The Green Effect: Are Consumer Buying Habits Shifting? Are They Aware of Sustainable Fashion?

Ignorance is a handicap.
There is a shift towards buying more sustainable fashion, but on a small scale.  Those that are educated, arm themselves with information on the industry’s negative impact on the environment and are asking the right questions, demanding transparency from brands.

But there needs to be a massive campaign strategy to the masses educating and communicating the benefits of a sustainable fashion system.  In fact, I don’t use sustainable anymore, I use a circular system when I describe sustainable fashion.  It operates as if there are finite resources, aligning with the principles of a circular economy.  This way, fashion is designed to re-enter after use, never ending up in the landfill.

The industry has been slow moving and in denial of what’s at stake.  They have failed at being responsible and taking the lead on moving in the direction of a sustainable future, with the exception of those 43 industry giants that signed on to the Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action under the umbrella and facilitation of UN Climate Change. The pandemic has accelerated a great awareness and need, mostly with consumers getting on board.  “Less is more” is the new normal, it seems.

From the studies I’ve read, consumers are shifting their priorities on what’s important to them.  McKinsey and Company did a survey last year of UK and Germany consumers and they learned that consumers want fashion brands to act more responsibly to the social and environmental impacts of their businesses.  Sixty-seven percent consider the use of sustainable materials to be an important purchasing factor, and sixty-three percent consider a brand’s promotion of sustainability in the same way.

Another study was done pre-pandemic which sheds an interesting light on consumer behavior.  September 2019, IFM – Première Vision Chair, Français de la Mode, led by the Director, Gildas Minvielle, conducted a study that surveyed 5,000 consumers in France, Germany, Italy and the United States about their consumption habits of eco-friendly fashion.  Minvielle summed it up by saying, “consumers tend to buy less, but better. They are willing to pay more, and compensate by buying fewer products”.  Once again, I think the real opportunity is education and communication.  At least 70% of the 5000 surveyed don’t feel they have enough information about sustainable fashion and don’t know companies that sell it.  The good news is that the study shows a move away from prohibitive factors such as sustainable fashion not being stylish enough and that it cost more.

Overall, the results indicate consumers are aware of the negative environmental impact of synthetic materials [polyester] and toxic chemicals; the social and ethical implications; and the need to keep clothing out of the landfills by purchasing second-hand clothing or recycled pieces.

There is little doubt that buying habits will change after the pandemic, becoming more deliberate, out of both economic necessity and a shift in values. The kind of instant gratification represented by so much of fast fashion increasingly seems simply wasteful. Understanding what you have that has lasted (and why it has lasted) will help you make better decisions later.

– The New York Times

ThredUP, a leader in the resale [second-hand] market reports the following:

  • 70% of all consumers agree that addressing climate change is more important now than ever.
  • Second-hand market expected to grow from $28B in 2019 to $64B in 2024 with resale overtaking the thrift and donation segment.
  • By 2029, total secondhand market projected to grow to almost twice the size of fast fashion.
  • 208M lbs. of waste were generated by single-use outfits in 2019.
  • 1 in 2 people are throwing their unwanted clothes straight in the trash. The result? 64% of the 32B garments produced each year end up in landfill.

More statistics: Fashion Industry Waste Statistics

Image: Frieze LA | Backlot Paramount Pictures Studio, London-based clothing retailer installation, February 2019

Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor