Powerful brand-driven storytelling has come into sharper focus as consumer demand for sustainable products continues to rise. As more shoppers begin to “demand sustainability” to remain loyal to brands and retailers, companies are reevaluating their messaging and simultaneously seeking greener solutions that will satisfy and educate their consumers.
And for companies such as Unifi, a textiles solutions provider based in Greensboro, N.C., its messaging philosophy is centered on telling the story behind its technologies that have propelled brands into the sustainable fashion category through its fiber innovations. Here, Richard Gerstein, executive vice president of global branded premium value-added products and chief marketing and innovation officer for Unifi, discusses sustainability brand marketing with WWD.
WWD: How are fashion brands communicating with consumers about sustainability?
Richard Gerstein: We are definitely seeing a seismic shift in demand from brands and consumers for sustainability. Brands not only see the need to lead for the good of tomorrow, but now understand it has positive impact on brand perceptions. In addition, 33 percent of consumers actively seek out and purchase from brands they know to be socially and environmentally responsible. Consumers are asking questions about how and where products are made. Brands that use Repreve in their products are communicating with their customers via hangtags and in clothing labels that explain how many bottles were recycled into the product they’re purchasing. Additionally, brands are also using social media to tell their sustainability story including examples of circular economy programs where we source textiles or cutting scraps and put them back into new products.
WWD: Are brands succeeding in telling their sustainability story?
R.G.: Yes, particularly with younger consumers. Research shows that Gen Z demands sustainability. Thirty-one percent have boycotted nonsustainable companies. Millennials expect sustainability, with 47 percent [stating] that the most important sustainability practice is to produce sustainable products. [And] Gen X wants sustainability, [as] 31 percent say that socially and environmentally conscious brands have more of a chance of gaining their loyalty.
As consumers become more educated about sustainability, the demand is rapidly growing. One way Unifi supports that educational experience is through our Repreve mobile tour. Through this interactive experience, customers and consumers learn how the bottles they choose to recycle are transformed into sustainable performance fibers. They also have the opportunity to see and touch products made with Repreve from global brands they know and love.
WWD: Why is sustainable performance apparel transitioning to everyday fashion? What’s behind that trend?
R.G.: Consumers want their everyday fashion to be both fashionable and functional. They want clothes that look good and feel good, but also actually perform. They want and expect their workout apparel to perform, why shouldn’t they expect the same from their dress apparel? For example, a consumer might choose a button-down dress shirt to wear on a hot day that’s made with Repreve using our TruCool Technology that will keep them cool. The performance is inherent in the yarn, which means it will last the lifetime of the garment. Made with Repreve, it’s also sustainable; but it’s a fashionable dress shirt they can wear to work for eight-plus hours.
WWD: How is Unifi helping fashion brands evolve toward sustainability?
R.G.: At Unifi, we believe that true innovation starts in the fiber. We want to help inspire design and development at the fiber level to achieve performance, comfort and style. When making purchase decisions, consumers are placing an increased importance on the sustainability position of companies. In response, leading brands and manufacturers are communicating aggressive, sustainability focused goals, and Unifi is uniquely positioned to help companies achieve these goals. Repreve’s U Trust Verification program is a comprehensive certification designed to provide customers with a higher level of transparency. Unifi’s proprietary FiberPrint technology is used to analyze the fabric content and composition to determine if Repreve is present and in the right amounts. Repreve is also third-party certified.
WWD: What’s next for Unifi?
R.G.: The demand for new technologies continues to grow, and Unifi will continue to help develop technologies consumers can see and feel. This reinforces our True Innovation Starts in the Fiber positioning and our commitment to taking innovation, technology and sustainability to consumers around the world through our partnerships with leading brands and mills. Further, we have expanded Repreve into new uses including fiberfill and staple fiber, to increase the environmental impact. The commitment is evidenced by both our North Carolina bottle processing plant and recycling center reaching target production levels, and our continued global expansion, as we continue toward our goal of 30 billion bottles recycled by 2022. With this global solution, we are positioned to more efficiently deliver on the growing demand for Repreve products as well as build out our innovation pipeline.
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