Raven +Lily

Warby Parker

More than 85% of millennials correlate their buying decisions to the responsible efforts a brand is making. Moreover, their willingness to recommend a given brand to others also increases in tandem with a brand’s goals towards doing social good. With an affluent, younger generation spelling it out loud that they want capitalism-with-a-conscience, luxury fashion brands can no longer afford to ignore the trend towards social good models. So who in the fash pack has listened to the millennials’ message so far – and how does technology help the cause of fashion’s leading B-corporations and environmentally friendly brands?

One of the best known B-Corporations – a for-profit company that also commits itself to the pursuit of social goals – is Warby Parker, the designer eyewear start-up equally admired for its affordable frames and its socially conscious business model. Not ones to miss out on a burgeoning retail trend, however, Warby Parker have also tapped the ‘fun and serendipity’ of real-life shopping, as they put it: stores in 7 satellite cities as well as showrooms inside boutiques also give customers the option to try on in-store. Technology is equally key to the offline strategy, however: each store uses smart data gleaned from sensors and wi-fi to increase business intelligence – an especially perfect technique when employed in combination with the online shopping data that comes with WP fans’ brand loyalty. Most important of all in the Warby Parker formula is that it’s a business model with heart: when each customer knows that for each pair of glasses bought, a pair will go to a person in need (through VisionSpring), said customer is certainly more likely to share their data with Warby Parker in the first place. Indeed, technology helps certified B-Corp Warby Parker stay ethical, right down to the coding: they have an active open source program, giving away quite a lot of the software that’s created in house. As CEO Dave told The Huffington Post, “Technology is the backbone behind everything we do as a company.”

Established brands aside, who else in the fashion world is set to disrupt the world of e-commerce in the name of social enterprise? Raven + Lily is one such brand – based out of Austin, Texas, it creates ethical fashion and lifestyle products with a mission of empowering women through design. Dedicated to fair trade and eco-friendly designs, each of Kirsten Dickerson and Sophia Lin’s collections refers to a particular country and cause: so, the statement jewellery of the Ethiopia Collection empowers HIV+ women in Ethiopia, while the Kenya Collection’s intricately handbeaded jewellery assists Maasai women from the Esiteti community to eradicate FGM and send girls to school.

The trend towards incorporating efforts towards doing social good within business models – and not just as part of ‘sadvertising’ marketing campaigns – is a challenge we can expect to see more and more fashion brands taking up going into 2015. The freedom and international scope that a strong e-commerce strategy can give such brands has opened up a whole new space for disruptive business models – defying those inherent inequalities that too often define the fashion industry at large.

Reported by Claire Healy