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6 Ways to Convince Clients to Buy Sustainable Apparel

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6 Ways to Convince Clients to Buy Sustainable Apparel

id you know that more than half (55%) of U.S. consumers want sustainable apparel, but around 48% don’t know where to find these brands? That’s where your screen-printing shop or distributorship comes in—to pitch these eager buyers sustainable apparel from reputable suppliers.

Brands prioritizing sustainability and eco-friendly practices appeal to consumers, resulting in profitable outcomes for these businesses. More than 50% of C-level execs in the fashion and textile space say consumer demand is driving their brands to create sustainable products and best practices and source sustainably produced raw materials to make these products.

Here's six key ways from expert printers and distributors to successfully sell sustainable styles.

1. Understand your buyers and ask the right questions.

About 68% of fashion-conscious consumers say sustainability is important when making apparel purchases, and 38% buy as much sustainable clothing as possible. “Sustainability is a big buzzword right now,” says Johanna Gottlieb, vice president of business development for B-Corp distributor Genumark.

“Your buyers are no longer the Boomers. They’re younger Millennials and Gen Zers living on Instagram and TikTok. They’re more in tune with activism than other generations. When we say ‘sustainability,’ it’s their way of life. They want to do better for themselves, those around them and the planet.”
Johanna Gottlieb, VP of business development at Genumark

During the pandemic, Keith Burwell, owner of Precision 1 Koncepts Apparel & Signs, started fulfilling many merch stores for influencers and brands on TikTok.

“Younger people only wanted sustainable products at their stores. We’ve done chamber of commerce events at my shop with sustainable samples to show and compare and my sustainable swag giveaways. They love the feel and then they ask about eco-products. Those events helped stir customer interest in sustainable apparel.”
Keith Burwell, owner of Precision 1 Koncepts Apparel & Signs

Gottlieb recommends asking detailed questions about your customer’s project to recommend the right product while making the upsell to sustainable apparel.

You want to sell them on the fact that they’re getting a t-shirt that won’t end up at Goodwill. It’ll be the super-soft tee someone borrows and doesn’t want to give back. If they have a budget concern, they can purchase fewer of them. But, if the goal is cheap giveaway tees, that’s another product and price point entirely.”
Johanna Gottlieb, VP of business development at Genumark

Pro tip: Share how you (personally) and your business walk the sustainable walk on social media. “If you’re obsessed with recycling, or walking or biking instead of driving, tell your followers,” Gottlieb says. “If your shop culture is about sustainability or you have EcoVadis ratings, post them on your site and social media!”

What’s an EcoVadis Report?

This is a sustainability assessment of a company’s environmental and social practices – it evaluates environmental impact, labor and human rights practices, ethics, and sustainable procurement. The report provides a rating that allows your company to benchmark your performance and improve sustainability practices.

2. Tell the apparel’s sustainable story, with your suppliers’ help.

Denise Taschereau, co-founder and CEO of distributorship Fairware, trains her sales team to confidently communicate products’ sustainable attributes to buyers.

“We’re also increasingly asking our supplier partners to do more than show’ new products’ at sales meetings,” she says. We ask them to discuss their company’s sustainability efforts and product details. Spending time learning about the issues allows our team to have more meaningful conversations with clients who care about the same things we do.”
Denise Taschereau, co-founder and CEO of distributorship Fairware

Similarly, Cory Beal, production manager at Floodway Print Co., isn’t shy about scrutinizing suppliers. “We try to make sure they’re sustainable and not greenwashers,” he says. “A good indicator for me is if everything they do reflects those values vs. it’s just that one product they’re promoting.”

Suppliers often provide collateral with sustainability benefits for products to share with clients.

“We include these product descriptions in our clients’ quotes and invoices when they choose these products so they see they have or will purchase a product that’s good or better for the environment. We also have a ‘Recycle’ decal that we put on all of these products on display in our showroom to remind clients about benefits while they shop for new apparel.”
Shawn LaFave, president and chief branding officer at NGA Promotions

When you get detailed information about specific products and suppliers, selling clients on sustainable apparel is easy. “Not every customer wants sustainable products, but when you can tell the shirt’s story – that it’s made from recycled water bottles, organic cotton or C-Free products, made from textiles free from chlorine and chlorinated compounds,” Burwell says. C-Free products can be ideal for environmentally conscious consumers who want less harmful products to the environment and human health.

Here are a few points to emphasize when pitching sustainable apparel:

Promote quality and durability:

Sustainable apparel is often made to higher standards, using better materials and construction, resulting in longer-lasting garments.

Emphasize ethical production:

Sustainable apparel is produced using ethical labor practices, such as fair wages and safe working conditions, which resonate with socially conscious buyers.

Highlight environmental benefits:

This apparel reduces the environmental impact of fashion by using organic materials, minimizing waste, and consuming less water and energy.

Educate on health benefits:

Some styles are made from natural, non-toxic dyes and materials, which can be better for wearers’ skin and overall health.

3. Create a solid emotional or feel-good connection for your buyers.

Sustainable apparel often has a story behind it, such as supporting a minority- or women-owned business or a B-Corp that gives back to local communities.

Connecting buyers emotionally to these stories can be compelling. A B-Corp is a for-profit company certified to meet rigorous social and environmental performance standards, accountability, and transparency.

When Gottlieb looks for sustainable apparel at trade shows, she looks for an eco-component and a giveback aspect.

“If the supplier has an additional hook like being women-, minority- or veteran-owned or is a B Corp, those are even more reasons buyers get excited about purchasing a sustainable product from that brand.”
Johanna Gottlieb, VP of business development at Genumark

4. Share info about certifications and transparency in the supply chain.

This helps to build trust with buyers and show commitment to sustainability, so try educating them on these common standards:

GRS is an international, voluntary, complete product standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of recycled input and chain of custody. The standard aims to increase the use of recycled materials in products and reduce harmful environmental and social impacts of production and consumption. The GRS includes criteria for traceability, environmental principles, social requirements and labeling.

GOTS is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibers, including environmental and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the textile supply chain. The standard aims to define globally recognized requirements that ensure the organic status of textiles, from harvesting raw materials through environmentally and socially responsible manufacturing to labeling, to provide credible assurance to consumers.

“The major suppliers in our industry are on top of this and doing a great job of making information more accessible, but smaller and mid-size players sometimes struggle with data or document managementAs buyers expect more transparency, the suppliers investing in systems to manage their supply chain data will win.”
Denise Taschereau, co-founder and CEO of distributorship Fairware

5. Don’t get hung up on price, but keep it in mind.

Burwell, Taschereau and others report that, increasingly, the price objection part of the selling conversation just isn’t as big of a concern as in previous years.

“Part of it is because we’re able to find more sustainable options like recycled cotton or Better Cotton Initiative cotton in the basics category at entry-level price points. However, we generally point our clients in the direction of higher-quality apparel, whether it has sustainable materials or not, and make the case for investing in their brand by inventing merchandise people want or apparel people wear.”
Denise Taschereau, co-founder and CEO of distributorship Fairware

Your main takeaway should be that you don’t talk about price until you’ve learned about the client’s goals and taken some time to sell them the benefits of sustainable apparel and brands. “Sometimes, it takes a more dedicated client to up their buying game to include sustainable products at an added cost of 50 cents to $1 a garment,” LaFave says. Gottlieb agrees that the reality is that some clients aren’t on board with sustainable apparel, so it’s important to ask questions upfront to see if they’re a good candidate.

But when it works, you and your client can both win big. For example, Gottlieb's initial project with a client was supplying branded merchandise for an event.

“The client’s concern was that they spend money, and attendees leave the merch behind. We offered a cool solution, by pointing attendees to a website where they could choose an item they loved, and we’d mail it to them after the event.”
- Johanna Gottlieb, VP of business development at Genumark

The best part? Every single $50-and-under item Gottlieb curated offered a feel-good component. “They got a sustainable gift that made a difference, whether it was supporting a woman-owned business or part of the proceeds giving back to environmental causes,” she says.

Pro tip: While sustainable apparel may have a higher upfront cost, explain how it can save money in the long run due to durability and longevity, reducing the need for frequent replacements.

6. Take apparel decoration into consideration.

When recommending sustainable apparel, choose ones that pair well with the imprinting method. “We like to use products we’re familiar with and know we can decorate well,” Burwell says.

NGA Promotions takes a thoughtful approach to selecting garments, prioritizing factors like decoration compatibility, fabric weight and the item’s overall impact on the client’s goals. “We look first at how we’ll decorate it,” LaFave says. “Do we need to be concerned with possible dye migration if it contains polyester? Is the fabric weight thick enough to take embroidery, and so on?” LaFave’s team also considers the environmental impact, inventory levels, and color options, noting the increasing availability of eco-conscious and sustainable products.

Pro tip: Beal and other printers recommend not touting specific decorating methods as eco-friendly without context.

“Just because water-based inks don’t need chemicals to clean up, doesn’t cancel out the gallons of wasted water. Be careful not to greenwash your imprinting processes.”
Shawn LaFave, president and chief branding officer at NGA Promotions

Subhead: Start Selling Sustainable Apparel Today

A church camp approached Precision 1 for 50/50 t-shirts for their events. Burwell instead suggested triblend shirts, which are softer and sustainable. Despite being slightly more expensive, the camp agreed, and Burwell sold them on a 650-piece order. “We love the products we offer. Depending on your customer base, you won’t be able to sell to everyone,” Burwell says, “but you’ll be amazed when you ask them. When you educate yourself on sustainable products, selling becomes easy.”

To shop for sustainable styles at S&S Activewear, visit our website and explore our new sustainable styles category. You can easily navigate to this category by clicking on the “Explore” button and selecting “Sustainable Styles” from the dropdown menu. Once there, you can use our improved filter functionality to narrow your search by choosing four subcategories that interest you.

Apr 28, 2024