Boohoo and Patagonia: two clothing firms with very different approaches towards championing sustainability.


This month, two very different clothing companies took two very different approaches to championing sustainability. The decisions will, no doubt, be dissected for years to come in case studies reflecting purpose-led organisations.

First up, fast-fashion firm Boohoo recruited Kourtney Kardashian as its “sustainability ambassador”. Kourtney is apparently so used to a private jet lifestyle that last month when she took a commercial flight with her husband Travis Barker, it made headline news.

Kourtney was also in ‘hot water’ last month over the use of her domestic water. As Southern California sweltered under a third year of water restrictions caused by punishing drought, Boohoo’s new sustainability Czar was issued with a “notice of exceedance”, showing she’d used over 150% of her monthly water allowance at least four times since the agency declared a drought emergency at the end of last year. To give you an idea of the size of magnitude of the overuse, in June she exceeded her water budget by about 101,000 gallons, according to the LA Times.

“When Boohoo first approached me to collaborate on a line, I was concerned about the effects of the fast-fashion industry on our planet,” Kourtney told WWD. She continued: “I’m grateful for the opportunity to use my platform to drive conversations that lead to ongoing change and use my voice to share actionable tips with consumers on how we can play our own part.”

At the other end of the spectrum, step forward Yvon Chouinard, the billionaire founder of the outdoor fashion brand Patagonia. Chouinard has given away his company to a charitable trust. All future profit not reinvested in running the business will go to fighting climate change.

"Earth is now our only shareholder," runs the headline on Patagonia’s homepage.

Before the transfer of ownership into the charitable trust, the shares of Chouinard, his wife, and two adult children were valued at about $3 billion.

As we stare down the barrel of a cost-of-living crisis, I don’t want to compare the price-point of Patagonia clothing with Boohoo’s prices. Patagonia products are around x10 more expensive. The point is rather to examine deeds, not words - the gulf between declared values and enacted values. 

The Kardashian / Jenner family has form in tone-deaf, supposedly purpose-led campaigns. When Kendall Jenner handed that policeman a can of Pepsi, ‘averting a race riot’ in the 2017 soft-drink advertisement, we were outraged. We were outraged because the Kenner activation felt, at best, forced. At worst, it trivialised the Black Lives Matter movement. Kenner was not known for her moral crusades. Pepsi did not have any equity in the Black Lives movement. Though the ad was beautifully produced, ultimately it presented as bandwagoning. The perception was that Pepsi was attempting to ride the wave of standing for something - profiting in the process - without demonstrating any belief or passion for the cause.

Actions and words must be consistent. They are the foundations on which trust is earned. To paraphrase Kate Hartley, writing in her book ‘Communicate in a Crisis’, in order to communicate with empathy you first have to have empathy. Patagonia consistently manages this. We can only wait and see what happens at Boohoo.

This article first appeared on 21 September as a column for the Influencer Marketing Digest - the weekly newsletter I am commissioned to write for Fourth Floor. You can sign up to receive the newsletter here

Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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