Disclosure of transparent and credible information is one of the keys to promoting sustainability in the fashion industry. Relevé Fashion is a company that makes this possible by communicating a transparent message about the social and environmental impact of sustainable and ethical fashion.
The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an increased interest in sustainability among consumers, making it more important than ever for fashion companies to find ways to reliably measure the eco-performance of their products. They can then communicate that information in a transparent manner to today's community of critical consumers and other stakeholders.
The Relevé Fashion retail platform offers products from sustainable and ethical fashion brands while telling the many-sided story of sustainability and making a social impact. PwC’s PwC's Customer Transformation Partner, Jennifer Nelen, and Consumer Markets business development manager, Maxine Borja, talked to Relevé Fashion’s founder and CEO, Raia Gomez, and Chief Business Officer, Bea Antonio, about their platform and its sustainability message to the market.
PwC’s March 2021 Consumer Insight Pulse Survey shows that 56% of respondents globally are actively choosing products with a traceable and sustainable origin. What’s your view on this?
“I’ve seen an increasing awareness of sustainability among consumers during the pandemic,” confirms Raia Gomez. “Conversations about sustainability have intensified over the past year and our partners say the same. Consumers realise that their actions have an impact on the environment and want to know what they can do to become more sustainable.”
The global fashion industry market is valued at 1.5 trillion euros, but it also has a significant environmental impact. How does Relevé Fashion combine sustainability and sales of high-end fashion?
“During my career in the fashion industry I’ve become increasingly aware of its massive environmental impact,” says Gomez. “The large number of samples from brands sent back and forth all over the globe and the huge overstock of fast fashion that ends up in incinerators are obvious examples.”
Relevé Fashion’s e-commerce platform is a sustainable way of retailing, according to Gomez: “Smart inventory ensures that we don’t need to store brands’ merchandise physically as we are able to share stock with partners in different parts of the world. In other cases, products are made to order, which avoids overproduction and avoids any massive back and forth shipments of stock.
“We believe in beautiful, high-quality products that have minimal environmental impact while creating positive social impact for communities. Some people have the misconception that ethical and sustainable fashion has a kitschy, arts & crafts look. The opposite is true. We sell true luxury fashion products that are meticulously crafted, often using time-honoured skills, and are made to last. Relevé is French for elevated or raised. It’s our mission to elevate the shopping experience to positive social action.
“We also want to show our customers how much they are really spending on a product, the so-called Cost per Wear. This is the price of an item divided by the minimum number of wears. It shows our customers that the product they are purchasing will last for years to come, that they can re-wear it beyond a single season and that it should not be thrown away like fast fashion. This is another key part of sustainable fashion.”
To be credible to a critical group of stakeholders such as retailers, consumers and investors, fashion brands need to find ways to measure and disclose information about their sustainability efforts. How does Relevé Fashion create this sense of transparency?
“An important reason for bringing sustainable brands together on our online platform was to create transparency around sustainability by offering information that is accessible to everyone,” explains Bea Antonio. “Using our platform and social media, we reach a global audience and give consumers information about the brands we sell, the origin of their products and the materials they use.”
“A few years ago, most brands only communicated about the creative side and the inspiration behind the brand,” adds Gomez. “They said nothing about their supply chain or the sourcing of their materials. It’s crucial to be able to trust a brand, but especially to know why you can trust it. Although not widely used yet, QR codes in garments create the possibility for brands to provide transparency about fashion products so customers can learn about the material, designer, manufacturer and environmental footprint of a product. This technology allows you to provide transparency about the whole journey of a fashion item. To calculate the environmental impact of a purchase, you need to collect data. This is another area in which we are planning to work.”
“Educating customers about why something is sustainable is important to Relevé Fashion,” says Antonio. “There are many different aspects to sustainable and ethical products. For example, sustainable design and material innovation or animal friendly, fur-free or vegan products. But we don’t want people to feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. That’s why we offer the option to shop by sustainable and ethical values, which means that our customers can start with what fits their personal values and lifestyle and build from there.”
To enable long-term sustainability, it is crucial that fashion firms define, measure and monitor the performance of quantifiable sustainability metrics. How do you make sure the brands sold on the Relevé Fashion platform match and will continue to match your sustainability requirements?
“The metrics we use to label a brand as sustainable or ethical are crucial,” Antonio agrees. “Brands are thoroughly assessed before being allowed to join our platform. Our partners have to complete an extensive declaration that includes a commitment to measure the level of sustainable and ethical production, environmental impact and involvement in charitable initiatives.”
Gomez: “We’ve learned that our partners now also see this declaration as a roadmap to further develop the sustainability and ethical practices within their own businesses. We are all on the same page in terms of the values that we share. Our declaration is a living document and will be constantly updated, both by us and by the brands. We also take into account the third-party certifications that partner brands have earned, such as Certified B Corps and the Eco-Age Brandmark.”
Antonio: “Besides the brands, we are careful about how we conduct our business and accountable to external partners like the Conscious Fashion Campaign, which is supported by the United Nations Office for Partnerships. We are also a member of the UN’s Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Network, an online platform that reports on the progress fashion brands are making in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This progress needs to be very concrete, as the network requires members to meet specific measurable goals.
“Just as our partners need to meet our standards on top of all the certifications they already have, Relevé Fashion must also meet specific standards. This all reflects back on our brand and instils trust with our partners, our customer base and a wider audience of people interested in sustainable fashion.”
Fashion companies can also have an impact on sustainability by contributing to social issues through community welfare activities, partnerships with NGOs and charitable foundations, and so on. Is this something on which Relevé Fashion is actively working?
“Like most of our partners, we are also involved in charitable initiatives,” says Antonio. “We make our customers part of a giving-back experience by donating ten percent of the amount they pay at the checkout to our non-profit partners Big Change and The Migrant Kitchen.” Big Change funds youth projects to build a society where every young person is set up to thrive in life, not just exams. The Migrant Kitchen provides meals to food-insecure communities while also providing meaningful employment to immigrant workers and above-minimum wages.
“We also send our customers a thank-you note that includes the sustainable brand guarantees of the item they bought and information on the non-profit organisation they chose to support in the process. By telling the story of sustainable and ethical materials and production methods, as well as the story of the charity donation, we are building a growing community of not only customers, but advocates.”