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There are a lot of small sustainable businesses out there, but how do you actually get that sustainable business to grow and to scale? We all want the best companies who are doing the best for our planet to be able to be profitable because we want them to continue to grow. Let’s examine three things to help sustainable businesses scale up with success.
1. Research and Development
In the last five years, we’ve seen so many new kinds of fabrications and technology come out that are not only improving the quality of the fabric, but also decreasing prices. It used to be that if you had a sustainable organic product, it was a little rough, it wasn’t as fine. It didn’t have a luxurious quality to it. Now we have a whole range of products- Tencel, bamboo, so many other kinds of materials. It’s super important that you’re staying on top of research and development, sourcing and manufacturing, trends and fabrics… attending the trade shows, building relationships with these manufacturers and really making sure you’re up-to-date with everything. Your consumers are constantly going to be demanding the best in fabrics from you. They’re constantly demanding the best products. You have to make sure the product is really going to be up to par.
2. The Right Brand Messaging
The second thing that’s going to be critical is making sure you honed in on your brand messaging. Brand messaging is so key and critical. Companies like Everlane have nailed it. They’re really big on transparency. They’ve really chosen their niche. It’s not enough to say you’re a sustainable business. In fact, you have to become really specific about what that means to your business. What has that translated into for Everlane? Well, of course, they have a whole business model outlined. They tell you exactly, product by product, where all of the different costs are coming in, how much that product would have costed at traditional retail, and then also how much they’re charging for it. Because of that transparency, you feel like you’re giving back. You feel like, “I want to buy from this company that I know is not trying to rip me off.” Isn’t that a good thing?
Other companies are doing a great job of highlighting their particular focus, whether that is working with communities all over the world and helping indigenous populations, whether that is working with fair trade, whether that is producing everything made in the U.S.A., or it’s all organic, or whatever the case is, whatever your key positioning messaging is, it’s so critical that you hone in on that. Don’t just try to take over that whole sustainability umbrella. We really want to make sure you’re driving in and you’re focused.
3. Look to the Community
Think about the collective and the community. Chances are, if you’re a sustainable business owner, you’re already well familiar with your network of communities. Chances are you might have already been doing things like collective pop-up shops, maybe you have already gone in on collective advertising or marketing together. But have you thought about going into group buys on the materials and on the sourcing?
One example I love is a company called PACT Organic. What they have done that’s so genius is getting together with other manufacturers to go in and buy cotton yields from farmers who are producing organic cotton. We all know, if you want to do something at scale, you have to get as close to the source as you can. Short of actually owning your farms and having your own farmers to grow that cotton, the next best thing is being able to place a hold on that material, being able to contact that farmer and buy that cotton in bulk. Because, guys, that is how all the major companies out there are able to produce at such scale. They have direct relationships with the landowners producing the materials for them. Start to think about collective buying in this way. I think it’s highly important we go down the process of remembering that together we are stronger, especially as we try to drive down our manufacturing costs, maintain our strong perceived value, our strong product development and really scale up this industry that we’re so passionate about.
The three things you really want to be focusing on is: Number one, authenticity and integrity- who you are and what you stand for. Number two, transparency, customers today need to know the story, social media, video… they love a good story. I love a good story. And the last thing is being able to think about your production hordes, your cotton placements and all of that manufacturing.
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