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Much more than a good look: why reputation management matters so much to responsible fashion brands

March 21, 2023

For fashion brands out to do the right thing in a sector not noted for responsible practices, staying ahead of conversations about your brand takes a belt and braces approach to reputation management.
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Fast fashion often hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry fueled by (or perpetuating, depending on your viewpoint) consumer demand for new trends at low prices.

Yet many consumers, shareholders and other stakeholders are also likely to be concerned about sustainable production, leaving responsible brands with a tricky path to negotiate.

Issues associated with fast fashion are found all along the supply chain.”

Richard Sheldon | Head of Specialty Broking & Senior Director, Carrier Management

The fast fashion phenomenon has grown over the past few decades as manufacturers have taken advantage of cheap labor, innovations in textiles and production methods, and quicker, smarter supply chains.

ESG issues are found all along the supply chain, from overproduction to harmful manufacturing process, and through to problems with waste disposal.

It’s arguably economically impossible to manufacture, ship and retail a $5 t-shirt or a £12 dress in a way that does no harm to the environment, the workers who make it, or the countries left to process the waste.”

Richard Sheldon | Head of Specialty Broking & Senior Director, Carrier Management

Manufacturers and retailers wanting to do the right thing find themselves having to compete in an ultra-competitive market while trading responsibly and sustainably.

At the heart of the problem is that it’s arguably economically impossible to manufacture, ship and retail a $5 t-shirt or a £12 dress in a way that does no harm to the environment, the workers who make it, or the countries left to process the waste.

Protecting the valuable reputation of your fashion brand

With the fashion sector under scrutiny, it’s understandable that brands want to talk about the ways they’re ensuring they operate responsibly.

But if a story breaks that appears to show that the reality doesn’t match up to the message, the reputational fall-out and accusations of greenwashing can cause deep and long-lasting damage.

Swedish fashion brand, H&M, is not the only name to face damaging accusations of greenwashing over claims it made in relation to the sustainability of some items in its range.

Other brands have introduced initiatives such as recycling schemes to collect used items when consumers buy something new. However, these have also attracted criticisms about their effectiveness.

No brand is immune from the reputational risk of acting irresponsibly. With news of mountains of clothing waste washing up on Ghanaian beaches or being dumped in Chile’s Atacama Desert, responsible fashion brands need to have a cast iron grip on their ESG processes and supply chain management.

Only brands with the tightest processes are likely to escape being caught with their labels found dumped at sites around the world.

No brand is immune from the reputational risk of acting irresponsibly in the fashion industry.”

Richard Sheldon | Head of Specialty Broking & Senior Director, Carrier Management

Staying ahead of the conversation with effective reputation management

The good news is that few sectors understand the importance of being ahead of the conversation more than the fashion sector.

Proactive brands are introducing innovative reputation management insight, tools and processes to manage potential reputational risks, and ensure they’re ready to respond should an issue arise.

To support responsible and forward-thinking fashion brands, WTW has partnered with some of the global leaders in this field to develop a comprehensive reputational risk solution.

Planning

WTW provides a Reputational Risk Readiness Review to help organizations define and quantify its reputational risks, identify the potential impacts and map any gaps to be addressed in mitigation.

Prevention

To get ahead of events and prevent potential reputational issues escalating into a crisis, the powerful Polecat platform offers real-time horizon scanning. AI-powered algorithms synthesize data from online and social media channels into dashboards and risk alerts for relevant media.

Response

WTW offers access to experienced crisis communications experts who have managed crisis situations of all types around the world, from advice on media handling and strategy to leadership statements and speeches.

Risk transfer

WTW’s reputational risk insurance product offers up to $50 million cover for loss of gross profit as a result of a significant adverse publicity event, spread evenly over up to 12 months to help you stay afloat during and after a crisis.

Rehabilitation

WTW experts will work with you over the longer term to develop campaigns and communications to help you turn the tide of public opinion back in your favor.

To find out more about our Reputational Crisis Insurance and Risk Management Solution, please get in touch.

Footnote

1 UN launches drive to highlight environmental cost of staying fashionable. UN News.

Contact

Richard Sheldon
Head of Specialty Broking & Senior Director

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