term plan. Progress takes time, and there is a way to be transparent and honest with your impact journey through the right communications strategy. This is where storytelling is key, because you must share your journey in the right voice and tone to connect with your audience authentically.
So where do you start? Read on to learn HOW to achieve sustainability initiatives that are inclusive and put people first, featuring ideas from the panel I moderated during the SFSFWI online conference, entitled “Human-Centered Sustainability Strategies”:
WHEN SUSTAINABILITY IS PEOPLE-FOCUSED, BUSINESSES & GOVERNMENTS LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE FIRST
If you want to create inclusive sustainability strategies, it is important to design your initiative based on what the communities need, rather than assume you have the right solution. When you take time to listen to the community, you can learn firsthand which problems can be solved. When you take time to gather information to listen to their needs, then you can co-create and partner with communities to create win-win initiatives that in turn, have a long-term impact on both people and the planet.
This is relevant when it comes to a subject like cultural appropriation, which is a big topic in the fashion industry. Valentina Suarez of Universo Mola pointed out that this is often the case with indigenous communities. Many big fashion brands take ideas from indigenous artisans without giving them proper credit or compensation. As a result, products get backlash from their audiences. Instead, listen to communities and co-create with them as partners. Then ensure that the way these initiatives are communicated are coming from the lens of community partnership, not top-down leadership.
To see an example of a brand executing best practices with artisans, see the work of Saloni Shrestha at AAGATI.
THERE MUST BE DIVERSE REPRESENTATION OF LEADERSHIP IN THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS
If everyone on the decision making table looks like you, that’s the first sign that you’ve got some improvements to make. Without consulting with diverse thought leaders, you are not actually serving all of your audience.
This is made even more evident with reactions to COVID. Panelist Faduma Aden of Contelier remarked that in Sweden, the response to the pandemic was mainly communicated in Swedish, which left out a huge part of the multi-ethnic community. This not only leaves these communities vulnerable, but in turn, also endangers the rest of the population. If you are not able to offer solutions or communicate in a way that speaks to the diversity and multi-cultural makeup of your audience, then you have some improvements to make in inclusivity – which in turn, can also improve your ability to serve a wider market.
VALUE YOUR WORKFORCE. PARTNERSHIP & COMMUNITY always wins.
According to Sam Hartsock of Remake and Saloni Shrestha of AAGATI, many big brands cancelled their orders in the middle of the pandemic, leaving thousands of makers completely out of work and pay during the most critical time. While it is understood that businesses have had to make tough decisions during this period, many big brands have already placed these orders and factories have already begun production while covering initial costs.
Despite many of these orders already in production, big brands have either delayed payment or cancelled their orders altogether. We want to invite big businesses to view their supply chain workers as long-term partners, not as disposable workers, which means caring for them through the good and the bad.
Moreover, the millennial generation is vocal about these types of issues, and demand transparency and social responsibility from businesses they support, so taking care of your supply chain isn’t just the right thing to do, but it is also a necessary business decision.
The brands that will succeed in this post-Covid era (with an increasingly conscious consumer generation) are those who are pro-active about implementing social responsibility and sustainability strategies that feel real and authentic.
Here below is the video of the complete panel talk at the San Francisco Sustainable Fashion Week - Experts United 2020 digital conference:
We here at the C4I team are ready to help you on your journey towards impact. To learn more about how we can help, see here
About the author
Ruby Veridiano is a fashion changemaker and the storytelling & education advisor for Creatives 4 Impact. She is a fashion journalist, educator, and communications consultant whose work focuses on connecting the dots between women's empowerment and socially-conscious fashion, as well as promoting diversity & inclusion in the fashion industry.