How Oxfam made sustainable fashion mainstream news

Chloe Choppen
Chloe Choppen 31st October 2019

Stella Tennant and her youngest daughter Iris, styled by Bay Garnett, photographed by Tom Craig for Oxfam's Second Hand September. “I love Oxfam because it does two things at once: It gives clothes a new life and it helps the poorest people in the world.” says Tennant.

Oxfam’s Second Hand September was one of its most successful campaigns, tapping into a public appetite, particularly amongst shoppers, to reduce their carbon footprint. What made the campaign so successful?
We asked Cordelia Kretzschmar, Head of Public Relations and Emma Fabian, Senior PR Press Officer at Oxfam GB to give us a behind the scenes look at the campaign.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for the campaign?

Cordelia: As the rest of the world has become more and more interested in the sustainable fashion story, we’ve found that it offers a rare opportunity for us to join up a number of things that Oxfam stands for. It really goes straight to the heart of what we do. Because if you buy second hand clothing from Oxfam all of the profits go towards the planet and the world’s poorest people. So it’s a double whammy for us. It felt like a really authentic and joined up campaign.

Emma: The actual idea was thought up by an individual in Oxfam, and then that was accepted by the organisation as the campaign that we would be running in the Summer.

C: We wanted to reach consumers and speak to them about something simple they can do so that they feel empowered about being able to do something about climate change. It also gave us an opportunity to talk about the wider issues around climate change. Because it often feels like such a huge problem, people get a bit paralysed about it. So we took that as a starting point and went from there.


Q: How did you plan your media campaign for maximum impact?

C: We knew that our job over the Summer was to get as much coverage as possible so that lots of people signed up to take the pledge. It was a crucial time period, so it was a bit of a no brainer to use our long-standing relationship with Glastonbury to launch the campaign. We were fortunate to get the headline acts of the festival to donate their stage outfits to us. So we had a team of people running around the backstage dressing rooms, and full support of the festival to make that happen. And the bands were amazing! We ended up with some incredible items, including Kylie Minogue’s sun visor! That story just got absolutely phenomenal coverage. It went around the world. So because of that celebrity buy in we launched the campaign really nicely at Glastonbury. It was part of a sequence of stories we mapped out to take us right from June through to the very beginning of September.

E: We commissioned a survey and conducted research showing that people got a lot of satisfaction from buying second hand. That generated a news story. Then later in the Summer we had a celebrity fashion shoot with Stella Tennant and her daughter, where they were wearing Oxfam clothes. We did a lot of work pitching that into the media, getting some definite features placed with the FT, Grazia and The Guardian before we did the shoot. Then afterwards, there was amazing coverage of that shoot. I suppose what both those things echo is that we’re using relationships that we’ve made over a long period of time; with Glastonbury and the relationships we’ve made in the fashion world. Which meant we had these influential voices speaking on Oxfam’s behalf.

C: The beauty of all of these stories was that it was an extremely cost effective campaign. For example the Glastonbury media story, which went global, was negligible in cost because it was just an email to the agents of the acts who were donating the clothing. This is always something we strive very hard to achieve.


Q: Did you face any difficulties getting the media interested in your campaign?

C: We were aware that the news agenda would be pretty busy during September. The MPs came back and it all started to kick off politically. We were unsure about how that would work for us. But I actually think a lot of outlets were looking for something a little more uplifting that wasn’t Westminster-based. You just have to be agile and adapt to what’s happening in the outside world as well as what’s happening internally.

E: When you’re talking about editorial and pitching to the media, there are never any guarantees. You just have to believe that what you’re doing is good. And that it’s news worthy. But you never know, because it’s not an exact science.


Q: How did you continue to build and sustain the interest around the campaign?

E: We are a very busy, very small team, so we jumped on every opportunity that we saw. We just kept pushing. Obviously there needs to be interest for you to be able to keep pushing, but we created momentum by being very proactive.

What we’re especially proud of is the way that it’s been adopted by people who also feel like they own the issue. There’s been loads and loads of mentions of #SecondHandSeptember in all sorts of media without necessarily attributing to Oxfam, because people have just made it their own. It’s become a thing!

And it’s done really well on social media as well. Particularly on Instagram, where we’ve had record levels of engagement. We’ve approached it very strategically, and the momentum we created throughout the Summer allowed our stories build. 

C: It’s a snowball effect. Once you launch something successfully into the media, it gets a life of its own. And that’s what’s happened here.


Q: When you started the campaign, did you have a specific target audience in mind?

C: I think it’s fair to say that we know the profile of the kinds of people who engage with the issue of sustainable fashion, and we know the profiles of the people who care about climate change because we’re very insight led here. It’s the smart way to do media work. But we are also always very aware that we’re talking to the whole of the UK through journalists and that in order to grow a movement we need to be speaking to everybody. So we wanted to make this very accessible to everyone.


Q: How have you measured the impact of the campaign?

C: We’ve got some fairly early stats on the number of people who took part, which was 62,000. We’ve also done some number crunching internally, and we can say that shoppers slashed the UK’s carbon footprint by 1500 tonnes in September – the equivalent of driving around the world 200 times!

E: We also do our evaluation of the campaign e.g. how many times the hashtag was used, how many times things were shared etc. Those numbers are very good. 37,000 people shared the hashtag. And from a comms perspective it has allowed us to make lots of new relationships, so that sets us up for the work we will continue to do beyond September.


Q: You’ve obviously had great reach and impact with this campaign, how did it compare to your original goals and targets?

C: It’s smashed them! And it’s not all down to our team. This was a massive cross organisational campaign! I guess this is a great example of what happens when you get real organisational buy in. The 62,000 people who signed up, they were being recruited at festivals across the summer by our teams on the ground. We’ve also got a social media team who were pushing out our messaging and repackaging our media and looking for content for our social channels. And we had a whole strategy around reaching out to digital influencers. Across the board, all the teams that worked across this have contributed to genuinely smashing the targets.

Find out more about the Second Hand September Campaign


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