How to Build A Sustainable Fashion Brand on Instagram

I always try to do my best to always answer the questions we receive via email and social media. Typcally the questions are centered around how to build a sustainable closet and what ethical fashion actually is but, as a PR and marketing strategist I was so excited to receive a question about social media marketing and how to build a brand on Instagram! 

Whether you're a designer, blogger/influencer, stylist, retailer, or online platform or you're building a personal or business brand -- Instagram is a great platform for visually sharing the BTS of your brand, expanding your audience and creating community.

When it comes to building your brand on Instagram, it all boils down to six things -- knowing your audience, posting relevant and quality content, being authentically you, having a visually appealing feed, engaging with your audience and being consistent.

If you're interested in learning more about building your personal or business brand on Instagram -- keep reading!

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01. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE (like the back of your hand) 
In general knowing and understanding who your audience/customer is is a crucial part of running a fashion business. Whether you’re posting on Instagram, designing your blog/website or pitching your brand to a magazine editor, it’s important that you always create with a specific target audience in mind. In order to build your Instagram following you have to attract and keep the attention of the people that are interested in what you have to offer. The brands that are dominating the industry right now like Everlane and Reformation are the ones that have taken the time to understand who their audience is which allows them to not only know what their audience wants but also what they'll respond to. 

The more specific you can get about who your customer is, what they like, what they dislike, their budget, their lifestyle, and other buying decisions, the better you’re able to connect with them and help them see value in what you have to offer. When you know who your audience is you can post content that you know they'll like and create products you know they'll want to buy.

// HOT TIP // How do you figure out who your audience is? Instagram is a great platform for getting to know your audience. Not only do they provide you with analytics (if you've switched your account over to a business profile) but they also give you the ability to simply ask your audience about their likes and dislikes via poll features. You can also look at the posts with the most comments and likes to get an idea of what your audience enjoys. If you follow us on Instagram you know that I'm always asking questions and engaging with our community.   


02. POST RELEVANT & QUALITY CONTENT
Whatever you choose to post on Instagram you want to make sure that it aligns with your brand. For example, as a sustainable fashion platform if we were to post pictures promoting fast fashion companies I'm quite sure we would quickly lose all of our IG friends. Whatever your message and purpose are make sure that the content you post is in alignment with your core values as a brand. In addition to relevant content, always post quality content. Try to refrain from posting things just to post something. You want to make sure that everything on your feed is providing value to your audience whether its humor, information, resources, facts, style tips, etc. 
 

03. BE AUTHENTICALLY YOU & AUTHENTIC TO YOUR BRAND
Instagram is awesome in that it allows you to connect with people literally all over the world. Not only that, Instagram also gives us the amazing opportunity to see behind the scenes of our favorite brands however, it's also really easy to get distracted. Because it's so easy to see behind-the-scenes of other businesses sometimes it can make you feel like you need to change the way you do things -- change the types of content you post, change your brand voice, change your fonts, etc because it seems to be working for someone else. In an unauthentic world people crave authenticity. People don't necessarily want a 'perfect brand' they want to support people/brands that align with their own personal ethos. Define what your brand purpose and identity are and stay true to that. Across the entire fashion industry there are thousands of sustainable brands out there that are all promoting a similar message. How do you stand out? By being authentic to your brand, your story, your voice and what you want to share with the world. Your purpose and your story helps to give people a sense of who you are. It helps them to understand what your brand is all about and if their values align with yours, it helps them to fall in love with you and become a part of your community.


04. HAVE A VISUALLY APPEALING FEED
When it comes to visually branding your Instagram feed, there are many different options and Instagram themes (IG themes are a cohesive style that runs throughout your entire profile). Creating a theme for your IG keeps things consistent, shows a level of professionalism and helps your audience identify your brand. Some people only post pictures within a particular color scheme (like us), some post pictures that change colors gradually as you scroll through their feed (like Modified Style). Others crop their photos in to rectangles or only post photos if it contains a particular color (like Laptops & Smalltalk), etc, etc. 

The truth is, there is no right or wrong answer. You can brand your Instagram feed however you want. The key, is that once you decide on an aesthetic, that you stay consistent. Think about the Instagram accounts that you follow. Chances are they have a visual appeal to them which is the result of them taking the time to determine their aesthetic and then consistently sticking to it. 

The first 9-12 photos on your feed are essentially the first impression your audience and potential customers have with your account. When someone clicks to your account because you were tagged somewhere or because your picture was on their explore feed, you want to give them a reason to stick around and hit follow. Every single picture you post on Instagram IS important and should be consistent with your overall marketing strategy. 

Decide what color scheme you want that also aligns with the overall visual identity of your brand (your website and marketing materials). Not only will this create an aesthetic for your feed but it will also make life so much easier when deciding what to post and what your followers will respond to because it's already a part of your branding process. 

When you take pictures for your feed, make sure you edit them all the same to maintain a consistent aesthetic. Not only will this create a cohesive feed, it'll also cut down on editing time once you've found a process that works for you.  There are many great editing apps available to help you create a beautiful visual aesthetic for your Instagram feed. Two of my favorite editing apps are Snapseed and VSCOcam. We typically increase the highlight and brightness and play around with shadows and saturation. 

//HOT TIP//  Lighting has a huge impact on how your photos will look. Always try to take your pictures in natural light. Try not to over edit your photos and use too many filters that the image is unrecognizable. 

// HOT TIP: Don't take your photos in the Instagram app. It's not the best quality plus, it's always a good idea to take multiple shots to get the perfect one. The Insta camera only lets you take one at a time. 

 

05. ENGAGE & BE SOCIAL
Be social and engage with your followers and respond to every comment and tag. It’s called social media for a reason. The more social you are the more connections you can build. It can get tough once you start to get hundreds of comments to respond to everyone but if you’re averaging 3 or 4 comments per picture, there’s no reason why you can’t respond. If your audience is taking the time to comment and chat with you about how much they love that new dress you designed or, how much they enjoyed an event you hosted, why would you not respond? Additionally, the more comments a post gets the more likely Instagram will share it on the explore page. So engage and chat with your community. 
 

06. BE CONSISTENT
Being consistent with the type of content you share, the look of your photos, the tone of your captions and the frequency you post helps your followers get a sense of your brand and connect with you.

Some creatives are able to go with the flow and create visually stunning images naturally throughout the day as ideas come to them. If this is not you, and even if it is, I recommend creating a schedule for curating visual content for your social platforms and planning your posts in advance. Having a plan makes everything so much easier. It gives you flexibility, peace of mind and allows you to spend less time racking your brain trying to figure out what to post, or what to say in your caption. This will give you more time to focus on other parts of building your brand. Granted, things may change and you may see something that you want to post right now, but it’s far better to squeeze something in then to not have anything planned and have to come up with content ideas everyday.

A content calendar is essentially a calendar that maps out all the Instagram posts that you intend to publish within a specific time period. Content calendars help keep you organized, ensure that you consistently publish quality content in a way that is time efficient and stress-free and also helps you maintain the visual aesthetic of your feed. I use (and love) Planoly (app and desktop) which allows us to schedule content and visually plan out what our feed will look like. It also sends reminders and automatically posts at the scheduled time.
 

Did you find this post helpful? Are there other business related topics you want us to chat about? Do you have any additional tips for building a sustainable fashion brand on Instagram? Join the conversation and comment below!


Why This Influencer Decided to Ditch Fast Fashion

Over the years the power of bloggers & influencers has skyrocketed. In exchange for money, clothes, handbags and lavish trips around the world, many bloggers use their influence and popularity to promote / praise fast fashion brands and the individuals that profit from it.

While it’s not necessarily the influencers responsibility to educate others on the social & environmental effects of fast fashion, IMAGINE if they used their platforms to instead promote ethical and intentional shopping.

That’s exactly what Emily Mills aims to do. Once a consumer of fast fashion, Emily now strives to use her platform of 12.4k to promote conscious shopping and share her love of vintage shopping. 

 Images courtesy of Emily Mills

Images courtesy of Emily Mills

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
EMILY MILLES: My name is Emily Mills, I’m 22 and consider myself a wearer of many hats (literally and figuratively). I recently graduated from the University of Portland and have a full-time job at Blossom Brothers, a wine spritzer company based out of Portland. In my spare time, I work as a freelance photographer and enjoy taking cutsie photos for the gram. I would describe my style as eclectic and having no rules. I am in no way a minimalist and love my cluttered closet that I have filled with vintage and thrifted gems. I think that when people think of sustainable fashion they only think of hemp dresses and flowy linens, but I am here break that assumption.  

Has being an influencer affected your outlook on fashion? If so, how? 
I’ve been “influencing” for about 4 years. Initially I used my platform as a secondary modeling portfolio. But, when I found out modeling wasn’t my passion I began to focus mainly on fashion. In the beginning of my exploration into fashion, I was contacted by many fast fashion brands like Shein and Zaful land felt excited to be recognized by a brand with a large following. I began to need to update my feed more and felt like it was a necessity to continue to work with these fast fashion brands that could send large amounts of cheap clothing at a small cost to them. I also began to reach out to other brands just to feed my need for more things to wear and post about on Instagram 

Why do you think so many bloggers/influencers choose to partner with fast fashion giants like Pretty Little Thing and Forever 21 despite their impact on communities and the environment? 
I think many other influencers feel the same and don’t have, or at least start out with, a strict filter for brands because it’s often necessary to work with larger fast fashion brands to be able to update content and gain reposts. I also think it makes feel people important when brands that have a global presence reach out to work together. 

What made you decide to stop working with certain companies? 
I watched the documentary “The True Cost” a few years ago and it really opened my eyes to the environmental and socio-economic impacts of fast fashion on our world. I was able to look at myself and see that I was becoming materialistic and greedy to the point that I felt like I was having a direct impact on the wellbeing of the planet and people. I also realized that my posts that promoted fast fashion could have an exponential impact as more people would buy and post about these fast fashion brands. 

Do you ever feel tempted to go back? 
Sometimes when I need a basic white t-shirt, and I can’t find one at the thrift store, I am so tempted to buy one from Forever21. But I told my friends and family that I am sticking to only buying secondhand clothing and they help me stick to my guns. Eventually I find a killer white vintage T that is soft as could be and I’m glad I didn’t give in. 

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How did you get into vintage shopping?
I started collecting vintage when I was 7 or 8. My mom, sister and I always enjoyed going estate sale-ing on the weekends. I have a massive collection of vintage hats (it’s unnecessary) as well as vintage dresses and silver. My passion for vintage has flourished over the years and finding an amazing deal gets me hyped! You all can catch me in local retirement communities at 9am lining up to get in the doors of estate sales. 

What was the first vintage piece you ever bought? 
One of the first pieces I bought in elementary school was a hot pink velvet bee-hive hat from the sixties. I never wear it, but I love to own it as part of my vintage collection. 

What are some of your favorite vintage shops or places to shop? 
To be totally honest, Portland has a very overpriced and over-picked vintage and thrift market. I have a few vintage stores I like to go to: The Yo Store is amazingly curated, Magpie has a fun vibe and Hatties is great for when you need something cute to dress up. I very rarely thrift in Portland. My best tip to people wanting to score at a thrift store is to hit up the burbs and the boonies. People in rural communities often keep things longer and when items are donated there is a higher chance of finding vintage pieces at a lower cost. When I go on road trips I plan out what thrift stores to stop at along the way. 

What are some tips you’ve learned to find good pieces while vintage shopping? 
My advice is to dig through every rack. That means men’s, women’s and even kids. Finding amazing things doesn’t happen quickly. The hunt is timely but the reward is often priceless. 

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What advice or tips would you give to some who is new to the ethical/sustainable fashion movement and wants to start? 
As a young woman on a budget I understand the want to have a positive impact on the environment and society but also to need to manage a budget. Ethical brands can often be out of budget but a consignment store or boutique thrift store is a great place to start. You can find clean and curated pieces that won’t seem as daunting as rummaging through the Goodwill bins with medical gloves on. 

stay connected with emily on instagram @ms.millsie

What is Sustainable Fashion?

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Ethical and sustainable fashion. We've all heard these terms before but what do they really mean? We caught up with Whitney Bauck, assistant editor at Fashionista.com who frequently writes about these topics to learn what she defines as sustainable fashion, why it's so important to her (and should be for everyone) and what emerging ethical brands need to do to get her attention for press. 

 Photography: Nic Raingsey

Photography: Nic Raingsey

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where did you go to school and what's your background in fashion?
WHITNEY BAUCK: I grew up in Manila, Philippines before moving to the US for college, where I studied fine art photography at a small liberal arts school outside of Chicago. I got serious about pursuing fashion during my sophomore year, but I didn’t necessarily know in what capacity — I thought at first it might be through fashion photography.

My school had zero fashion-related classes, so I started a blog and found a way to turn every class into an excuse to learn about different aspects of the industry, from studying the environmental impacts of fashion in my science class to examining the sociological ramifications in an anthropology course. Shortly after starting my blog, I began freelance writing, which paved the way for internships and eventually my current job. I decided to prioritize writing over photography in part because it was easier for me to see how I could use it to have a bigger impact on the industry in a positive direction.


Talk to me about the blog! You launched UNWRINKLING in 2013 and used it as a platform to talk about the intersection of fashion, faith, and ethics (which is very cool btw). What initially sparked your interest in this particular topic? Why is ethical fashion such an important  to you?
I was studying abroad in Ireland when the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh happened, which was the worst accident in the history of the garment industry as far as fatalities go. I had been a huge thrifter my whole life, but that particular week I had purchased a pair of sunglasses from Penneys, a European company that had ties to the factory in Bangladesh. Feeling personally implicated in that tragedy was a huge wakeup call that forced me to examine where my clothing comes from and what messed-up systems I might be supporting through thoughtless purchases.

From there, my interest has snowballed and so has my desire to educate a broader audience. The more you know about the social and environmental impact that the fashion industry has – like the fact that fashion’s greenhouse gas emissions equal that of all of Russia, or that slave labor still exists in major designers’ supply chains — the harder it is to want to maintain the status quo.


There's a lot of confusion and marketing jargon about what ethical and sustainable fashion really is. How do you define ethical fashion?
This is a good question and a really hard one to answer, because “ethical fashion” as a term really ought to be understood as more of a sliding scale than as a fixed category. No company is perfect and the most sustainable option would simply be to not shop. Genuinely ethical brands will almost always acknowledge that, rather than trying to pretend that they’re 100% sustainable.

For me personally, “ethical fashion” refers to apparel or footwear made by brands that are taking whatever measures they can to ensure that people and the planet are being treated well in the process of making their pieces.
 

The cost of producing a slow fashion garment has a lot to do with the price tag and its accessibility to people who might not be able to afford it. Do you think that's the reason why sustainable fashion isn't the norm when it should be in this day and age?
I definitely wish that more of the ethical brands I write about sold things I could afford to purchase. And we know that American consumers in particular value a bargain over almost everything else. But again, this is where I would encourage people to thrift. It doesn’t fix everything, of course, and there are things like underwear and socks that you’re going to consistently buy first-hand, but I really think thrifting is the best affordable, sustainable solution. I would also point to brands like Alternative Apparel, the Summer House and Uniform as examples of ethical fashion that’s not crazy expensive.
 

Do you think there is a 'granola stereotype' associated with eco-designers which makes people shy away from buying sustainable fashion?
I definitely think that is lessening. Brands like Reformation, Everlane and Stella McCartney that do branding really well have helped shift that perception; they tend to be well-loved even by those who don’t care about the ethics side of things.

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What is your response to the stigma or stereotype that ethical/sustainable fashion isn't visually appealing? That it lacks excitement from a design perspective? I.E no sequins, no glitter and all that jazz. 
I would point to brands like the above — and many other brands like TARA, Kowtow and Lonely Lingerie  — as proof that prioritizing ethics doesn’t need to mean compromising on aesthetics. If you look at their imagery or wear one of their pieces, that becomes clear very quickly.

That said, I do personally feel frustrated sometimes by the fact that so many ethical brands fall into the same aesthetic category. It’s often this very minimalism-inflected, earthy thing that feels like a pared-back blogger-mom version of boho-chic. Which is totally a great look and one I dabble in myself at times! But honestly, hippie-femme pieces and earth tones are not what I most naturally gravitate toward, so it can be frustrating to me when I want to look like a grungy club kid in her 20s but so many of the brands whose ethics I respect are focused on catering to chic PTA members who take ceramics classes. I would love to see a greater diversity of aesthetics represented amongst ethical brands.


We live in a society that's fascinated with what's new. Fast fashion giants have led us down the rabbit hole and now, there's a high demand for new styles, new designs, new colors, etc. How do we as a society come back from that?
As far as demand goes, I don’t have a great solution. But I will say that I try to re-wear things with pride — if I’ve posted images of myself in an outfit on social media before, I might do it again with a reminder that rewearing things is actually a good thing rather than something to be embarrassed of. It’s a riff on Livia Firth and Eco-Age’s idea of “30 wears,” which asserts that everything you own should be worn at least 30 times before you part with it.

 

Sustainabilty has defintely become a trend and although many brands aren't as sustainable as they claim, do you think their potentially false claims could actually be a good thing for the movement because it brings eco-fashion to the forefront of people's minds? 
I’m hopeful. The food industry has gone through similar growing pains. Yes, “natural” and “organic” food has become trendy and that has led to some brands trying to tap into that in inauthentic ways, but I think the consumer is getting smarter and better educated, too, and they can see through some of that. I think media that rewards brands for making ethical choices and consumer spending that does the same can only shift the industry in a positive direction and reinforce to brands that this stuff matters to the next generation. If it’s becoming generally trendy to be green, my hope is that it will force companies to realize that the best way to make their customers happy with regard to this stuff is to make authentic changes.

 

Do you think slow fashion will ever be able to scale in a way that's not fast fashion but more accessible to the masses? If so, how?
Depends what you mean by that. Do I think slow fashion brands will be able to grow successfully and do so without charging an arm and a leg? Absolutely. Do I think they will grow to Zara proportions and sell “ethical” pieces for Forever21 prices? Nope, because producing that much clothing is never going to be good for the planet and rock-bottom prices are never going to leave margin for fair pay or environmental best practices.

 

Okay, before we wrap up, for the sake of our readers, I have to ask, as a sustainable emerging designer, what's the best way for designers to get your attention and share their brand with you?
I cannot stress the importance of compelling imagery deeply enough. Whether you reach out to an editor like myself via Instagram or email — and honestly, either one of those can be fine — imagery always makes a huge difference. If you’re the most ethical brand in the world and even have great design in the garments themselves but your pictures suck, it’s going to be hard to get a write-up. That said, if your brand is really fun but I can tell that manufacturing and production ethics aren’t central for you, you’re probably not going to catch my interest either. Brands that get those things right really shine.

2nd Annual Sustainable Fashion Forum (Photo Recap)

 Photography by:  Candace Molatore

Photography by: Candace Molatore

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What a day! On Saturday, April 21st we gathered an amazing group of designers, creatives, makers, influencers and the community together at Yale Union to chat about ethical and sustainable fashion and how we can individually and collectively make the fashion industry less wasteful. 

From a series of intimate conversations to a live fashion show/presentation, pop-up market and more, we were thrilled to gather like-minded individuals with the belief that together, we can create change.

 Pictured (left to right): Andrea of  Fashion Revolution  and  Ecologique Fashion , Chloé of  Concious by Chloé , Ellie of  Selflessly Styled , Allison of  The Thoughtful Closet  and Andrea of  Seasons + Salt

Pictured (left to right): Andrea of Fashion Revolution and Ecologique Fashion, Chloé of Concious by Chloé, Ellie of Selflessly Styled, Allison of The Thoughtful Closet and Andrea of Seasons + Salt

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Half-way through the event we paused for lunch where we invited out panelist, sponsors and friends to a private invite-only lunch curated by Tara Thomas of Her Garden Kitchen and sponsored by Cherry Sprout Produce, Amylk Milk, Roots and Crown and Hey Babe Vegan Cheese. 

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 Panel two. Pictured (left to right): Whitney of  Fashionista , Davora of  Prairie Underground , Carly of  Keen Footwear , Dre and Len of  EcoVibe Apparel  and Angela of  FAAS/ Pensole

Panel two. Pictured (left to right): Whitney of Fashionista, Davora of Prairie Underground, Carly of Keen Footwear, Dre and Len of EcoVibe Apparel and Angela of FAAS/ Pensole

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 Pictured (left and right): Kelly of Modified Style. Whitney of Fashionista.com

Pictured (left and right): Kelly of Modified Style. Whitney of Fashionista.com

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Thank you to everyone who attended the 2nd Annual Sustainable Fashion Forum! So many incredible people came together to connect, learn and open up the conversation about sustainable fashion! Thank you to our panelists, moderators and speakers for paving the way in sustainable fashion and for inspiring us with your words and practices. Thank you to Thank you to Yale Union for hosting us! We had an amazing time celebrating sustainable & ethical fashion with all of you! Let's do it again? 

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Did you attend this year's forum? Comment below and tell us your favorite part or something interesting that you learned!