This is a summary of an article that was published on the Eco-Hub blog and reproduced with permission. You can view the full article here.

Smiling women in traditional clothes, it’s kind of becoming a thing for ethical brands and how they market their goods, but there is much more to the story.

Damn, I forgot to like those comments on my Fair Trade blog… (Image from Loren Joseph on Unsplash)

That smile…

Every time I discover new sustainable fashion brand there is a photo of a smiling woman in traditional clothes. Don’t get me wrong, this ubiquitous photo is lovely and heartfelt. But I’ve come to realize that it’s more than just a pretty photo or a nice story. It’s code for this product does good, or we’re very ethical, and often for our clothes are more expensive.

In the sustainable fashion world, the smiling woman in traditional clothes tells us that paying a premium for this dress, shirt, a skirt is making a difference in the world. Which begs the question: how much difference does it make when I buy from the brand she represents and where is the evidence of my impact?

I’m all for buying to make a difference. In fact, I started my company Green Story with the wild dream of empowering 1 billion consumers to buy products that makes a difference (we’re at a million as of our last count).

I think the conscious consumption movement has to stop pretending that a picture of a smiling woman is evidence of impact. Because it isn’t. And if we really want to make a change we must start calculating the numbers, tracking our impact and measuring our improvement. We, as consumers, have to ask how much social and environmental impact am I having? What specific change am I making when I buy?

And sustainable brands, from fashion to food to hemp shower curtain manufacturers, need to share their impact data. Why? The research we’ve done at Green Story shows that conscious consumers love knowing their impact in real and comparative terms. They love it so much that including impact calculators next to product descriptions online can double sales triple conversion. And we have to data to prove it!

Why does it work?

It bridges the say-do gap.

When sustainable or ethical items cost more, sometimes a lot more, us consumers are being invited into a simple equation: pay a premium + make a difference = feel good. Conscious consumers definitely want to feel good about their purchases but making the leap to a more expensive product can be tough. That space between wanting to make a difference and actually buying is called the say-do gap and it’s the biggest challenge facing sustainable brands today.

And the key to overcoming that gap is showing consumers the data. Putting that “make a difference” feeling into clear, concrete numbers gives the consumer a direct look at exactly where and by how much they are making the world a better place.

Given the amount of green washing that’s in the industry (from fake “vegan” bags to “recycled but not recycled” clothing), we no longer have the luxury of assuming that good things are happening when we make a purchase. We need to know exactly how and where that impact is happening so we can get strategic and targeted with our efforts. The ones that are truly sustainable brands are poised to be the leaders in data-driven conscious consumption.

By pretending that a photo of a smiling happy woman in traditional dress is evidence, we’re enabling companies to get away with doing less and diluting the impact of everyone dedicated to the conscious consumption movement.

Of course, pretty pictures and authentic images are still important. Knowing the face of the people we are supporting helps us feel connected. But it’s time to up our game. It’s time to get the data. It’s time for brands to show us the numbers.