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August 11, 2021

BoF: How Sustainability Is Changing Fashion PR

The Business of Fashion discuss with our Co-Founder, Carrie Ellen Phillips, how the growing demand for ethical products is creating new business opportunities...

The Business of Fashion delve into the new business opportunities and roles and responsibilities for PR professionals and brands within the sector. They discuss this with our BPCM Co-Founder Carrie Ellen Phillips in their latest article How Sustainability Is Changing Fashion PR…

Carbon calorie counts, dresses made from recycled plastic and sweaters that claim to be climate-positive have become familiar fixtures for fashion brands seeking to engage an increasingly eco-conscious consumer base.

But as the industry has started to lean into demand for more sustainable fashion, it’s also facing increasing pressure to back up its claims. Consumers are becoming more savvy and calling out brands for greenwashing, or failing to operate in a way that matches their marketing. Regulators and advocacy groups are also paying more attention.

The result is a growing market for communications agencies that can help brands credibly navigate a technical and confusing landscape, provide expertise on how to set and meet sustainability targets, and offer advice on how to translate those efforts into messaging that will resonate.

It’s a business that’s booming, according to Carrie Ellen Phillips, co-founder of 22-year-old agency BPCM. The company, which represents clients like Calvin Klein and Longchamp, wasn’t founded with sustainability at its heart. But lately, that seems to be the main thing clients are asking for.

“Two out of three unsolicited calls that we get are about our sustainability practice,” Phillips said. “It’s the fastest-growing thing in the agency.” Sustainability-centric roles that open at the firm are “some of the fastest things we’ve ever filled,” she added.

It wasn’t always this way. Phillips remembers years ago when her own teammates were put off by her talk of sustainability, worried that it might communicate that the whole fashion industry — and what they as PR professionals did for a living — is “bad.” But where it once took courage to venture into those waters, it’s now a selling point.

As brands come under growing pressure from consumers and regulators to back up sustainability claims, some communications firms are building out their expertise in order to stand out — both to fashion brands looking for representation and to journalists looking for PR contacts whose sustainability claims they can trust.

Phillips said about two-thirds of BPCM’s work across the agency now consists of consulting as opposed to communication. Earlier this year, the company recruited François Souchet, formerly of circularity-focused non-profit the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, to boost its sustainability expertise. Elsewhere, Eco-Age, the agency co-founded by fashion campaigner Livia Firth, views the two as such natural complements that the consultancy aspect of the company actually preceded the PR side.

“We like to see ourselves as a ‘critical friend,’” said Eco-Age chief brand officer Harriet Vocking. “We see PR challenging [clients] rather than just being celebrated on the success of media coverage.”

BPCM doesn’t screen clients in this way, but does use its influence at senior levels to push a sustainability agenda, Phillips said. For instance, BPCM’s gentle nudging convinced long-time client Longchamp to switch to recycled nylon for its signature Le Pliage bags, a process that will be complete by the end of 2022, according to Phillips.

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