Since its launch, Reformation has faced a persistent push-and-pull dilemma in its marketing strategy: How frequently, and in what ways, should customers be reminded that the fashion brand practices sustainability? What should come first: the product or the message?

“We always try to weave [our sustainability practices] into everything we do,” said Yael Aflalo, Reformation’s founder and CEO. “But there are certain moments where it’s not relevant, like an announcement that a dress is back in stock. Is that an opportunity to talk about sustainability? Not really. But we like to include it wherever it does make sense, and we’re always thinking up new ways to do that. Hammering in how our production saves water gets repetitive.”

Reformation’s most important channel for balancing sustainability and product messaging is email marketing. While Aflalo said the majority of the brand’s traffic is organic, email is “by far” the biggest targeted channel. The brand dabbles in paid targeting on Facebook and Instagram (Reformation’s tagline, “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2,” accompanies most of the social ads), but that accounts for below 10 percent of revenue, according to Aflalo. The brand doesn’t break out specific numbers around email’s contribution to traffic and conversions.

Reformation formulates its email strategy by balancing brand-driven, mission-driven and commercial-driven messaging, said Aflalo, with commercial accounting for the emails dedicated to specific product news, like launches and restocks. It takes data into consideration, to an extent, but maintaining a healthy mix in messaging is more gut-driven, she said, since relying on data alone would lead to every email promoting product. To align mission into its marketing messages, Reformation’s sustainability team works alongside the marketing team to figure out when it makes sense to collaborate.

“At some point, we realized we could take the sustainability work we were doing internally, like quarterly reports, and drive momentum for the brand outward by publishing them,” said Aflalo. “Now, we ask: Is the information compelling? Is there something fun or impactful to talk about? We analyze that to see if there’s going to be something consumers will care to hear about.” She added that social issues relating to labor are important to customers, but that overall, people care more about sustainability in a holistic way, rather than specifics, like water toxicity.

The emails regarding Reformation’s sustainability strategy, however, are not responsible for the heavy lifting, and emails regarding new product drops and specific trends are the highest performers when it comes to driving conversions and traffic. Still, Reformation sends its quarterly sustainability reports to email subscribers, as well as explainers around the production practices for every new fabric the brand launches, like French linen, Tencel and denim. In these emails, product promotion takes a back seat.

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 11.15.38 AM

A recent Reformation email, explaining Tencel and how it’s produced and manufactured sustainably.

“There’s a percentage of our community that has an appetite for that, and so we want to speak to them directly,” said Aflalo. “We’re aware most people aren’t reading a sustainability report from start to finish, but we’re also aware that even just a subject line can have a halo effect. People look to us as leaders in the mission-based brand space.”

By including sustainability reports in its email strategy alongside messages about gingham being the pattern for summer, Reformation is taking a casual, no-big-deal approach to fashion sustainability, something seemingly insurmountable in other pockets of the industry. Breaking down its energy output, regular waste and supply chain dynamics with customers is also a transparency play: Being 100 percent sustainable, in fashion, is impossible. Showing customers that you’re trying harder than other brands is smart strategy.

“The supply chain is more complicated than customers care to know, even if they don’t know that’s the case,” said Christina Hajagos-Clausen, textile and garment director of global union IndustriALL, which has contracted agreements with companies like H&M and Zara. “But customers appreciate transparency. If you lay out all the information, it shows you have nothing to hide. It goes beyond marketing — transparency protects workers’ rights, which often has a more emotional pull than water pollution.”