How loyalty programs safeguard sustainable fashion brands

Discover the difference between fast fashion and sustainable fashion brands, and how loyalty programs power brand reputation and growth
Fashion retail shopping at POS

What is sustainable fashion

In short, sustainable fashion is an umbrella term for clothes that are created and consumed in a way that can be sustained, while protecting both the environment and the people producing them. That’s why cutting CO2 emissions, addressing overproduction, reducing pollution and waste, supporting biodiversity, and ensuring that workers are paid a fair wage and have safe working conditions, are all crucial to sustainability.

From the side of shoppers, there’s a need to rethink purchasing habits and the way clothes are consumed.

A sustainable fashion future is about more than just finding amazing deals on your favourite brands. It’s about shopping with intention, rejecting throwaway fashion culture, and standing for sustainability. The clothes we wear have the power to create change.

Considering the number of factors involved, there are still too few brands tackling this complex issue, there’s huge room for improvement.

What’s the good news?

Implementing a sustainable loyalty program not only helps reduce the company’s environmental impact, but it provides them with opportunities to take action on “green initiatives”. This involvement results in increased loyalty, improved brand reputation.

Values-based buying in the fashion industry

The phenomenon of values-based buying is often thought to have gained traction after the pandemic.

According to a report by Nielsen, 66% of consumers globally are willing to pay extra for products provided they come from businesses committed to sustainability. For Millennials, that number is higher, with as many as 73% of them basing their purchase decisions on sustainability factors.

According to research conducted by Rare Consulting, sustainability is a real concern for consumers when it comes to staying loyal to a brand. Still, there is a long path ahead to make sustainability a core concern among today’s shoppers.

Fast fashion brands vs sustainable fashion brands: what’s the difference?

In short, the difference between a fast fashion brand and a sustainable fashion brand (aka non fast fashion brands) lies in their approach to production, environmental impact, social responsibility, and overall business practices.

While fast fashion focuses on quick and cheap trends with a significant environmental and social cost, sustainable fashion prioritizes responsible practices, reduced environmental impact, and ethical considerations throughout the supply chain.

The choice between the 2 types of brands ultimately depends on a consumer’s values and priorities in fashion consumption.

Here’s a breakdown of the key distinctions between the 2:

Fast Fashion BrandsSustainable fashion brands
ProductionPrioritize speed, bringing latest trends from the runway to stores (weeks)Prioritize ethical and transparent production, with eco-friendly and sustainable materials
CostInexpensive clothing, accessible to a broad consumer baseHigher priced clothing
ManufacturingLarge-scale, outsourced to countries with low labor costsSmaller quantities, avoiding overproduction and waste
QualityClothes with shorter lifespanDurable and high-quality garments, designed to last
Product lifecycleMultiple collections throughout the yearTimeless and versatile pieces
Environmental ImpactSignificant damageReduced carbon footprint, support of social and environmental initiatives
Ethical ConcernsPoor labor practicesGreenwashing
Product Lifecycle“Wear it and discard it” mentality“Buy less, wear more” mentality
Fast Fashion Brands:
  1. Rapid Production: Fast fashion brands prioritize speed and churn out new clothing collections at an exceptionally rapid pace. They aim to quickly bring the latest trends from the runway to stores, often within weeks.
  2. Low Cost: These brands focus on providing inexpensive clothing, making fashion accessible to a broad consumer base.
  3. Mass Production: Fast fashion relies on large-scale production, often outsourcing manufacturing to countries with low labor costs.
  4. Quality Sacrificed for Quantity: To keep prices low, fast fashion brands sometimes compromise on garment quality, leading to products that may have a shorter lifespan.
  5. Frequent Collections: They release multiple collections throughout the year to encourage consumers to make frequent purchases.
  6. High Environmental Impact: Fast fashion contributes to significant environmental damage due to excessive resource consumption, water usage, and increased waste generation.
  7. Ethical Concerns: Many fast fashion brands face criticism for poor labor practices, including low wages, unsafe working conditions, and exploitation of workers in their supply chain.
  8. Short Product Lifecycle: Garments are designed to be on-trend for a brief period, leading to a “wear it and discard it” mentality.
Sustainable Fashion Brands:
  1. Ethical and Transparent Production: Sustainable fashion brands prioritize ethical and transparent production processes, ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions for workers.
  2. Environmentally Friendly Materials: They use eco-friendly and sustainable materials like organic cotton, recycled fabrics, or innovative alternatives to reduce the environmental impact.
  3. Slower Production: Sustainable brands often produce in smaller quantities, avoiding overproduction and excessive waste.
  4. Durability and Quality: They focus on creating durable and high-quality garments that are designed to last, reducing the need for frequent replacements.
  5. Longer Product Lifecycle: Sustainable brands aim to create timeless and versatile pieces that remain fashionable for more extended periods, promoting a “buy less, wear more” approach.
  6. Reduced Carbon Footprint: By sourcing materials responsibly and producing closer to the point of sale, sustainable brands aim to minimize their carbon footprint.
  7. Transparency and Accountability: Sustainable fashion brands are more likely to be transparent about their practices and efforts, allowing consumers to make informed choices.
  8. Social and Environmental Responsibility: These brands often support social and environmental initiatives and work towards a positive impact on communities and the planet.

Apparel brands break down their sustainable practices into 4 areas.

  • Ethical Fashion: This covers production, working conditions and Fair Trade practices to ensure no human beings or animals are hurt due to their manufacturing practices.
  • Circular Fashion: Advocates that all materials and products in society are used and circulated among people for as long as possible, in an environmentally safe, effective and fair manner. This encompasses things like recycling, upcycling, and thrifting.
  • Slow Fashion: Slow fashion takes a long-term view and considers the whole product lifecycle. This includes sharing or renting clothes as well as the quality of garments to help them last longer and thus reduce the need to buy new ones.
  • Conscious Fashion: Educates and encourages consumers to buy eco-friendly products and get behind the green fashion movement.

Let’s take a closer look at the environmental and social footprint of fashion

New clothing production is hurting the planet in a number of specific ways:

  • The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. It will be responsible for more than 25% of the world’s global carbon budget by 2050.
  • Every year the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water (equivalent to the consumption needs of 5 million people)
  • Around 20% of wastewater worldwide comes from fabric dyeing and treatment
  • The chemical abuse results in toxic waste,leading to polluted and dead rivers, poor health for textile workers and negative impact on those wearing the clothes
  • Of the total fiber input used for clothing, 87% is incinerated or disposed of in a landfill
  • Every year 500,000 tons of plastic microfibers are dumped into the ocean, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles (microfibers can’t be extracted from the water and spread throughout the food chain)
  • If demographic and lifestyle patterns continue as they are now, global consumption of apparel will grow from 62 million metric tons in 2019 to 102 million tons in 10 years

The good news for the fashion industry is that much change can happen at a moderate cost. Around 55% of the actions required will lead to an industrywide net cost savings. The remaining actions will require incentivisation in the form of consumer demand or regulations to deliver abatement.

Loyalty programs play a key role to navigate the sustainability challenge

Sustainable fashion brands have discovered that their loyalty programs are perfectly suited to position their brand and drive this change. They’re achieving great results by integrating eco-friendly rewards, educating loyal customers about sustainable choices, fostering partnerships with sustainable brands, and encouraging a more responsible and conscious approach to fashion consumption.

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The benefits of committing to sustainability:

  1. Brand differentiation: The fashion industry is highly competitive, and standing out from the crowd is essential. Embracing sustainability sets your brand apart from others, making it a unique selling proposition. Consumers are more likely to choose a brand that demonstrates a commitment to sustainable practices over one that doesn’t. This differentiation can improve brand recognition and market positioning.
  2. Positive PR: Embracing sustainability can generate positive PR for your brand. Communicating your sustainable initiatives through press releases, social media, and other marketing channels can help build a positive brand image. It showcases your brand as socially responsible, environmentally conscious, and forward-thinking, which can lead to increased media coverage and exposure.
  3. Regulatory compliance: Many countries and regions are implementing stricter regulations related to environmental and labor practices in the fashion industry. By proactively adopting sustainable practices, you can ensure your brand remains compliant with current and future regulations, avoiding potential penalties and legal issues.
  4. Cost and resource efficiency: Contrary to common misconceptions, sustainable practices don’t always mean higher costs. In many cases, sustainable strategies can lead to cost savings in the long run. Reducing waste, optimizing energy consumption, and choosing eco-friendly materials can improve resource efficiency and decrease operational expenses, which can positively impact your bottom line.
  5. Innovation and creativity: Sustainable fashion encourages innovation and creativity in product design and development. Working with eco-friendly materials and exploring new production techniques can lead to unique and stylish products that appeal to environmentally-aware consumers.
  6. Partnerships and Collaborations: Engaging in sustainable fashion can open doors for collaborations and partnerships with other eco-conscious brands, influencers, or organizations. These partnerships can amplify your marketing efforts, reach new audiences, and reinforce your brand’s commitment to sustainability.
  7. Employee Engagement: Embracing sustainability can also have a positive impact on your workforce. Employees often feel more motivated and proud to work for a company that actively supports environmental and social causes. This improved employee engagement can lead to higher productivity and better retention rates.

By incorporating sustainable fashion into fashion retail marketing efforts, retailers not only support KPIs but also contribute to a better future for the fashion industry, the environment, and society as a whole.

What are leading retail brands doing to support sustainable fashion?

Eco-friendly rewards:

Changing behavior is a major strength of loyalty programs. Giving points and rewarding members for repeatedly performing sustainability-focused actions (bringing back or donating old clothes) is a great way to do so.

Educational content:

Loyalty programs are incorporating educational elements, providing information about sustainable fashion, tips for eco-conscious shopping, and the positive impacts of responsible consumer choices. This engagement fosters a deeper connection between the brand and the customer.

Circular fashion initiatives:

Some loyalty programs are embracing circular fashion principles by offering incentives for returning old clothing for recycling or repurposing, thus encouraging customers to participate in closed-loop fashion systems.

Green points and badges:

Loyalty programs are implementing gamification features, such as green loyalty points or badges to reward customers for sustainable actions like opting for eco-friendly packaging, choosing carbon-neutral shipping, or using sustainable payment methods.

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Make sustainability a group commitment

Creating a community-driven approach to sustainability helps customers feel accountable, uplifted, and a part of the cause.

Loyalty programs can help build a like-minded community. For example, members might receive access to exclusive content, early access to new product sales, or invitations to members-only events — which are great ways to find brand advocates, too.

Examples of sustainability initiatives within fashion loyalty programs

1% for the Planet, by Patagonia

Patagonia is an American retailer of outdoor clothing. The brand is a great example of how customer loyalty and advocacy can be built through shared values: few brands demonstrate such an unwavering commitment to its values in everything they do, with sustainability being the core one.

Some key actions that the retailer takes as part of its commitment to being environmentally friendly are:

  • Raising awareness of environmental causes and educating shoppers on ways to live more sustainably
  • Giving consumers the option to trade in their old clothing for credit toward their next purchase
  • Creating Fair Trade certified clothing
  • Supporting groups in battling climate change – Patagonia donated $100 million since its inception
  • Joining the “1% for the Planet” alliance, whereby 1% of the company’s annual sales goes towards preservation efforts
The Conscious Collection, by EILEEN FISHER

Eileen Fisher, a renowned sustainable fashion brand, has a loyalty program called “The Conscious Collection.” This program rewards customers for making eco-conscious choices.

Members earn points for purchases of EILEEN FISHER’s sustainable clothing made from organic and recycled materials. Customers can earn points by returning old EILEEN FISHER garments for recycling or upcycling.

The program offers exclusive access to new sustainable collections, early sale previews, and sustainable fashion workshops.


Here’s what you need to know: Aligning a brand’s purpose with its sustainable strategy is the first step in establishing an authentic brand message. As a fashion retail marketing executive interested in protecting and growing your brand, understanding the importance and benefits of this growing movement is crucial.

If you’re a retailer and you’d like to talk about any of the customer engagement strategies outlined in this article in more detail, then get in touch with our team – we’ll be happy to show you examples or talk through your brand’s unique challenges.

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