Brands are like people; each is unique
For Lucy Shea – CEO of London, New York and Stockholm-based sustainability communications consultancy Futerra – engaging people in sustainability discussions is no different to engaging them elsewhere. “We love stories, so tell some,” she says. “Humour can get a serious message across, so use it. We learn through social proof, so show how sustainability is more fun.”
Fashion brands, she adds, should put effort into getting their sustainability story right. “Otherwise you’ll be ignored,” Lucy says, adding that “brands are like people; each is unique. It’s hard to give broad brush advice, but the best brands talk about sustainability in a way that is unique to them and appeals to our desire to be individuals.” Lucy also argues that one of the best ways to do this is by using cultural norms. “Forgive the very broad brush strokes,” she says, “but Brits thrive on cynicism, Americans on positivity and success stories, and Swedes on the philosophy of lagom.” One of Futerra’s more recent clients is Filippa K, whose new Long Lasting Simplicity line ought to inspire many more.
Lucy’s own interest in sustainability grew via social justice discussions, and her mother’s activism. “She’s been involved in fair-trade, human rights and disarmament ever since I can remember,” Lucy says. “So I was campaigning on Nestle baby milk at the tender age of 13.” While her mother is “still at it now, keeping me stocked with fair-trade tea, fruit and nuts”, Lucy is also inspiring the next generation: currently on parental leave, she brings her four-month-old to board meetings. “It’s that kind of place!” she says.
Futerra itself was in its infancy when Lucy arrived 11 years ago, and she has helped founders Ed Gillespie and Solitaire Townsend to transform it from a small start-up to a successful creative agency. In the early days, one of the most influential new concepts launched by Futerra was ‘swishing’ – clothes-swapping parties. Lucy, who once spent a whole year acquiring clothes only through swishing, loves the concept. “My wardrobe is crammed full of swished items, my favourite being my Saks Fifth Avenue Hillary Clinton-style jacket. I’m into clothes with a story, massive freebies, and guilt-free acquirement; swishing hits all of these buttons. I barely shop now.”
For Lucy, the fashion industry’s core problems are safety, wages, quality, and resource scarcity, and she stresses the role of consumers in forcing the industry to change. But, she argues, “fashion has the potential to be a major force for good.” She wants us to look for brands with good labour practices, who work with organic, fair-trade or recycled materials; to buy second-hand or going swishing to combat overconsumption; and to make visible calls to brands to step up their action on these issues (one way of doing that is by joining Fashion Revolution Day on 24 April 2015).
Another solution, she adds, is to share more. “The sharing economy is developing in leaps and bounds, and provides a simple, affordable philosophy to live by,” Lucy says. “Folk can make money with their spare time or assets. And as swishing has proven to me, you can make friends in the process too.”
Words by Emma Lundin
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