PHYNE's clothes are everywhere: they supply the clothes for Vogue Germany’s merch, have been featured in virtually every major fashion publication and are a fashion lover’s favourite brand for streetwear essentials.
Keeping quiet about ethics
But they rarely shout about one of the most remarkable factors of their brand: their spotless ethics and sustainability practices.
In the beginning, they went the intuitive approach: present a problem (the fashion industry) and a solution (PHYNE’s clothes that don’t harm the environment or humans).
But it just didn’t take off. Only when they changed their brand communication and focussed on collaborations with designers and well-known brands outside of the sustainability and ethics cosmos did people start loving the brand. As Andri says, “When you focus on sustainability, your world is very small.”
When you focus on sustainability, your world is very small. - Andri Stocker
Instead, they started doing what Andri calls the anti-greenwashing: still keeping up an extremely high standard internally but not shouting about it so much — all the while, it still makes an impact, whether you advertise it or not.
What’s behind anti-greenwashing?
It looks like it has become a favoured strategy by sustainable brands all over the different categories. Beyond Meat’s Ethan Brown puts it into a nutshell: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to build a brand by telling people not to eat what they love”.
So we could apply the same rule to fashion — by making people feel guilty about purchasing conventional fashion, they turn away from sustainable alternatives instead of embracing them.
And whilst Business Insider proudly proclaims that “sustainability sells”, it still is about the product first — consumers don’t want to sacrifice.
Yael Aflalo, the founder of Reformation, one of the trailblazers in ethical fashion, makes this philosophy one of her core values:
"The success of our sustainability initiatives is determined by how effortless they are to adopt," she says. "We start with small digestible solutions that people can incorporate into their daily lives to make an impact and highlight how those changes can affect the big picture."
Change is coming — but fashion remains
So is sustainability just an add-on that is quickly overridden by discomfort — or the main driver when making a buying decision?
"The success of our sustainability initiatives is determined by how effortless they are to adopt." - Yael Aflalo
It looks like a new generation of consumers is coming — Nine in ten Gen Z customers believe that companies have a responsibility to address environmental and social issues. Still, it seems as though it’s never only about ethics or sustainability. Fashion, especially fast fashion, is a way of expressing your character, of creating a lifestyle for yourself.
So whilst sustainability is important, it will probably never conceal flaws in a product. To put it brutally: if fashion looks terrible, consumers won’t buy it. Even if it was the most sustainable thing after being naked.
To be sustainable or not to be?
So is sustainability cool? Is it even compatible with fashion, let alone marketable? We’d say yes — but only if we don’t have to compromise on style.