This article is part of a series called GRC Project Spotlights, where GRC project team members illustrate their experience on a GRC project, the skills they leveraged from their experience, and the lessons they hope to take forward.
The rise of social media, Gen-Z and influencers alike has resulted in a newfound emphasis being placed on sustainable practices at both the commercial and consumer levels. Arc Thrift Stores, a Colorado-based chain, approached GRC to alter its brand image to embody more ‘green’ practices and appeal to a younger demographic. Arc prides itself on its social responsibility to the mentally disabled community, both through their involvement in Arc’s workforce and Arc’s contribution to other organizations that support their community. In the context of Arc Thrift Stores, sustainability can be defined as a systems-level movement: the process of fostering change within fashion and the ecosystem in which it exists, working towards greater ecological integrity and social justice. In order to successfully embody sustainable practices in a company’s supply chain, it is pivotal to address its interdependent social, cultural, ecological and financial aspects and account for stakeholders affected by externalities that arise as a result of altering production and distribution mechanisms.
As we contemplated the need for Arc –– a thrift store concept that is environmentally friendly by its very nature –– to stray from its existing brand image into a realm that is saturated by existing, generic thrift shops, we realized that this project was less of a marketing effort than we thought. The importance of intentionality in implementing sustainable practices within a business model became apparent early on in the process. Avoiding performative activism quickly became a priority and our approach turned into a holistic examination of each level of the supply chain. Instead of placing “environment” and “green” as additional tag-lines, we placed them at the forefront of Arc’s position in the thrift store space. Internalizing the ‘green’ marketing message we were told to alter allowed us to work from the inside-out and boast authenticity. Additionally, Arc’s ongoing work with disability communities would be immediately relevant in establishing Arc’s credibility as a mission-driven firm; so, leveraging this would only solidify our additional practices.
We then faced the issue of analyzing the compatibility (or lack thereof) between marketing, a generally external and often performative affair, and sustainability, an internal and genuine concept which happens to be a tool by which to assist the former. Traditional marketing encourages growth, promotes an endless quest for satisfying needs and wants, and presents resources as ever abundant. In contrast, sustainability acknowledges the fact that resource capacity is limited. This contradiction posed an additional impediment; however, we soon realized that the nature of our younger, more ‘woke’ and more informed target segment would prove beneficial. The embodiment of sustainability in Arc’s brand itself would abolish the fast-fashion centric nature of marketing, allowing us to create a genuine brand that could be analyzed and examined against a criteria and tick all the boxes simultaneously.
After identifying the clear distinction between the external and internal elements of the project, our approach became much clearer. We distilled our research into a few focus types, which we defined as channels through which to execute the holistic goal of green branding. These are as follows:
- Strategic Partnerships + Investments
This focus type revolves around the idea of working with existing companies and causes that explicitly support environmental practices. Examples include Green Story, a platform that uses algorithms and data to calculate and publish companies’ environmental footprints, providing customers with the reassurance that they are supporting a brand that supports their own values. Research about new-age consumer preferences and priorities in their brand preferences places a strong emphasis on authenticity and transparency. Another potential partnership includes one with a company like One Tree Planted, by allocating a percentage of Arc’s profits to the cause that works to defend the planet.
2. Supply Chain
Since thrift stores don’t have direct control over the sourcing of their products, their quality and quantities, we identified two of the main issues within this focus type: an oversupply of product and how to approach lower quality products. We suggested reallocating the oversupply of clothing to other online thrift stores and establishing a pipeline with a large online thrift store such as ThredUp. In the case of lower quality clothing, a partnership with a refurbishing company could provide longevity to the clothing as well as increase the value of the piece.
3. Redefining the Mission Statement
A company’s mission statement embodies its intended brand image, so we recognized that this would have to be altered from its sole focus on supporting marginalized communities. After analyzing how other ‘green’ brands executed this effectively, we concluded that Arc should present itself as the crossroads between various stakeholder groups within the community. These include those who donate items, those who purchase items and those who work at Arc. Thrift shopping is a lifestyle – it is active peacemaking – and Arc’s existing mission that revolves around social impact work outside of the green sphere just goes the extra mile. Thrifting supports the environment, volunteerism in the community, charity at home and abroad, and creates a level shopping ground for people of all incomes.
4. New Age Marketing
The last focus type addressed our initial goal with this project: the marketing angle that needed to be revamped. We provided Arc with examples of other thrift stores that support a multitude of causes in the realm of social impact, and offered marketing tools that would help them build a new aesthetic to appeal to a younger audience. We suggested renewing and rejuvenating Arc’s website to become more minimalistic, with more statement pictures and a clear color scheme. Expanding their online presence into younger platforms like Instagram, revamping their website and straying from outdated YouTube ads would also prove effective. We also suggested an influencer ambassador program, through which Arc could leverage the online platforms of influencers who echo the importance of thrifting and supporting green brands.
I believe my biggest takeaway from this project was the importance of understanding the inherent and deeper rooted goal of any business problem. Arc approached GRC in an attempt to change its branding and green marketing efforts to reflect sustainability; however, by acknowledging that this could not be achieved simply via performative activism on social platforms, the team was able to identify more authentic methods of incorporating green efforts into Arc’s business model. The authenticity of supply chain efforts is key in this increasingly public and scrutinized world, where disingenuous corporate social responsibility is frowned upon and genuine efforts rewarded.