Growing a fashion brand entered on sustainability is tricky — after all, the overabundance of clothes in the world is a problem.
Cary Vaughan and Jenna Wilson, founders of 8-year-old women’s fashion brand Ace & Jig, have been doing so in a way that feels authentic, holding true to a core tenet of “thoughtful purchasing eliminates wasteful purchasing” from the get go. The brand, which became profitable in 2015, is set to pass $5 million in sales this year. Its web sales are up 37 percent since January.
“We don’t want to make anything that’s disposable,” said Wilson. “We are about slow fashion and zero waste, and expanding the life of a garment, and making sure we’re being transparent to our customer.”
That focus inspired a number of launches being rolled out in step with the fall 2018 collection.
Stockist by style
Ace & Jig comes out with 25 original, limited-edition textiles and up to 50 new styles every season, but each of its wholesale partners is selling a different selection. (“A store in Berkeley, California is buying something different than Barneys,” said Vaughn.) To allow customers to make a plan as to when they can purchase new styles (rather than resort to frenzied buying), as well as try on a piece they’re debating at a local store, Vaughan and Wilson debuted the image-inclusive “stockist by style” feature on their website last year. This season, they’re adding in web-exclusive styles to make the guide all-encompassing.
Taking a cue from the home interiors industry, Vaughan and Wilson released a pack of their fall 2018 textiles in advance of the fashion collection’s release, as a guide. They were priced at $10 and sold out on Day 1.
“When you can feel the textiles, you can see, ‘That’s what I really love — not that,” said Wilson. “That’s not something you can realize online.”
Inspired by customers taking to Instagram on their own accord to comment on their Ace & Jig purchases, Vaughan and Wilson decided to send packages of fall 2018 styles to a selection of those customers (with a focus on size diversity), asking them to preview the pieces — specifically, to try them on, style them and share their reviews on Instagram using the hashtag #aceandjigtryonstories.
“If you see someone who shares your body dimensions trying something on and giving her honest feedback, you can more easily decide if [the style] is going to work for you, too,” said Wilson.
Fifteen to 20 customers will participate over the course of four months, with each “wave” of reviews timed with a drop. The first three posted in July, resulting in 27 uses of the hashtag.
Vaughan said selected customers are going over and above, hosting Instagram Live sessions to preview the looks, and fellow Ace & Jig customers are chiming in with questions like, “I’m a 38DD — how would that fit my bust?” The resulting spirit of community and inclusivity has been an added bonus.
One driver of “try-on stories” was highlighting the brand’s extended sizing, an offering being released this month that has been in the works for two years, Vaughan said. The brand will offer sizes XXS to 2X, or up to size 18 (a jump from XS to XL), in three styles, building on that number with each new season. The extended sizes are meant to solve the problem of women purchasing the brand’s styles, and finding they’re too big or too small.
Finally, on Friday, the brand debuted an updated website featuring customer reviews on each product page. “The more reviews you read online, the more you know about products, and the more likely you’ll buy something you love,” said Vaughan.
All in all, the new initiatives are set to build brand loyalty, Wilson said. “What we’ve been doing works against the idea of over-shopping, and people get it: They’re not just trying to take my money from me, they actually have values they stand by and they care about sustainability.”
Other brands on balancing sustainability and style messaging in marketing:
Sheila Shekar Pollak, vp of marketing at Athleta:
“For Athleta, sustainability is ‘always on’ — it’s part of our story, and threaded throughout how we do business and throughout our marketing. We want to bring our customers on the journey with us. Athleta’s commitment to sustainability is deeply connected with our brand and stems from our mission to empower active, healthy women and girls — we love getting outside and believe we have a responsibility to protect our playground. In marketing, we bring this to life in two ways: We share our goals and information about our product, and we also want to inspire her with ways she can participate. For example, we not only let her know that [our] pants are made with recycled materials, but that by washing them less frequently, she can reduce water usage.”
Matt Scanlan, CEO and co-founder of Naadam:
“Our strategy at Naadam has always been to repurpose sustainability not as a marketing tool but as a core competency. Sustainability has bred transparency, and transparency has improved our customer value proposition such that we continually increase quality and lower prices. We want to use sustainability to foster innovation, and democratize luxury cashmere.”
Nina Faulhaber, co-founder of Aday:
“We try to convey the fashion aspect (design and functionality) in our imagery and visual language. The ‘why’ is trickier to convey visually, so we give it a lot of airtime in our messaging. Our marketing aim is to encourage our customers to buy the pieces for their own benefit, and also as a smarter way of consuming clothing in general.”
Sophie Kahn and Bouchra Ezzahraoui, co-founders of AUrate:
“We believe that women shouldn’t have to choose between sustainability and fashion, especially in the jewelry market that has historically carried an ugly side tainted by blood diamonds and unethical practices. As a result, there is no balance in communicating either side, but rather integration in the messaging. AUrate’s war-cry of ‘Fine Jewelry. No Concessions.’ is more than just a catchy slogan. It’s the only way it knows and the only way our customers want to interact with us. While our product designs and quality remain the main reason of customer engagement, cutting the clutter and focusing on what matters in our supply chain — made in NYC, using recyclable gold, ethically sourced diamonds and gems — has proved to be essential in re-engaging them and retaining them.”
Related reads on Glossy
How Reformation communicates sustainability messages in its email marketing
“We always try to weave [our sustainability practices] into everything we do, but there are certain moments where it’s not relevant — like an announcement that a dress is back in stock. Is that an opportunity to talk about sustainability? Not really.”
The supply chain is becoming part of luxury designers’ branding strategies
“We’re building context with our designers: Here’s how customer expectations are changing, what customers are aware of and how to deliver to them in the way they’re expecting. It’s the sharing economy, transparency, immediacy that are the macro-trends running through all of this. And when one designer does it well, it creates a halo effect.”
Report: Levi’s is ‘all talk and no action’ on sustainability
“If you look at cumulative impacts, it’s a 160-year-old company that’s had enormous impacts on people and the climate, and a legacy of pollution that they need to deal with. This all led us to say to Levi’s, ‘You keep saying you’re a leader, now lead.’”