UNO April 2019

Wearing the change: Communications and sustainability through new consumer relationships

Along with global forms of expression and the world’s interconnectedness, fashion today has changed significantly. As access, immediacy and connectivity have expanded exponentially, the search for identity affirmation, tied to real concerns such as product origins, has also been established as a sign of our time.

This new way of seeing fashion and seeking an understanding of how the products and services we consume are made has become a great driver of change in the industry. Processes, products, communications, relationships and strategies are in a real state of ferment. In this scenario, sustainability has proven to effectively define an organization’s longevity or finality. This is also true in the fashion industry.

At C & A, a company founded by brothers Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer in 1841, the response to this context took on a more strategic and comprehensive perspective in 2015 with the establishment of a global sustainability platform, one which set tasks and goals to be achieved by 2020 in all countries with a brand presence. The platform is structured along three pillars: More Sustainable Products, More Sustainable Supply Networks and More Sustainable Lives.

When we talk about more Sustainable Products, we mean our goal of, for example, having all 100 percent cotton products made from the most sustainable cotton, which requires less water and pesticides. For the Supply Network pillar, we touch on issues ranging from supplier monitoring to avoiding irregular working conditions to improving the management of chemicals. And under Sustainable Lives, we commit ourselves to continually engaging employees, suppliers and customers around sustainability topics.

Numerous challenges must be considered in terms of improving management, processes and innovations so the Pillars of Sustainable Products and Supply Networks can effectively create fashion with a positive impact. However, without the public’s engagement, progress is nearly impossible. Every internal decision, collection, choice of raw materials or processes has an impact, which can be positive or negative. On the other hand, if the customer neither understands and appreciates our efforts, nor engages in this movement with us, then the entire sustainability area can weaken.

For this reason, communications and relationships are an integral part of the company’s sustainability strategy.

From the communications perspective, the road we have traveled to deliver a sustainable experience for our customers in Brazil involves multiple steps, aligned with our global guidelines:

Identify authentic stories

People connect with people, and with stories more than information, creating powerful emotional connections. Therefore, we continually seek to identify not only what we can tell consumers, but how these stories can be told, whether using strategies with digital influencers or our own employees.

“People connect with people, and with stories more than information, creating powerful emotional connections”

Choose the ideal moment and medium for your story

A good story told at the wrong time tends to be weak. Here, journalist reputation, timeliness, relevance and access are all absolute necessities. Considering the consumer journey and what they expect when interacting with our brand is fundamental. Through this, we manage communications at the point of sale, not only bringing visibility to our strategy, but also labelling products with tags that highlight their sustainable attributes. We use digital communications on social networks, as well as more traditional PR and advertising channels. That is to say, we are using multiple platforms to broaden the connection.

Evaluate audience impact

In school, we learn communications is not about what we say, but about what the audience hears. Beyond a professional proverb, this should be a mantra for us communicators. Remaining aware of repercussions and continuously evaluating and monitoring perceptions, image and reputation are two keys for successful communications and relationship management. Annually, we carry out a survey to identify customer perceptions of the brand in terms of sustainability.

Listen and talk

In a world with multiple voices and actors, knowing how to listen and respond are key elements for discussing sustainability. Thus, the journey we have undertaken in search of a more effective and connected communications strategy with our clients has led us to one based on listening and experimenting with different dialogue formats. Some examples include our Fashion Futures event, where we invited the public to reflect on the future of fashion and how it could be more sustainable and conscientious. Or with partnerships that discuss sustainability and brand DNA, such as the one we have with singer Mahmundi who released a song inspired by the changes we made.

“In a world with multiple voices and actors, knowing how to listen and respond are key elements for discussing sustainability”

In the end, all these actions result in a movement that brings together our various audiences: #vistaamudança. It is a bold and powerful invitation, a call, an answer, a dream, a reality, a will and an action. But above all, it is an innovative way to mediate relationships and communications with people, ensuring fashion can be used not just as platform for expression and connection with the world, but one that generates a positive impact.

Rozália Del Gáudio
Senior manager of Communication and Sustainability for C&A Brazil
The senior manager of Communication and Sustainability for C&A Brazil, her career has been more than 25 years long. Over this time, she has worked in companies such as Aperam, Vale, Grupo Votorantim and C&A. She is an MBA professor of Business Communication Management at Aberje/ESEG and she conducts research on and writes about communications, management and sustainability. She is a co-author of Sem Megafone, com Smartphone: práticas, desafios e dilemas da comunicação com empregados (Without a megaphone, with a Smartphone: practices, challenges and dilemmas in employee communications) published by ABERJE Editorial in Portuguese in 2017 and in English in 2018. She earned a Ph.D. in Social Sciences from the University of Paris 1 - Panthéon Sorbonne, where she also obtained a master’s in Sociology and Anthropology. She earned an additional master's in Business Administration and a bachelor’s in Social Communication from the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). [Brazil]
Mariana Vieira
Sustainability coordinator at C&A Brazil
She has worked in the sustainability area for more than 10 years and has experience in the editorial and retail areas. Currently, she is the Sustainability coordinator for C&A Brazil, where she responsible for implementing the company’s global sustainability strategy in Brazil. She holds a postgraduate degree in Business Administration from Fundação Getúlio Vargas, where she also took a course in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability. She also holds a degree from Faculdades Oswaldo Cruz and has taken several complementary courses in the area of sustainability. [Brazil]

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