Although capitalism has always favoured the unscrupulous, the rise of a more conscious consumer can no longer let their purchasing power fuel a world they don’t believe in.
“Be the change you want to see in the world”. This is one of the most cliché and overused quotations in existence. Yet, Mahatma Gandhi’s notion of actively changing the world by engaging in activities that align with your ideals is exactly the direction this consumer crazy capitalist carnival of a world is headed. And it all starts with how our spending habits are developing a conscience.
Futurist, business strategist, and founder of Flux Trends, Dion Chang, believes that we are on a tipping point. With big fashion brands like Adidas manufacturing sneakers from recycled bottles and ocean plastic and H&M opening a clothing recycling programme in Stockholm, he says 2020 is the year that broke the camel’s back when it comes to rampant and unsustainable consumer capitalism.
“Consumers all over the world are taking more pleasure in sustainable products,” explains Chang. “We are at an interesting tipping point where your consumer is very aware and wants to do the right thing. The problem is they are getting confused between deciding which brands are simply jumping on the sustainability bandwagon and which are truly invested in building a sustainable world.”
Sustainability and the bottom line
As some of the world’s biggest clothing brands adopt a more sustainable front, according to his extensive research, Chang says we are starting to see sustainability merge with ‘big finance’ in a way that it never has before.
Take for example the recent bailout of Air France. This was only granted based on “climate conditions” whereby the airline would need to reduce its carbon emissions as a condition to getting bailed out by the French Government.
Back to fashion, but staying in France, Chang says another great example of how even the most luxurious consumer brands are committing to sustainable business practices comes in the form of Prada’s $55m sustainability loan in November 2019. This five-year loan with Credit Agricole Group will see interest rates lowered based on ‘achievement of ambitious targets related to sustainability’.
“This was a first for the luxury goods market and signified a shift in the way big business and big finance operate and this was in 2019,” says Chang. “Even the way businesses invest is veering towards Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investments to maximise the sustainability impact of corporate spend. We are living in a world where the actions of business are laid bare, and many have been found wanting.”
Yet Chang notes that the bigger and more global the business, the harder it is to ensure a sustainable supply chain. In a world beset by pandemic panic and lockdown-laden economies, there has been a notable consumer shift away from big business and into the communities that matter to consumers.
From Macro to Micro to Malaria
“The word is out,” exclaims Chang. “2020 is the year of empathy and businesses are going to need to catch up with the moral fibres of their consumers lest they get left in the dust or even a social media storm.”
He says consumers are going to make more demands on the brands they choose to spend their money with. “The products we buy become a reflection of who we are and what we want the world to be.”
He points to COVID-19 as an indicator of how consumers are more concerned with supporting their neighbours than big business. “With the devastation of small businesses, you will have noticed communities start to support each other as people scrambled to sustain an income. A sort of WhatsApp economy has been stoked and local has become even more lekker at a micro-level. Once again, it was empathy that drove this.”
Although Chang notes that products with a conscience are by no means a new phenomenon. “As consumers, we have been bewildered by the cheap prices and hidden supply chains of big brands but there were always more conscientious outliers.”
“Take my pants, for example,” said Chang. “These pants are beautifully designed, locally sourced, comfortable, and allowed me to do my part in the fight against malaria.”
The pants he refers to were designed, manufactured, and sold to Chang at a stall in OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg by the name of Goodbye Malaria – a social benefit organisation that aims to eliminate malaria in Southern Africa while supporting local crafters and retail skills development programme’s in efforts to change the way the world thinks about Africa
One of the ways in which it funds its malaria programmes is by selling its patented fashion and gear on its online store – all of which is sourced locally and ethically produced, promoting job creation, and uplifting and upskilling entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
“They call it a purchase with a purpose,” says Chang. “Every time I wear these pants I am reminded that I contributed to something good. There is meaning to it, not just an item you bought without thinking, which made it even more pleasurable.”
Between pants that help eradicate malaria and Adidas sneakers made from recycled plastic bottles, Chang believes these are the new status symbols amongst consumers.
Goodbye Malaria and the rise of conscious consumerism
Cofounder of Goodbye Malaria Kim Lazarus says, “We never ask the public for donations, rather, we inspire people to become part of our solution to eliminate malaria. , We initially came up with the concept of saving a life in your sleep by producing and selling shweshwe pyjama pants, with proceeds from each sale going towards our fight against malaria.”
With a purpose promulgated in pyjamas, the brand’s offering grew to include a wide range of sustainably and ethically produced products which consciously-sourced using environmentally friendly and recyclable. “We are very conscious about using recycled substrates, including offcut fabric from the manufacture of our pants.” In 2019 alone, Goodbye Malaria protected millions of lives and continues to do more every year in the hopes of finally eliminate malaria.
Through her experiences at Goodbye Malaria, Lazarus has seen first-hand how conscious consumerism and sustainable consumption are on the rise, particularly in South Africa. “People are becoming more aware of the power of their purchase, how and why we choose to spend our money can impact lives. Is it environmentally friendly? Is it locally sourced? Does it contribute towards a better future for those who were involved in making it? If a business cannot be on the right side of these answers, then their customer base will righteously shrink.”
Goodbye Malaria pivoted in 2020, adapting their operations to include mask production to help combat the spread of COVID-19 while keeping much-needed income in the hands of its local manufacturers. Having produced and sold over 300 000 masks, Lazarus says she is humbled with increased orders from across the globe. “Although our duty is to help eliminate malaria we were able to donate over 12 000 masks into local communities completing an extraordinary circle of hope: providing lifesaving employment, by creating masks that prevent infection from Covid-19, to generate funds to prevent deaths from malaria
As a retailer, Lazarus has always been passionate about selling with a purpose. Dion Chang believes that organisations like Goodbye Malaria are ahead of the trend and have been patiently waiting for the consciences of consumers to overtake their need to save a buck.
As a word of advice to retailers, Lazarus says, “Understanding these terms and trends is crucial to marketing and selling your brand. Telling and selling the authentic backstories of your product has never been more important. Your customers want to buy into more than just a product. They want to feel like they are making a difference and being part of the solution. In short, your product should make them feel good in more ways than one.”