In this episode I’m chatting with Selina Ho of Recloseted to talk about some of the biggest questions and most talked about topics in the conscious fashion space today. Recloseted is a consulting agency that specializes in helping sustainable fashion brands launch and scale and in supporting existing fashion brands to become more sustainable.
So the questions that we’re talking about today are ones that I’ve had and that I’ve seen asked or debated about in this space — so I’m sure you have asked yourself some of these questions as well.
In this episode, Selina is breaking down for us things like:
- How can small fashion brands with limited resources figure out how to integrate sustainability into their business?
- Given that no brand is going to be perfectly 100% sustainable, how do we as individuals even know if a brand is quote-unquote sustainable or just greenwashing?
- And on the other side of things, how can genuinely conscious fashion brands navigate communicating their efforts without accidentally veering into greenwashing territory?
- But also how can conscious brands stand out in an increasingly crowded market as these big brands get on the sustainability bandwagon with their massive marketing budgets?
And, since Recloseted works with existing fashion brands to help them transition to more sustainable practices, I knew I had to ask Selina about what this process is like. Because ideally, we want all fashion brands to become genuinely more sustainable. But that is a tall order.
So Selina is sharing with us:
- How Recloseted identifies when a fashion brand is truly ready to do the work to clean up their supply chain or if it’s all just smoke and mirrors;
- What the transformation process is like and what some of the biggest challenges are along the way;
- and how brands that are undergoing a transition like this communicate their progress effectively to their customers;
- Plus, how we as individuals can identify if a brand’s promises to improve are genuine or just for the PR benefits.
Tune in to this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast below, or on your favorite podcast app
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Read the Transcript From This Interview:
So for folks that don’t know me, it’s so nice to meet you. My name is Selina and I am the founder of Recloseted. And I started this business really organically, I always say that it was it just came from and deep desire to really want to right the harmful fashion industry.
So I started as a fast fashion consumer, which is something I don’t love to admit, but it’s part of my past, so I will proudly say that. And it all came to a head when I watched The True Cost, which is an amazing documentary. I don’t know if you’ve talked about it with your audience before, but I highly recommend everyone check it out. But I remember watching that documentary and being so shocked about how broken the fashion industry was.
Everything from like the harmful materials we’re using to unethical garment worker wages and the conditions they’re working in, all the way to the millions of tonnes of textiles waste were thrown into the landfills. And so I felt really compelled to do something about it. I did a lot more research. I started chatting with a lot more folks, and realized that it was such a big issue.
And that’s really where the idea of Recloseted came from. And so I personally have a business background. I’ve worked in beauty; I’ve worked in healthcare; I’ve worked in tech, so a lot of different industries. But I wanted to leverage my expertise now towards the fashion industry and really solve what’s going on.
And then I’ve over the years been really lucky to surround myself with an amazing team of all-stars that have like a sustainability background and design background. And I think now our whole team is really well-rounded to help solve the problem.
And you know, you can’t do it alone. You need an amazing community and you need an amazing team. And I’m just really blessed to be able to work with such amazing individuals every day.
Totally. Yeah. And I think that a lot of us will resonate with that journey about starting as a fast fashion consumer and then learning about the harms of the industry and then wanting to do something about it. The True Cost documentary was also a very transformative documentary for me in my journey, as well.
So can you tell us briefly about what Recloseted does today?
Yeah, so I always say we’re on a mission to right the harmful fashion industry, which sounds really big and really lofty. But we do that by working with small, medium, and large fashion brands, because I really believe that we need to include everyone in this movement.
And so what that looks like today tangibly is that we help launch and scale existing sustainable fashion brands through our Conscious Label Launcher Program and Conscious Apparel Accelerator.
And then we help bigger brands through our sustainability consulting. So we help essentially convert them from being a fast fashion brand, or just a normal fashion brand, into a more conscious brand.
So we are now doing programs and consulting. And that’s how we’re tackling this issue. And that’s what it looks like. Now, I’m always thinking about what it could look like in the future. But currently, that’s how our work works.
Yeah. And for both existing conscious fashion brands looking to start up or scale, and also for existing brands trying to become more sustainable — because you work with both sets of brands — there is so so much to consider with sustainable or conscious fashion.
And I think it can be really challenging to figure out what to prioritize, what to do first, especially for a smaller brand that has limited resources. So what advice do you have for brands struggling with that?
Yes, this is a great question and it’s a question I commonly get, because it is really such a big undertaking, right. And it can be so overwhelming to start to think about that.
And for small brands, a lot of the time they’ll have limited budgets, they’ll have limited resources, and limited time. And so the first thing I always talk about, and you mentioned it, too, is just prioritization.
So it’s really important to pick your sustainability priorities. And I always recommend to my clients to pick one to two. And that way you can really focus and do them really well. And then as you get more funding and as you get more community members and you’re getting more traction, you can then go off and try the next few things.
But if you try to do everything at once, especially if you’re a small or medium-sized business, you’re going to be really easily overwhelmed, and then honestly nothing’s going to really take off and be done very well. So pick and choose your battles, pick and choose your priorities.
And the other thing too is just because you’re picking and choosing priorities doesn’t mean that you’re not going to do anything else in the other items. Right?
So I often tell clients that if they’re choosing to deal with textile waste or not using polyester, that doesn’t mean they’re not going to pay their garment workers a living wage, right, because I think there’s a standard that conscious brands have. But it just means what you’re really going to focus on and what lens you’re really looking at things. So I would definitely recommend that.
And it’s also funny, because I recently did a podcast episode on that, too. So if folks want to dive a little bit deeper, they can check out I think it’s episode 116. And I also list out the different priorities that they can go through so they can go through that exercise if they want.
Yeah, that makes sense. And we’ll definitely make sure that’s linked in the episode description and show notes. I really enjoyed listening to your podcast, by the way, so I’ll make sure that the podcast itself is also linked in the show notes.
But with all of the considerations that go into sustainable fashion, and the reality that brands aren’t going to be able to do 100% of them, especially not right away, then I think sort of the flip side of that on the consumer side is how can we as consciously minded shoppers who want to support brands doing things better, how do we even identify if a brand is truly sustainable, or is maybe just greenwashing given that we’re not going to maybe find a perfect sustainable brand?
Yeah, great question. So the first thing off the bat, I like to say is, there’s no such thing as perfect sustainability, like no brand out there is going to be 100% sustainable, that just does not exist.
For that to actually exist, in theory, the business would probably go out of business and just not exist. So I think that concept needs to be reworked into more of a balancing act. So it’s almost, I find that consumers can also pick and choose their values and their priorities. So what are the one to two things that are really important for them.
So for example, for me, personally, I just really don’t like polyester. So I really tried to look for brands that are doing innovative things in the space and are using natural materials. And so that’s what resonates for me personally. And I encourage your listeners to do something similar too because, like I mentioned, brands can’t do everything, and they likely just aren’t able to do that.
So if you can find a brand, where they’re doing things that really resonate with your values, and that you can support them so they can do more of that. I think that’s a good way to approach it.
Yeah, absolutely. And in terms of marketing as a sustainable minded business, there’s always this question of greenwashing. Right? Which I sort of mentioned before, but I feel like it’s such a challenging topic. And sometimes it’s presented as this black or white issue.
But I think in many cases, it also can be a gray area. You know, there are areas that are very clearly greenwashing. But in other cases, people might just have different interpretations of the marketing, wording, or it might depend on that person’s values. As you mentioned, people might have different priorities, and they might have different ideas of what they consider to be sustainable.
And also, there are just so many different types of greenwashing, and levels and layers. So this is a big question. But how do you think that genuinely conscious and sustainable brands can navigate marketing their values without getting into greenwashing territory?
Yeah, this is such a great question and it’s something that our clients really think through and they’re really, really thoughtful about, as you can likely imagine. A lot of our sustainability clients come to us and one of their top concerns, actually, is that they don’t want to come across as greenwashing.
They want their audience to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. And they want to be able to clearly communicate their efforts to their consumers. So this is such a good question. And it is a very big topic.
But I do have two general tips that we generally work through with our clients.
So the first tip is just transparency and communication. I think involving your community and your customers goes a long way. And like I mentioned, no one’s 100% sustainable and I don’t think truly conscious consumers that are educated expect brands to be 100% perfect, either. So there’s that level of understanding. And I think a lot of brand owners often are scared to post anything or say anything because they’re almost damned if they do, damned if they don’t and so how do you deal with that?
And so what we do is the transparency piece, so we come in we really encourage our clients to communicate their strategy and the roadmap that we develop with them. And we encourage them to share it with their customers, so they know why they’re supporting this brand. What’s coming up next? What are they prioritizing? Why they’re choosing, for example, certain materials or why they’re working with certain factories, or you know why they’re just making the decisions they are so that there’s that level of understanding.
And then I also find that the roadmap is important to communicate too because maybe, let’s say I care about polyester and the brand is still using polyester. But they’re saying that next year, they’re hoping to change to recycled polyester, or they’re trying to change their natural materials, for example.
So as a consumer, if I know that, then I can keep an eye on it and support them and continue to cheer them on. So I feel like that’s a really, really important piece just to be transparent with your customers, involve them in your journey and then that way, too, they’re bought in and they want to support you.
And then the other thing is metrics and reporting. So the thing I like to say is that numbers don’t lie. And you can’t greenwash your way out of numbers. So really fast fashion brands, or regular brands, they can say they’re sustainable, or they’re conscious until they’re blue in the face.
But if you have metrics about how much water you’re saving, or how many carbon emissions you’re saving, like if you have that tactical data, and you can clearly communicate that and show it, I think that’s so powerful, and that can really stand on its own as well.
And also wage transparency like, you know, Nisolo and ABLE’s campaign, the Lowest Wage Campaign where they committed to publishing the lowest wages in their supply chain. And I think that’s what a lot of advocacy organizations talk about, like you can say, you pay fair, you’re working towards supporting your garment makers. But the best way to sort of prove that is publishing your wages, the actual numbers, and also comparing that to what the living wage is in that particular area. So that’s definitely something to keep in mind.
And I feel like another struggle that conscious fashion brands have to figure out is how to stand out in this increasingly crowded and saturated market, especially as big fashion brands start launching, or continue to launch their green marketing campaigns and try to attract this growing conscious consumer market.
So what tips do you have for brands trying to differentiate themselves and make it clear maybe that they are authentically conscious, when there is so much greenwashing going on, especially by big fashion brands with massive marketing budgets?
Yeah, great question. So in terms of our work with our clients, we always encourage them to take a customer-first approach.
And what I mean by that is, you can’t just make product for the sake of making product anymore — you need to understand who your ideal and target customer is. You need to understand what their pain points are, and how you’re going to add value with their products.
And I know sometimes that can sound a bit silly, if you will, in the fashion industry. But if you think about it, we wear clothes all the time, and it’s part of our everyday lives. So why wouldn’t you want to make something that adds value to someone’s life, right?
And so I think that’s really key first, because that way, we can really speak to longevity of products and being more intentional when we buy instead of just, you know, fast fashion impulse purchases. And so I think that’s the first piece.
And then the second piece I touched on a little bit already, but it’s your general strategy about how you’re approaching your business and your brand. If you do it really intentionally with your priorities in mind and against your sustainability strategy and your roadmap, that can be really powerful.
And then if you couple that with communicating that plan to your customers, and also updating the plan and updating the news on their progress, about how things are going, what you’re excited about, maybe what you’re even struggling with, that level of transparency in a moment from your community really speaks volumes as well.
And then of course, the metrics piece again, you know, numbers don’t lie. And then I would say last but not least, just the education piece. I’ve seen a lot of brands now try to educate their consumers as well and just let them in behind the scenes on some of the items. They’re thinking about what they’re struggling with. And again, I really think as you involve your community, they can support you and also just educate themselves at the same time too.
And the hope is that when they’re dealing with other brands that maybe aren’t as transparent or don’t have some of these things thought out, they can then demand transparency, ask questions, and then as a whole for the industry, we can all rise up.
Yeah, I love that you mentioned education, because I feel like that is such a crucial part of conscious marketing and it just makes such a difference.
And I also love that you brought in that when conscious brands raise awareness about these issues or are very transparent, it raises the bar. It kind of lets consumers know that like, you can expect this from truly conscious fashion brands, and maybe when a greenwashing brand is saying, ‘Oh, we’re eco’, but they’re not really sharing much about that, they’ll start to question ‘well, you’re not really sharing as much as this other brand.’ And, and I think it slowly inches us forward when brands set the bar like that. So that’s really, that’s really an interesting perspective to think about it that way.
Yeah. And I love how you said raise the bar too, because the hope is, with all this transparency, that it just becomes table stakes and it’s just the standard that everyone expects moving forward.
Yeah, absolutely. So in addition to working with sustainable fashion brands at Recloseted, you also help existing fashion brands transition to becoming more sustainable.
And we talked about the complexities of sustainability as a fashion brand. But how do you sort of figure out which brands are like really ready and willing to do the work to become holistically more sustainable, versus those that maybe are just interested in the marketing or branding benefits of appearing eco-friendly?
Yes. So this is something that I am personally very involved in. So for every single client we work with, I am, “vetting them and just making sure it’s a good fit”. We do that typically through a discovery call, where I’ll sit down with them for 30 minutes and really understand what their purpose is.
And I think that’s so important. Because if I can get to the root of why they’re doing this, and what the motivation is behind it, that can really speak to their intentions.
So I’ve had brands where they’ve said that sustainability is the new thing, and they really want to capture that market. I’ve also had a brand and I’m not kidding, say “Gen Z’s on TikTok really care about consciousness and sustainability, so we want to make sure we can speak to this market’. And I was like, ‘Oh my god!’, I’m not joking. And I was like, Okay, well, I hope you have a great day…
Yeah, exactly. But I think the purpose is so important, like they can 100% want to think about the longevity of their brand, and really want to make sure that new consumers are continuing to buy from them. But that has to be the secondary value.
The primary value has to be, you know, they care deeply about the world, or they really feel compelled to do something about the textile waste crisis, or whatever it is. But I think the purpose is really important, and really trying to see through their motivations.
And then of course, as we work with them too, we just continually check-in and just make sure we’re on the same page as well.
And then once you do that vetting process and decide which brands you’re going to work with, what does the process of transitioning their business to becoming more sustainable look like? And how long does that process typically take or is it sort of ongoing?
Yes, so the process definitely varies client to client. But on average, we generally work with them for at least a year, if not a bit longer. And after they finish working with us, too, it’s not like they are done. This is something that’s continuous.
And, so first of all, if I take a step back, the first step in the process as we vet them, we onboard them, and then we work with them to develop their strategy and their priorities and also their roadmap. So this is a very collaborative process. And through that, we’re then able to figure out, okay, do they need sourcing help? Do they need design help? Do they need reporting help? Or do they need communication help? And then we do a work back schedule.
But yeah, on minimum, it’s at least a year. And then even when they’re done working with us, they continually work on it internally as follows so that they’re able to chip away on their roadmap, because my number one pet peeve, and you’re probably annoyed by this too, is when brands put out like a 2030 or 2050 sustainability report — and then they talk about it and then it never sees the light of day. They never talk about it again. They never talk about their progress. And that’s really not what we want from our clients. We want them to actually chip away at it and tell their community how they’re doing.
Yes, fast fashion brands are notorious for that having some lofty goal. They get a bunch of PR, they’re, a bunch of free press articles about their great initiatives, and then they kind of fade away, or they don’t talk about it again, we don’t have an update. So I think that is a really important point there.
So what is the biggest challenge or what are some of the biggest challenges that brands face in this journey to transitioning their existing businesses and their supply chains to becoming more conscious or sustainable?
This is a big question. I mean, there’s a lot of things at play, right? I think, first of all, there’s always — it seems like every brand is short staffed. So there’s always a lack of resources and just like manpower and woman power to work on it. So I think that’s one thing. So we try to come in and help them as much as possible.
And then the second thing too, is, when we’re trying to fix things, it’s always harder than starting right from the start — I always say that. So a lot of them have a really entrenched and deep supply chain. So all of a sudden, we need to figure out how to, how to transition that how to change that. But then also, at the same time, maintain product quality and maintain their current customer base. So whenever we change things, there’s always a lot of change management. And there’s a lot of processes through that and it can take time.
But I would say just having the resources to see it through, having the patience and the motivation to keep going as well. Because it’s not going to be easy, it is going to take one plus years, and so just sticking it through is really important.
And then also remembering to prioritize it too, because there’s so many things that happen in a business and sustainability can sometimes be an afterthought, which really sucks.
But I would say now I’m increasingly seeing that brands are really prioritizing it and making sure that it’s something that they continuously work on and projects that their team is continuously doing as well.
Absolutely, that makes sense. And also a question that I had in terms of the sustainability transition journey is the communication piece. So how can brands that are converting “to more sustainable practices”, communicate that to their existing customers that maybe aren’t familiar with sustainable fashion, maybe aren’t typically conscious fashion consumers, and maybe not even interested in sustainability, necessarily?
And then how do they balance that and not alienating those customers, and maybe even trying to educate them, while also trying to attract the conscious consumer niche or consumers that are just interested in supporting better brands?
Yeah, this is a great question. And I’m gonna generalize here because it does really depend on each company’s brand and their community. So it does really warrant a tailored and customized approach.
But generally, with all of our clients that have communicated their sustainability efforts, no one has ever come back and said, ‘Oh, this sucks that you’re sustainable now, like, I don’t want to follow you or I don’t want to support your work’, you know what I mean?
Like, no one’s ever seen a brand come forward and say they’re more conscious now and say that they don’t want to support them anymore. Like, that’s just doesn’t happen.
And so, if you’re afraid of losing customers, because you’re now more sustainable, or more ethical or more conscious, I think that just needs to be shelved and that’s just not a thing. So I think that can be helpful for folks to hear.
But then in terms of how you message it, it really is a tailored and really important process to make sure that you’re not alienating your current customers, for example.
So with a lot of our more luxury or more premium branded clients, we tend to really lean into their existing brand and their existing marketing strategy. And then sustainability is almost a cherry on top or a nice to have. It’s like we still really prioritize the product and the high quality and longevity of the pieces. And then you almost find out after the fact that it’s sustainable. And I think that’s a good way to dip your toes into your existing community.
And then, over time, more and more, you can create a communication plan so that you can continue to educate and talk about the materials you’re using, or where you’re producing your clothing, or what happens at the end of the lifecycle of the garments that you’re putting out. But I do think peppering it in and really making sure you work with the existing brand is the best way to do it.
And then yeah, just make sure you know too that no one’s ever going to give you backlash for becoming more conscious. That just does not happen.
And we’ve also had a few clients too position the change as a really encouraging and motivating rallying cry for the community where they show them that because you’ve supported us and because you buy from us and you give us funding and this capital, we’re now able to move into becoming a more conscious brand. And I think that’s really powerful and can engage your committee unity as well.
Yeah, that’s such a good point that I haven’t seen any brand announce that they’re, you know, going to embed more sustainability practices be on a journey to becoming more conscious. And then they, they have backlash that doesn’t — I’ve never seen that happen. Maybe you start to be held to a higher standard by your community. But there isn’t people aren’t like angry that you want to become more sustainable?
No one’s being like, Oh, this sucks.
Right, right. So continuing with this communication piece, and also going back to this concept of a roadmap. How can brands clearly detail their progress? And then how can we, as consumers know what is just empty promises for maybe PR purposes, versus a concrete plan or goal?
Yeah, so I touched on it a little bit already. But I do think it’s important to stress this point again, around, after you develop a plan and roadmap, you need to continuously update your community about it. And it doesn’t need to be every week or every month, but I would say at minimum every six months, and just let them know how things are going.
And on your website too if you’re able to even provide quarterly updates and do a little report with metrics, so people that are really keen and into that kind of data can take a look, I think that would be really helpful.
And then on socials, maybe you just do an update every six months. And again, that can really be so engaging, and you can really try to involve your community so that they want to support you more. So it’s definitely mutually beneficial.
But I would say just continuously provide updates, don’t let it collect dust on a shelf somewhere, like really make sure you’re implementing things. And if you are facing challenges or things need to be pushed back. That’s okay. But it’s important to tell your community why and also tell them how they can help you and support you as well.
Yeah, that’s great to have this sort of timeline of six months or quarterly and, and maybe determine in advance the brand sort of commits to providing these quarterly or six month updates. And definitely, it can be hard to continue with that like, because you might think that your customers or your audience maybe forgot about it, and you get busy doing so many things. But figuring out how to make that consistent with the updates is really great.
So sometimes, brands will reach out to me as a content creator, and their website won’t necessarily have super clear information about how their ethical or sustainable, but when I asked them for their details, they actually do have really awesome things going on. And they also, they actually do have a lot of efforts.
So how can brands make sure that they are communicating their values and their processes, clearly on their website for customers? Even if maybe they’re a little fearful of people like back to that greenwashing question right, like brands might be hesitant because they don’t want to be accused of greenwashing. But what advice do you have for brands in terms of the communication on their website?
Yeah, this is a big question, big topic, because it kind of goes back to my previous point about a lot of brands feeling that they’re damned if they do, or they damned if they’re not. And then so they just decide they’re not going to do anything, because maybe they don’t have the capacity or the resources to do it properly.
And so what I would say to that is, if a brand is doing some sort of effort, and they’re not doing nothing, it’s important to state where they’re at, and also where they’re going. But it is also important to dedicate enough time to thoughtfully think this through. Like, I don’t think that a brand should just spend 10 minutes and write up something on their website. Which you know, I don’t think people are doing but it is important to take the time to sit down and think it through. I wouldn’t rush into this.
And then just state that transparently, you’re still working through it. And we’re still wanting to do XY and Z in the next three years, five years, etc. And then continue to update your community.
But I would say that if brands are worried about backlash, then just take the time to sit down. Really state where you’re at, where you want to go. And then thoughtfully think about how you want to introduce that to your community, and then make a plan.
I do think that it takes some strategy and it takes some thought because you want to do it properly. But don’t be afraid and don’t not say anything, because if we as an industry want to raise the bar, like you mentioned, and if we want transparency and these efforts to become table stakes, then everyone needs to start to participate in raising this bar, but do it thoughtfully and do it intentionally.
Yeah, totally. I think that may, because sometimes brands view sustainability in terms of marketing as like the cherry on top, as you mentioned before, which is totally fine to lead with the product. But if brands do have sustainability efforts, I agree that they shouldn’t hide it, because you’re helping to raise the bar, you’re helping raise that consciousness, you’re increasing the awareness of what can be done to make fashion a bit better.
And yeah, raising those expectations, raising the table stakes. So I think that’s really, really important to include that for sure.
So for anyone interested in learning more from you, and working with Recloseted, where can they find you online and connect with you?
Yeah, so if you are into podcasts, which you likely are, if you’re listening to the episode, I have a podcast as well. It’s called Recloseted Radio. You can search for it and just pick a few episodes that might resonate with you and check it out.
And then on social media, we are @recloseted. We’re the most active on Instagram and LinkedIn, so you can check us out there.
And then if you want to potentially work with us and see if it’s a fit, you can book a discovery call the link is just recloseted.com/call. And I will be very nice to you during the vetting process. Don’t worry, it’s really just also to see if it’s a fit if you, you know, of course enjoy working with us, and we enjoy working with you. So yeah, it’s definitely a mutual conversation.
And I will leave all of those links in the show notes for everybody to check out.
Before we wrap up this conversation though, I do have one final question for you that I asked each podcast guest that comes on to the show. And that is what would a better future for fashion look like to you?
For me, I think the word that comes to mind is intention. I just really want everyone to be more intentional across the board. So brands just be so much more intentional when they’re producing things and putting things out into market.
And then on the consumer side, being really intentional about what you’re buying and what you’re bringing into your wardrobe. And even when you’re done with a piece like how can you extend the life and maybe give it to someone else or rent it out or you know, sell it like what does that look like? And I think if we were just all more intentional across the board it could really benefit the industry.
And that’s a wrap for this episode with Selina! Thank you so much for tuning in today. Make sure to hit subscribe on your favorite podcast app so that you don’t miss any future conversations like this one.
Next Tuesday, I will be chatting with the Sustainability Lead at Nisolo, so I cannot wait for you to tune in to that and I really don’t want you to miss this conversation.
Until then, you can stay connected with me and Conscious Life and Style by subscribing to our weekly newsletter, The Conscious Edit. In this newsletter, I share articles, podcasts, videos, brands, campaigns, and more to check out in the conscious fashion space. You can sign up for that at consciouslifeandstyle.com/edit or through the link in the episode description.
So, that is all I have for you today. I hope you have a lovely week and I am looking forward to connecting with you on Instagram over on @consciousstyle or via the newsletter in the meantime.
Selina is the Founder & CEO of Recloseted, a consulting agency dedicated to righting the harmful fashion industry. Recloseted helps to launch and scale sustainable fashion brands through comprehensive online programs and consulting services.