Authenticity Pays Off: how to mix fundraising with fashion effectively
Authenticity in business: it’s a hot topic and something that brands consistently get wrong. Retailers all strive to project a sense of personality, inviting consumers to engage with brands and campaigns that resonate with them throughout the year. In recent years we’ve seen charity affiliations and partnerships pushed front and centre.
Many brands have been accused of virtue signalling in the past – using charity partnerships to leverage greater profits and acquire new customers, with minimum donations made to charity sector partners.
Then again, there are businesses that always get fundraising right. Some examples have been dominating our high streets for years while others, are fresher, independent brands shaping the way we shop. We caught up with John Pritchard, Founder of sustainable accessories brand Pala Eyewear to discuss how to effectively build and maintain authentic charity partnerships.
For every pair of sunglasses sold, Pala gives back to eye-care programmes in Africa by providing grants to vision centres, dispensaries and screening programmes. More than 640 million people are unable to access the eye-care they need and a pair of glasses can be an invaluable economic tool providing empowerment for the wearer. Pala works directly with Vision Aid Overseas so we asked John a few questions about how this partnership works and how fundraising can and should intersect with fashion.
How do you achieve authenticity as a brand?
We’re able to remain authentic because of our transparency. Through our content of both imagery and video, we can the stories behind what we’re achieving; we’re connecting makers with the consumer, we’re offering a tangible way to make an impact, and we’re trying to be the best we can as a brand.
We don’t pretend to be perfect by any stretch and we are open about that. If we had tried to start a business with a mission to tick every sustainable box going, we would still be stuck at the starting line. Instead our objective is to make small positive changes for each and every decision needed, and I think this business philosophy shows our authenticity and is relatable to people.
What steps do you take to avoid greenwashing?
You have to be humble as a brand given we’re all on journey to being more sustainable, greener and better. We’ve moved on a long way from our beginnings four years ago and we’ll have moved on more in the next four years, but the reality is that the journey never ends and I think if you share the bits that you feel you could do better along with the bits you aren’t perhaps doing well, I think that strengthens trust.
The second thing to say is that it’s really important for us to visit the projects that we are involved with, see the impact of the action on the lives of people we are affecting. We try to go on a visit every couple of years and bring home volumes of video and imagery to give a sense of what’s happening on the ground. I hope this resonates with our customers and the following we’ve built as a brand. Rather just say what we do, show what we do.
How do you identify Pala’s ethical authenticity?
I founded Pala on a cause first and foremost. When I had a blank piece of paper and pencil right at the start, I had a fat arrow pointing to eye-care across countries in Africa. I didn’t start with just creating a product, I had no background in fashion or eyewear. I wanted to create a business that would enable me to leverage change in eye-care so creating an eyewear brand was the logical route to connect the two together with authenticity.
I think that starting with an ethical purpose right at the beginning, looking at all business decisions though the lens of minimising impact on the planet and maximising positive impact on people, ensures we are always putting sustainable values as the highest priority for the business.
What do you do to keep the balance of fashion and fundraising as a brand?
In contrast to the above, now we are established we have to lead as a fashion brand first. If we created poor designs made from low quality materials, you could be the most sustainable brand on the planet and yet have no customers. The simple equation for us is the more sunglasses we sell, the more we are able to provide to the charities we work with.
Why and how does cause-related marketing work for you as a brand?
I think it works for us because we’re tapping into the broader area of sustainability, which is very much the zeitgeist with fashion right now. For us, marketing around the causes we champion enables us to connect around global issues. People are becoming conscious of poverty alleviation, empowerment, equality and social justice to name just a few.
So having a platform to talk about these issues through our work in Africa, and by association other areas such as the impact of climate change, we are able to create valuable authentic content that people want to know more about.
How do you leverage and build trust with your audience and potential customers?
Our marketing and content focus is crucial to this. We have to be ‘on it’ at all levels of the business. This means providing excellent product, excellent customer service, timely and relevant communications and above all, transparency. We listen.
We want to know our customers as much as they want to discover us. It’s important therefore that we check in with them get their feedback from time to time. What they want to hear more of and providing insight and inspiration through our social platforms, our newsletter and our journal.