Ethical Marketers: Are they just pulling the wool over your eyes? (Guest Blog)
Prior to my internship at Nature Shop, I had never (knowingly) owned any natural fibre clothing. When researching the company before my interview, a similar tune was sung throughout a lot of the product descriptions.
Breathable. Odour-resistant. Quick Drying. Non-itchy. Temperature regulating (keeps you warm during cool weather, and vice-versa).
Naturally I was sceptical. In the 28 years I have spent on the back of this space-floating turtle, I have developed a healthy shell of cynicism when it comes to commerce. An extra layer has been added after each term of my marketing degree. We are not being taught how best to reach an audience that would benefit from a specific service or produce; we are given the tools for manipulation.
I digress. But I thought it would be beneficial if you, as a consumer, understand my position before I start talking about products that my employer would like to sell. I believe in honesty and trust, especially (albeit naively) in marketing.
As an ex gym bunny, a novice Sussex Downs rambler, an active drummer and seasoned traveller, I know my clothing life-cycles. I can clairvoyantly determine which activities will affect each article of clothing, in what way, and across what timescale.
For example; When I wear a £10 H&M t-shirt to play a 90-minute concert under spotlights, it will be relegated to my “cannot be worn in confined spaces” collection. The scientific reason for this is that pong molecules are created and transferred from drummers to clothing.
How about a £50ish hoody on a 13-hour overnight train from Bangkok to Udon Thani? I enjoyed a nice sweat rash when I woke up on the top bunk of the worlds slowest locomotive.
These experiences came to mind when first browsing the online store. The thought of not having to mentally evaluate clothing on a where-to-wear basis was a deliciously romantic one, but my cynical shell would need a big proof-hammer to crack it.
The Products (Pre-Purchase)
With an upcoming trip to Bulgaria, a pact to get fit again, and a couple of gigs on either side, I decided to buy myself an assortment of items to put to the test. Here is what I went for:
- Icebreaker Men’s Merino Oasis Leggings W/FLY – Cargo / Large
- Brubeck Men's Seamless Cotton Tank Top - Black / Medium
- Brubeck Men's Seamless Active Wool Short Sleeve Top - Black / Medium
- Brubeck Men's Seamless Active Wool Boxer Shorts - Black / Medium
- Snugs Unisex Snowdon Sheepskin Slippers - Chestnut / UK11
- EGOS Mens Felted Wool Slippers - Blue / UK10 (EU44)
These products were selected from a few personal prerequisites that needed satisfying; cost, usefulness, and style (respectively).
Cost was my highest priority, due to having a strained income as a student. Usefulness is my definition for which activities and situations it can be used for. Style, apart from looking good, is an extension of usefulness, because that expands wear-ability outside of its defined purpose (outdoor and travel activewear).
Eagle-eyed readers will notice that I bought two pairs of slippers. The order was placed a few days before Father’s Day, so Whitman senior was inadvertently lucky enough to be a part of the testing process.
The Products: Unwrapping (Post-Purchase)
Upon opening each of the products, there was a comforting “premium” feel about the whole experience. I am used to pulling cheap to moderately priced products from the carrier bag that is dispensed by the high street stores; but these were each lovingly folded within their recyclable cardboard containers that are covered with interesting material information and how to care for it.
The LNSquared t-shirt was within a recycled cardboard tube, which I thought was a nice touch, and keeps nicely within the ideology of sustainability that Nature Shop exudes.
I was surprised by the thin plastic packaging that contained my new Snugs slippers. I couldn’t understand why this would be used for an ethical company’s products. I asked my boss, Mel, why they came like this.
Her response was, because Snugs are made and sent from Portugal, they are in plastic packaging so that they stay clean and take up less room in transit. Even though the bags are 100% recyclable, they do not mention it on the bag. So Mel has been trying to find a low impact alternative. In the interim, she has acquired cardboard shoe boxes which we can send them in from the warehouse and are easier to recycle for the customer, while we deal with the bags.
The Products: The First Don
The Icebreaker and Brubeck clothing were chosen for their sporty and exercise traits. I had enjoyed a year off from the gym and these were going to get me back into it and through the imminent struggles. But when I held them unfurled in front of me, a panic came over me that either I had suddenly developed body dysmorphia or perhaps I am no longer a medium.
The Brubeck Seamless Active Wool Short Sleeve Top looked as though it would fit a well-fed badger, not my wide shoulders and slightly protruding beer belly. I gingerly squeezed myself into it and it felt, well (panic over), great! The material comfortably hugged my skin, showing off all my gym-deprived contours, but it was just so comfortable I couldn’t care. I am actually wearing it under my t-shirt as I write this. It is unwashed since purchase and, remarkably, I can still get up close to my colleagues without them reaching for the clothes-pegs. The bottom does ride up a bit for me, but this is because I am slightly too prosperous in the belly department for it right now. However, am use this as motivation when exercising to make it fit.
The tank-top and boxers have exactly the same quality and feel as the short sleeve. I did find the tank-top by design to be a little less “hugging” around the waist and perfect for drumming in the baking sun.
The Icebreaker Merino Oasis Leggings were my introduction to the world of base-layers. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what they were for. I just knew seriously healthy people ran in them, and this was my low-effort way of joining them. I had chosen the greenish coloured ones, just in case they failed in the usefulness department and could be doubled up as a Peter Pan Halloween costume. They will definitely be my Peter Pan costume this year. And the next. And probably the following ten. Because we are now inseparable. I have run in these, walked, been to the pub, lounged around the home and slept in them. They are still fresh as a daisy. The part that covers my calf, which I expected to stretch out from each time I pull them over my size 11 trotters, has not budged an inch.
I spent 7 days travelling around Bulgaria using planes, trains, cars and feet. The Howies and LN Squared tees were fantastic for travelling. The unbranded grey Howies shirt which I wore from Brighton to Varna didn’t change at all in appearance or smell. This may not break ground for some of you lucky dry-people, but fellow clammy clansman can easily relate to long-distance travelling and wanting to chemically remove their clothing from the face of the earth.
For travelling I wore my Howies, chose LNS for hiking and walks, and then for meals and smart occasions I would have my Brubeck tucked underneath my shirts to catch the sweat from the 30+ degree evenings. This was the first holiday in a tropical-esq climate which I’ve felt truly relaxed about my clothes.
My new Snugs slippers did not go away with me, as they belong in a home. That being said, I do walk to the shops, lounge in the garden and once came into work with them. This is not because they are my only footwear, but they are just so lovely to wear that I didn’t want to put on my angular trainers. A word of advice though; if you want to drive in them, get a pair with the heels or your control of the car will be similar to Grand Theft Auto 5.
When I first met Mel and Josie at Nature Shop, they spoke passionately about the products which they stock. After trying out some of the selection, I too can speak passionately about them, because I am converted. The items do cost a bit more than fast-fashion items, but I am prepared to save for them, as they just outperform non-natural fibre clothes in every non-monetary aspect, except style. (Style changes every five minutes in today's micro-concentration era, so although these clothes look great for their purpose, you may not get into a club with them!) This too is without considering the sustainability and ethical perks, but that is for another blog.
On my income, Brubeck was the right starting point for me. Icebreaker and Mons Royal have a much higher amount of Merino wool, but are priced about 50% higher for that extra merino content. Seeing how enamoured I am with my Brubeck range, I am eager to test the more expensive brands; but all in due course.
The descriptions given on these products aren’t just marketers building up unreachable expectations to push sales; they are true benefits, and just one of the reasons I will be buying natural fibre clothing for the foreseeable future.
If you have any questions regarding anything, please feel free to contact me via any of the Nature Shop channels.