TikTok, a social media platform for Gen Z, has established itself as one the most popular. It boasts over 1 billion active users per month. Creators can upload quick-paced and easy-to-read videos that match their interests.
The platform has seen steady growth in the usage of sustainably-based content. As a way to reach the Gen Z customer segment, brands have been incorporating the theme into their marketing strategies.
In a conversation with FashionUnited, Emily Huggard stated that brands use TikTok to broaden their definitions of sustainability. Parsons assistant lecturer has studied the medium extensively and how brands use TikTok for sustainable purposes. She also outlined the advantages and disadvantages to submitting their eco-agenda on the popular platform.
She said, “It impacts the brand’s connection with their audience in terms of creating lifestyle and aesthetic. They choose brands that are aligned with their larger values and purpose around sustainability and responsibility.”
Huggard suggested that TikTok has altered the aesthetics of sustainability. He noted that not all content is about buying and consumption. Do-it-yourself tutorials, vintage purchases and other content have influenced a shift in content that makes sustainability an aesthetic choice.
Huggard also recorded the roles that brands play in communicating sustainability to digital-savvy users of the app as part of her research. We were able to share her observations and findings. Five functions were the most popular methods of communication.
“Education is an essential part of promoting sustainable consumption via social media. It is however not nuanced and brands often use it as a starting point to encourage consumers to search for more information.”
Brands can easily fall into the trap of sharing apocalyptic statistics about environmental degradation. Huggard says they are important, but it may not be the best way to attract the attention of younger generations.
For Days, a brand, uses its platforms to share snippets and other entertainment videos with their followers. For credit in store, the brand asks shoppers to send in items to be recycled. This includes both statistical information and details about how to recycle discarded clothes.
Alohas, an online clothing company, also shares humorous data about the industry while promoting its sustainable business model. This label explains the advantages of shopping online and offers suggestions for how customers can make eco-conscious lifestyle changes in other areas of their lives.
“Funny, engaging content approaches a topic in a way which is educational in a manner that makes it relevant for the consumer.”
It can be difficult to approach such a topic without coming across as heavy-handed. To keep Gen Z audiences engaged, brands need to adapt to their interests. Stella McCartney used a lighthearted approach to the topic by having people in animal heads parade around the city.
Pangaia also went out on the streets to interview people, asking them entertaining and engaging questions such as what materials would be best for a puffer coat. One participant responded: “Marshmallows.” They approached the topic of innovation/biomaterials with a relaxed approach, which made it more accessible to the public.
Huggard noted that brands tend to be leaders in design and style, before moving on to educational roles. After achieving their desired aesthetics, they began to look at sources and care for garments.
This method was likely implemented to make the app more entertaining. Videos that are either visually pleasing or entertaining receive more engagement than those that are educational. The difference between the two is bridged by relating to viewers on an emotional level.
Huggard noted that brands often present too much educational content, which can sometimes fall flat. “TikTok allows people to have fun with their friends and has a lot of interaction. They want that kind of engagement.”
Focused on the product
“There is a clear contradiction in fashion and sustainability. Most brands talk about a product which aims to be sustainably but isn’t fully.”
Product-centric content is often seen as an integral part of the platform. Brands are looking for ways to communicate with consumers about specific products.
Pangaia posted videos to explain the cashmere collection. The captions included: “This recycled cashmere was made from both pre- and post-consumer material.” This makes it easy for users to follow the messages, but still gives enough information about the clothes.
Another way to reach consumers using a product-focused approach is to offer further reading or to direct them to a link in TikTok’s bio. This can allow the viewer to conduct further research without overwhelming him in a brief video.
“Brands can include part of the platform that is hyped by focusing on interactivity by putting it in the center of interactivity.”
Customer-generated content can be trusted to add to a label’s pages. Viral marketing is also an effective way to reach eco-conscious customers. The app’s TikTok dances and challenges, as well as dedicated hashtags, are notable features that encourage users to create content in accordance with brands messages.
Pangaia took advantage of this strategy and introduced the #PangaiaChallenge. The brand provided a soundtrack and asked users to submit videos of themselves dancing in TikTok-esque style. Each entry would result in one tree being planted. A few people may be eligible to win the brand’s forest collection set as an incentive. This hashtag received over 4 million views and is still being used almost a full year later.
Vintage Stock Reserve, an upcycled fashion label, became a huge success on the platform after users discovered the easy-to-view content that covered its products. The brand’s boys focus on answering customer questions with informative, but entertaining videos. They also show behind-the scenes footage of the upcycling process and tutorials.
Leaders of thought
Many brands collaborate with thought leaders, people in sustainability and other influencers. Educative content is more popular than content that’s influenced by influencers.
Thousand Fell, a circular footwear brand, prioritizes content from creators who already have a large following. Style advice and facts are provided by videos reposted from styledbysoleil and Mark Edward.
Andagain, a Los Angeles-based clothing brand, views its TikTok through the eyes of Morgan Young, co-founder and a ‘thought leader in sustainable fashion. Young has a deeper connection to the garments she creates, as well as behind-the scenes footage and garment design process.
A thought leader can offer a new perspective on the sustainability aspects of a brand’s business. This third-party source can be trusted by consumers, and also provides product-oriented inspiration.
Fashion is not the only area in need of a sustainable revival. Through a partnership with Max La Manna, a zero-waste chef Max La Manna, Pangaia introduced food sovereignty to its audience. Pangaia shifted from its product-oriented approach and partnered with Max La Manna, a chef from another industry. This partnership gave Pangaia a new direction and allowed it to share its knowledge.
TikTok and Beyond
Huggard stated that TikTok allows people to trust the content and is more accessible to sustainability. “People find it difficult to relate to the Instagram aesthetics of sustainability because the lifestyle depicted is often not something they can identify with.”
The rise of live streaming platforms like Twitch that foster niche communities has also contributed to trust. These platforms, which are more popular among younger consumers, offer continuous visual content sources that can be personalized by streamers that they have come to trust and know.
Huggard concluded, “The idea for a social platform where people interact with one another – I don’t see that going away,” she adds.