With more and more consumers making decisions based on principles as well as product or service features; athleisure brands and wellness tourism operators are following hot on the heels of organic beauty brands to harness the benefits of eco-alignment. But what does this preferential move toward sustainability and ethical consumerism mean for wellness brands at large?
Research published by Unilever in January 2017 revealed that one-third of consumers around the world are now choosing brands based on their social and ethical impact. And, with desire from wellness aficionados for sustainable beauty, fitness and travel rising, it’s a trend that’s worth paying close attention to.
The success of established organic beauty players like Neal’s Yard and Tata Harper highlight the growth in consumer demand. Both brands have risen to prominence on the wave of interest surrounding the positive impact of a skincare regime free of synthetics — with benefits to the environment a natural consequence of the lack of chemicals used in production.
Taking their lead, when the founders of young, yoga-inspired brand Mauli, stocked in Liberty London and used in Bulgari spas, launched their company in 2014 they did so with an overt social mission, as well as one of environmental sustainability. And, when Gwyneth Paltrow announced the collaboration between her Goop lifestyle brand and Juice Beauty last year, eco-credentials were also a key part of the explanation.
“I jumped at the chance to build on their remarkable track record for safety and environmental protection,” Paltrow explained in a statement.
Ethical consumerism also played a big part in the recent launch of Credo, a San Francisco-based store dedicated to clean beauty. NYC and Los Angeles outposts soon followed, with the firm’s VP of merchandising telling the Hollywood Reporter that consumers “want to use a product that’s effective for making skin look great but good for overall health, sustainability and a cleaner environment.”
And in the case of eco-athleisure, West Coast brands are also trailblazing. Cult Los Angeles label Live the Process has been manufacturing breathable, moisture-wicking garments designed to be washed in cold water since 2013, while Seattle-based Girlfriend Collective gave away pairs of leggings made from recycled water bottles open launching to draw attention to a wider range of products being released in 2017.
Co-founder Ellie Dinh was inspired to start the label after growing frustrated that sportswear manufacturing “was always shrouded in mystery.” She calculates that the company’s initial activities saved 6 million water bottles from landfill. And the biggest hurdle she has had to overcome in the nascent eco-athleisure market has been dealing with the volume of demand.
“We’ve had to learn how to communicate with our customers about setting expectations during this pre-order,” explains Dinh. “We experienced a few delays as our factory got used to our product and scaled up production, and dealing with how to be transparent and clear to people, while also working hard to fulfill orders and work with our amazing factory, was an important lesson.”
Logistics have also posed a challenge to British entrepreneur Lilly Richardson, founder of high-performance sportswear brand League Collective, a bootstrapped startup which recently raised £10,000 seed funding on Indiegogo. Her solution to the growing demand for sustainable workout clothing is to create long-lasting sportswear that consumers have an emotional connection to.
“By creating a longer lifespan for your clothes there is a chance to create sentimental value,” she explains. “Like a ring or necklace we never take off because it means something, clothes – when worn for long enough – can remind you of that race you won or a place you travelled to.”
But manufacturing and shipping sustainably is also an important part of her mission and finding facilities capable of the technical stitching that athleisure garments need has been a struggle. “Most countries that specialise in sportswear are further afield. There are fewer manufacturers in Europe with high-tech machinery,” she explains.
However, operations could be set to get easier in the future as market-leading brands like Adidas embrace eco-wellness – and factories inevitably follow suit. Over the past year, the sportswear giant has unveiled plans for a European production facility in Germany and has further boosted its environmental credentials with the launch of the UltraBOOST Uncaged Parley, a running shoe made out of plastic found in coastal clean-up operations in the Maldives. In February of this year, a recycled ocean plastic line was also added to the brand’s swim range.
“Our ultimate ambition is to eliminate virgin plastic from our supply chain,” board member Eric Liedtke said in a statement announcing the launch of the trainers. However, according to the brand’s Design Director Roger Hahn, the biggest challenge for established brands with the capital to invest in production, is “to convince people that this material evolution won’t affect our athlete’s performance, because it doesn’t, it makes swimsuits that are as cutting-edge as their polyester counterparts.”
As well as a plentiful supply of recyclable material, the Maldives is leading the way as an eco-friendly destination that combines luxury wellness with sustainability to reach tourists who might not otherwise engage with environmental concerns. In addition to yoga, meditation and luxury spa treatments, the Four Seasons resort at Kuda Huraa offers a Caring Conservation experience where guests can help look after baby turtle hatchlings or transplant coral frames as part of reef regeneration. For Asia Pacific Spa Director Luisa Anderson, such activities are an integral part of the hotel’s brand of luxury wellness.
“In yoga we teach about living a life of integrity, following yogic principles,” she explains. “The same ethos runs throughout the Kuda Huraa concept, where both word and deed are aligned when it comes to the ocean.
“It’s one thing for a resort to be promoting and running a spa that draws from the purest organic marine elements, or activities that rely on a pristine marine environment, but if that same resort isn’t taking solid steps to preserve that environment then it isn’t operating as honestly or as ethically as it can.” With TripAdvisor statistics showing that eco-friendly properties can garner approval ratings 20 percent higher from customers, it’s clear that this is increasingly something consumers are taking notice of.
Environmentally conscious wellness tourism is also on the up in the UK, with a new glamping resort in Shropshire due to open in April featuring a natural pool by Swiss innovators Biotop. Off-grid retreats like Restival are also tapping into consumer demand for digital detoxes at the same time as reducing their carbon footprints.
Following two overseas events in Morocco and Arizona, Caroline Jones is planning the brand’s first UK event in May this year. The Founder sees sustainable use of resources as an important aspect of mindfulness.
“Last September, our camp in the Painted Desert was completely solar powered, and the water we used came from a local well,” she explains. Using a jug of water rather than a tap to wash their hands made people much more aware of how much they were using, and really allowed us to bring things we take for granted into our consciousness.”
With tickets to this year’s Arizona Restival starting at £1,500, and a plethora of extras including spa treatments and mask-making available on top of this, the event targets high-end travellers looking to escape from the stresses of high-powered connectedness. With limited places available – only 80 people attended the first year of the gathering – not only does this add an air of exclusivity but the opportunity for guests to form a “family”, which Jones cites as the most important aspect of the business.
Sustainability presents more of a challenge for gyms and studios, where air conditioning and amenities like unlimited towels are at odds with environmentally-friendly wellness, but US brands are leading the way. Upmarket health club chain Equinox has had eco-friendly towels for the past decade, while Sacramento Eco Fitness launched in December 2016 as the first human-powered fitness facility in California.
Elsewhere, innovative equipment provider Technogym, which carries a product range including the Skillmill, a non-motorised treadmill, emphasises the performance benefits rather than the sustainability of many of its products. “The environmental component is an additional benefit to facilities, but the core marketing message has been around exercise benefits, versatility and assisting members’ goals,” explains Marketing Manager Craig Swyer, while adding that sustainability is one of the key pillars of the ARTIS range launched in 2013.
The scrutiny which wellness brands open themselves up to when they start to boast about their eco-credentials may explain some established companies’ reticence to embrace it. The Body Shop has suffered sluggish growth over the last decade, facing criticism over animal testing of its products in China as well as ownership by L’Oreal.
And some labels in the sportswear space are still struggling to achieve minimum ethical standards. Beyonce’s Ivy Park activewear label came under fire just days after it launched last year due to its manufacturers’ working conditions.
But with Nielsen research showing two-thirds of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products, and with wellness decisions already more values-driven than most, brands that rise to the challenge successfully are likely to see it pay off. Quickly acquiring an 8-week waiting list and earning Dinh a place in the Forbes 2017 30 Under 30 list, Girlfriend Collective is just one example of how big that pay off could be.