How Reformation Makes Copywriting for Sustainability Sexy

Can copywriting for sustainability be fun, sexy, and educational at the same time? Learn how cult-favorite fashion brand, Reformation, ticks all these boxes with a winning combination of looks and brains.

Reformation exemplifies copywriting for sustainability.

In an age of rising tides and diminishing resources, sustainability is the word on everyone’s lips—and brands need to embrace it if they want to survive. That goes for their messaging as much as for their products. Plenty of brands have begun to embrace sustainability in their methods, but they continue to rely on the same messaging, and audiences don’t notice or care about the changes they’ve put in place. That’s where copywriting for sustainability plays a role.

LA-based sustainable fashion label, Reformation, shows a winning formula for copywriting for sustainability that evangelizes without moralizing. Reformation has achieved a rare feat: getting people excited over great copywriting. Since taking off in the early 2010s, the brand has developed a cult following thanks as much to its covetable dresses as to a brand voice that perfectly encapsulates the slightly-detached, self-deprecating, and socially-conscious millennial psyche. 

Reformation’s trademark cool girl tone is as heavily concerned with sustainability and carbon footprints as it is tongue-in-cheek about everything else. The brand’s approach to copywriting for sustainability educates its audience on topics like water waste, recycling, and sustainability while indulging them with pop culture references and shade thrown at everything from boring jobs to climate denialists. 

As founder Yale Aflalo told the New York Times, Reformation (a.k.a. Ref) is “altruism and narcissism combined.” Below we break down how copywriting for sustainability can benefit from bringing together—as Reformation does—soul and self-indulgence. 

Be sexy, sustainable, and self-aware

Reformation’s web copy doesn’t lead as much with environmental consciousness as it does with deadpan humor. The green stuff is strategically sprinkled throughout the copy and only reaches centerpiece status in the website’s “Sustainability” section. Here’s how they hook visitors in with fun and good looks to subtly nudge them into more earth-friendly ways. 

  • Embrace your flaws. Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2. Reformation’s slogan embraces an uncomfortable truth: the road to a greener and more sustainable future is paved with imperfect action. By positioning its brand as a flawed and forgiving solution, Reformation does two things avoids the preachy and idealistic greenwashed language trap that brands in that space so often fall to and makes a lofty and distant goal attainable. Reformation’s customers may not yet be ready to swear off buying trendy new clothes—but buying clothes that are slightly better for the planet and look great on selfies to boot? Sure thing.
  • Go beyond the green. Sustainable clothes that may cause compliments. Going green feels good. Science says so. But the feel-good vibes of choosing a sustainable piece over its fast-fashion counterpart aren’t enough to coax most people into spending $250 for a casual linen dress. Plus, while consumers don’t like it when brands virtue-signal, it’s true that many of them go green to be seen. Reformation knows this. While the brand’s primary value proposition centers around sustainability, it wastes no opportunity to remind its audience of its secondary mission: making you look like a floral-printed silk-wrapped snack.
  • Lean into the zeitgeist. Not Complicated. Unlike your situationship. Beyond hyper-aspirational clothes, a big part of Reformation’s enduring popularity is the brand’s skill at weaving pop-culture references into its copy. By leaning into one of the most contentious woes of modern dating life—something that its target audience of young, urban, and upwardly-mobile women is very familiar with—Reformation plays up to its cool best friend persona and pulls at the no-strings-attached heartstrings of its millennial customer base.

Layer substance with memes 

Reformation’s audience is layered. But not carefully so. It cares about the amount of water that goes into making jeans but it’s also heavily invested in turning heads wherever it goes. It wants detailed sustainability reports that it will probably never read through, alternated with viral memes and Y2K references galore. Here’s how Ref applies its copywriting for sustainability formula to indulge and educate its social media audience:

  • Embrace your flaws. 90% recycled cashmere. Because we’re not perfect, despite what our moms may tell us. The most sustainable cashmere out there is secondhand. Reformation’s is probably a distant second place. And they’re okay with that. The brand’s overarching flawlessly-flawed ethos helps keep its message grounded and earns it props for effort instead of flak for inadequate action.
  • Go beyond the green. Sustainable looks hot on you. What’s the point of it all if you don’t look hot?, asks Reformation as a parade of stoically joyful models frolic around in picture-perfect summer dresses. Apparel makers must offer their consumers value in the shape of looks, performance, or quality. In Reformation’s case, there’s no question that it’s all about looks.  
  • Lean into the zeitgeist. Look hot while walking away from dates who don’t think climate change is real. Reformation makes a pretty penny from selling to the hordes of single women who squeeze into their slinky, low-emission dresses for hot Tinder dates. And for a sizable chunk of them, there are few things worse than learning that their date is a climate change denialist.

A world-class university got support for its environmental health website

One of the most famous universities on earth, Stanford University was gearing up to start groundbreaking work on campus. But without a robust environmental health and safety website, progress was slow. Unfortunately, its existing copy was clunky, confusing, and hard to navigate. Not for long. After tapping MarketSmiths, we worked closely with both the university and a hired communications agency to put it right, revising hundreds of pages, from Working Safely with Rabbits to the Laser Safety Manual. After relaunching the website, Stanford was ready to start its expansion—and had a website to match its prestige. 

> Read the full case study here

Take a bold approach to copywriting for sustainability

How is Ref able to get away with all this snark? Consumers are hungry for humor and brands are failing to deliver. True, humor is risky. There’s no way to know where the pendulum will swing in the age of social media firestorms. But, although Reformation is no stranger to controversy, it looks like the self-deprecation, emissions reports, and pop culture literacy has paid off.

Brands seeking to channel a similar approach must keep in mind that a brand voice this unique doesn’t happen overnight. It must align with your mission and values. And it requires time, consistency, and a long-term commitment—unlike your situationship. 

At MarketSmiths, we’ve worked with some of the largest brands and companies in the world. Many of these companies have begun to take steps towards embracing sustainability—and we’re right there with them, helping them to refine their messaging and connect with audiences increasingly concerned for the health of the planet. It’s more than just words: it’s a human connection that brings customers along on a mission to succeed.

Working on a mission-driven brand? The team at MarketSmiths can help you shape your story. Contact us to learn how we can help you create copywriting for sustainable materials that channels your unique voice.

Carol Guasp

Carol Guasp

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