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Sustainability: short-term survival or long-term success?

Sustainability is fundamental for a brand’s long-term survival, argues Elaine O’Hare, senior associate at law firm Stevens & Bolton.

It has been a tough year for the high-street. In a bid for survival, we have seen retailers take drastic measures: John Lewis slashed prices on homeware products by 20%; Selfridges revamped its in-store experience with a skate bowl in its Oxford Street store; and, as Christmas looms, there are claims that festive discounts could top 50% for the first time in 10 years.

But desperate discounts and creative marketing will only get retailers so far. For brands to survive the current storm and thrive in the long-term, they must tackle sustainability head-on to win consumer confidence and gain competitive advantage.

Although new sustainable products continue to come to market, too often they feel like an afterthought. It is no longer enough to capture the consumer’s attention with one or two new ideas. Instead, retailers must embed a sustainable ethos at the heart of their business, and use this to shape relationships with employees, their supply chain and the wider community.

There is debate about how the industry defines sustainability: for one brand it is creating a circular business model, for another it is the quality and longevity of products or investments in sustainable materials. However, key to any strategy as we move into 2020 will be transparency and traceability.

Consumers are increasingly wise to “greenwashing”, and are not shy to call out brands on social media for misleading advertising or perceived token gestures. Authenticity is so important in the conversation around sustainability that there is a significant reputational risk in ignoring it or taking a half-hearted approach. A truly sustainable outlook requires buy-in at the highest level, and brands need to be seen to be genuinely having the conversation and educating the supply chain.

2020 will be the year that sustainability goes from an optional extra to an economic imperative. The industry is undergoing dramatic change, with sustainability becoming an integral part of being a quality organisation and producing a quality product. The challenge is far from simple, but there is the potential not only to win over more scrupulous shoppers, but to be the driver of positive change. It will be interesting to follow the fortunes of brands that rise to the challenge and those that fail to pick up the gauntlet.


Join the world’s leaders in sustainability at Drapers Sustainable Fashion 2020 in London on 11 March 2020.

The event is for fashion brands and retailers, clothes manufacturers, supply chain experts, innovators and anybody for whom sustainability matters.

We are creating a programme of hard-hitting talks, projects showcasing sustainability in action, and start-up innovation that is pushing the boundaries of the possible.

Readers' comments (1)

  • I totally agree: 2020 will be the year of sustainability, and consumers want more reliable sustainability certifications, third party verified and monitored, such as . Same as for sustainable food such as

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