Sustainable Business

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!

how to build a sustainable brand on instagram - the sustainable fashion forum- portland oregon 1.jpg

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, pitching your brand to a magazine editor or designing a new collection, it’s important that you always create with a specific target audience in mind. In order to build your Instagram following you need 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 thus allowing them to not only know what their audience wants but 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.

// PRO 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 the poll and question features. Use them! You can also look at the posts with the most comments and likes to get an idea of what your audience enjoys.

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 giants 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 in some way whether its humor, information, resources, facts, style tips, etc. 

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.

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, some post pictures that change colors gradually as you scroll through their feed. Others crop their photos in to rectangles or only post photos if it contains a particular color, 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. 

//PRO 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. 

// PRO 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. 

//PRO TIP: If you’re going to repost or ‘regram’ photos from other accounts, try to do it in such a way that retains a level of cohesiveness.  

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. 

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!

Use Less, Serve More: An Interview with Goodwill Industries PR Manager Dale Emanuel

The truth: 90% of clothing that ends up in a landfill could have been repurposed, recycled or, reused.

One of the first steps we're taught in order to be more sustainably savvy is to donate our "gently used" and unwanted textiles rather than throwing them away but what happens to your donated clothes after you've donated them? What shouldn't be in your donation bag and what's the real difference between donating textiles to companies like Goodwill vs. fast fashion companies like H&M?

We chatted with Goodwill Industries Columbia Willamette PR Manager, Dale Emanuel to find out!

the sustainable fashion forum - interview with goodwill .jpg.jpg

SFF: What's your position and how long have you been with Goodwill?
I've been the PR Manager of Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette (GICW) for 23 years.

SFF: What initially drew you to the company and made you want to join the team?
I was in the news broadcast industry for nearly 20 years and wanted to move from that industry to work in the nonprofit sector. The news industry is not a stable industry and in my opinion often imperfect because it is so rushed. Time is a luxury not usually given to reporters who gather and create broadcast news stories. Though for much of my years I functioned as a medical/health reporter, I didn’t feel I was giving back enough. GICW in particular is a nonprofit of integrity. In this position I use my reporting skills to work with the media and provide the public with information about free services that could benefit them. GICW was the right fit.

SFF: Why does Goodwill care about our used clothing? 
We receive more clothing than any other donation category. It’s also the category of donation most often sold. With money raised from the sale of clothing and other donations, we can provide free job services to community members in Southwest Washington and Northwest and Central Oregon.

SFF: Some fast fashion companies have recently started recycling infinitives to become more sustainable. What’s the difference between donating to Goodwill and donating to a company like H&M?  
DALE: Goodwill’s mission is to provide vocational opportunities to people with barriers to employment. Our mission. The revenues raised from the sale of donations mean we can keep all doors open to our free job services programs. Every donation at GICW provides on-site training, access to computers for job search assistance, employment placement job training and other community-based services such as career counseling, English as Second Language classes, citizenship support, résumé preparation and computer skills training.

SFF: I've always wondered this, especially when shopping at Goodwill -- once we donate our clothes, do you wash them before reselling? 
DALE: No. The vast majority of donated clothing comes to us freshly laundered. In fact, many items come to us dry-cleaned! Our donors do take special care of the clothing they donate as they want them to have a new home.

SFF: Do you mend holes & rips? 
We do not mend holes or rips. In fact, clothing with rips or holes does not make it to the retail sales floor. These items will be transported directly to one of our Outlets and if they do not sell there then they may be sold on the salvage market.

SFF: We often suggest people donate unwanted items from their closet rather than throwing them away. What clothing items should people NOT donate? Do you take bras and underwear?
DALE: People shouldn't donate wet and/or heavily soiled garments. We do sell bras both new and gently used however, only new underwear is sold. If items can’t be salvaged they are taken to an area landfill.

SFF: So what happens to clothes after they're donated? What is the process?
DALE: We look over every item to assess condition and value. Using a Good-Better-Best scale, items are priced for sale in one of our 42 retail stores, 5 Outlets, one of 3 Goodwill boutiques or on our platform.  We had 8 million store transactions last year.



SFF: What is the difference between the boutiques and retail stores?
DALE: From a sales floor no larger than 2,000 square feet, boutiques offer higher-end and luxury brands. Our retail floor spaces can be as large as nearly 16,000 square feet. It is here we have just about everything in addition to higher end and luxury donations.

SFF: What happens to clothes that sit on the sales floor but don't sell? 
DALE: Donated items tend to sell within two weeks of hitting the retail sales floor. Those items that do not sell are marked down 50% in week 4. If the items do not sell after week 4, they are moved to one of our Outlets to sell by the pound. And if you find that treasure at the Outlet, you better buy it quick!

In unsold textile alone, which includes linen, towels and bedding, 26.5 million pounds were recycled. GICW, among Goodwill systems throughout North America, is a model in recycling those items not fit to sell. But in 2017 GICW did transport more than 47.4 million pounds of donations not fit to sell or recycle to area landfills at a cost of $3.1 million dollars.

SFF: Where does the money Goodwill receives from sales go?
To fund our free Job Services Programs. Examples of these programs include these results for 2017: more than 1,700 ESL classes were attended by community members and GICW employees. 10,172 Job Connection participants found work and 1,106 community members attended Job Connection Meet the Employers Events and Job Fairs. In addition, more than 4,600 community members and GICW employees obtained office computer skills training through our Career Center classes. GICW’s Employee/Community Education (ECE) program provided H.S. outreach to schools such as Fort Vancouver, De La Salle North, Lebanon and Glencoe. Since 2012, ECE has also been providing free job services classes to inmates of Coffee Creek, Inverness jail and MacLaren Youth Facility.

SFF: As a longtime Goodwill shopper, it seems like prices have gone up since thrifting and vintage shopping has become trendier. Why is that? As a nonprofit promoting secondhand shopping shouldn't prices remain the same?
DALE: While I can’t speak for other nonprofit or for-profit area thrift stores, I can speak to our price changes in clothing over the last 3 years. From 2015 to last year our clothing charges have increased by 16 cents or just over 2%. Just as it is for any business, our prices reflect our costs. GICW’s last year total payroll expenses were: $97,674,884 (wages: $75,765,600/ payroll taxes and benefits: $21,909,224). That is 5.3% over the previous year. In landfill fees, the cost went to $3.1 million dollars in 2017 from $2.8 million dollars in 2016. That is an increase of 11%. Our 2017 overhead was 4.6% of annual revenues.

GICW employs more than 2,700 people in Southwest Washington and Northwest and Central Oregon. We do not rely on volunteers, Federal, State or County monies.

SFF: What has it been like to watch Goodwill and its sustainability efforts evolve over the years and grow with the company?
DALE: Simply wonderful - I have learned so much. In my former working life I produced news stories as a representative of a TV or radio station, which does carry a weight. This position allows me to represent all of our dedicated employees and the community programs they run. It’s been a privilege to work in a business that provides thousands of free services to thousands of local people each year. GICW is a self-sustaining social enterprise functioning without volunteers. This Goodwill is very unique.  

SFF: What's one thing about Goodwill's sustainability effort that you wish more people knew?
DALE: The planet is so small and we consume so much. We would love community members to know we diligently work to stretch the value of their good intention, that donation. It’s the right thing to do. It’s important we strive to be good stewards.

4 Entrepreneurs Share Why Sustainability is an Important Part of Their Business Ethos

What, if any, are the requirements to be considered a sustainable fashion brand and how does one go about building an eco-conscious business? These are questions we've been thinking a lot about lately and are excited to chat about this Friday at our last panel event of the summer.

Eager to get the conversation started, we asked 4 of our panelists to share why they chose to make sustainability a part of their business ethos. 

4 Fashion Entrepreneurs Share Why Sustainability is an Important Part of Their Business Ethos - the sustainable fashion form.png

Andrea Moore Beaulieu: Founder of Moore Custom Goods

Sustainability came into my design sphere while working for large corporations in New York and Los Angeles and seeing all the waste that is created through the design process. When I started my brand 5.5 years ago I knew that I wanted to do things differently. 

Whether it’s fabric and trim sourcing, hiring employees, sample creation, collection building, garment rebuilding, etc sustainability is at the forefront of each process. 

It isn’t easy and sometimes it comes with major challenges but staying true to our philosophy for the betterment of the environment, our employees and consumers continues to be fruitful over time. 

Jason Calderon: Founder of West Daily 

When I started designing I didn't think about the impact clothing had on the environment or the workers making it. Over the years I started to hear buzzwords like "sustainability" and "green" surrounding products from big brands, and I started to get curious what it was all about. However, it wasn't really until the disaster of Rana Plaza that I woke up to the devastating impact apparel/fashion is having on the world. It made me change my view of the industry in a deep way; it changed the way I shop, design, and collaborate.

I used to call my brand "sustainable", but no longer do because making more clothing is never good for the environment no matter how you do it. Instead I refer to my approach as ethically aware because I do my best to consider the environment every step of the way by fostering a process of slow, small-scale, local production. I take this approach because it feels like the responsible thing to do as a designer. 

Sarah Donofrio: Founder of One Imaginary Girl

Sustainability became important to me when I started working in corporate fashion, and I saw the true dark side of the industry. From cheap labor to knocking off small designers, I knew there had to be a way to thrive in fashion, without decreasing someone else’s quality of life or depleting the earths resources. It is important to me to make my margins fair, so Everyone has access to small and sustainable designers, and one day the consumer will question why certain garments are so cheap.  It’s important for me to make small strides towards sustainability in my business every day because every element of being a fashion designer has some sort of environmental burden attached to it. It is my dream to be able to do my printing solely on existing fabrics, without having to create new fabrics.

Cassie Morgan: Co-Founder of Altar

To be totally honest, I grew up in a very remote part of the California redwoods with parents who preferred an "off the grid, off the land" lifestyle -- so I was raised to be acutely aware of man kind's impact on the natural world from a very young age. That said, sustainability as a concept and way of living has actually become way more palpable to me now that I am a mother. Before having my kid, I certainly went through the motions and made sure to follow good practices as often as possible, but something really shifted when he was born and I became intrinsically aware of the impact of my generation. I shame to think that he will grow up in a world with less resources and less verdancy because of the negligence of the era before him and I experienced a renewed sense of purpose in the realm of sustainable efforts in every facet of our household, business, and social existence. 


Wanna hear more from our panelist and learn how to build a sustainable fashion brand from industry leaders who have made sustainability their ethos? Join us next Friday, August 24th and learn what conscious responsibility means for brands and consumers today