19 May 2024, 03:41
By Gus Bartholomew Jun 19, 2018

How to create a genuinely ethical brand

The number of brands describing themselves as ethical or sustainable is growing, alongside the proportion of consumers that prioritise ethics and sustainability when choosing to buy from a brand – but how can a brand ensure it is genuinely ethical? Gus Bartholomew investigates …

With terms like sustainable, conscious, responsible, transparent and organic often being used interchangeably, it can be confusing to know which term is right – but ethical practice looks different for every brand.

Focus on how you will interpret sustainability for your brand, considering what interpretation of it best fits your company ethos, brand story and the products you make. 

You don’t need to set out to create a perfectly ethical or sustainable brand – not only is this unachievable at the start, but it’s also not necessarily what consumers are expecting or looking for. Keep it simple, start slowly, and remember what stands out for consumers in a busy marketplace is a clear, singular approach to responsibility that cuts through and resonates with them. 

A good exercise is to think about how you would like them to describe your approach to ethics and sustainability in one sentence. Which one of these are you?:

1. A brand that cares about where your raw materials come from, always ensuring they are sustainably and ethically sourced

2. A brand built on a durable design, making high quality products that are built to last a lifetime

3. A brand who cares about what happens later down the line, and is focusing on the end of life and supply chain circularity (recycle,  reuse, repair)

4. A brand that cares about the people who make your products – through fair wages, employee benefits and bonus schemes

5. A brand who gives back, returning a percentage of your profits to the country where the products are made, or to the local community

6. An open brand, committed to full supply chain transparency right back to your tier two and three suppliers.

Start by asking questions. Creating a more responsible brand means being more conscious of your social and environmental impact and constantly striving to improve throughout design, development and production, and across your supply chain. 

The best place to start is by being well informed and asking the right questions. After that, continue to question yourself at every step of the way and consider whether there is a more responsible option. Right from the birth of a design idea, responsibility should be front of mind for every decision made – from deciding on design details and picking raw materials, right through to selecting material suppliers, and finding manufacturing partners.

When looking for partners, certifications are always a good starting point to help you identify who might be the right fit – but go beyond this, and find out if a potential partner shares similar values as you and your brand. 

Tell them what’s important to you, the things you are willing to be flexible on and things you are not. For example, if it’s complete transparency you want, ask your partner at the start, and if it’s not something they can offer or feel comfortable with, then they aren’t right for you. Don’t force it on them, just look for a better fit.

To be a genuinely ethical brand, ethical practice can’t just be an add-on that’s pushed in a marketing campaign. To make real lasting impact, appeal to a more conscious consumer, and for your approach to appear genuine, ethical needs to be part of your brand DNA from the start, and to feel authentic to your customers.

Gus Bartholomew is the co-founder of Supplycompass, a tech-enabled, end-to-end production management platform for brands that want to find and work with international manufacturers. Brands can create tech packs, get matched with a manufacturer and use the platform to manage production from design to delivery, responsibly and sustainably.

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