For Millennials and Gen Xers, some of the most popular videos on TikTok (aside from the ones telling us our jeans are out of style) are ones that allow us to relive the nostalgia of our youth. I was recently brought back to my pre-teen adolescence when a particular video showcased a book in The Baby-Sitters Club series, “Dawn Saves the Planet.” I remembered her fondly as my favorite character in the series, an overly passionate environmentalist who is determined to save the planet. Back then, it seemed that the enthusiasm for recycling and “going green” was a valiant effort taken on by an eager few. Alternatively, sustainability today, especially in the fashion industry, has taken more herculean efforts, with big brands and retailers making strides with how they incorporate sustainability practices into their business model. However, for these efforts to be successful, the industry needs to understand where the consumers’ sentiments lie when it comes to sustainable apparel.

Consumers are expressing a desire for sustainable products. Well over a third of consumers felt that buying sustainable products in home textiles, beauty, apparel, footwear, and accessories was at least somewhat important.* Apparel was one of the industries with the highest interest, with 42% telling us that buying sustainable apparel was at least somewhat important to them.* However, when it comes to sustainable/eco-friendly apparel, what resonates most with consumers? Products made with recycled plastics? Maybe water conservation? Although almost a quarter felt those initiatives were important, about half (47%) were interested in long-lasting/quality products.** This was not a surprise, as for years, consumers have been haunted with images of mounting piles of clothes in landfills. Now, consumers are associating higher-quality and longer-lasting items with being more sustainable and eco-friendly. This represents a sharp turn away from the fast fashion retail model that has been popular the last few decades.

For brands and retailers, while understanding consumer interest and making efforts to incorporate sustainability is important, one question remains: will the consumer pay more for sustainable apparel? We have found that over a third (37%) of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable apparel, with the most (19%) willing to pay only up to 10% more.* This is an increase compared to when we asked a similar question last year; then only a quarter of consumers responded that they were willing to pay more for sustainable/ eco-friendly apparel.*** This tells us that consumers generally understand there is a cost associated with sustainability, and more are willing to pay it, but the upcharge has to be a small one.

When COVID hit, there was a concern that sustainability would be put on the back burner, as we all had more pressing concerns we were facing. That may have been true initially, but COVID has put a lot in perspective for many people. Maybe the pandemic, along with our increasing desire for longer lasting and sustainably sourced apparel, has shifted our priorities and altered our buying habits for the future.

* Source: The NPD Group/January 2020 NPD Trend Tracker survey done in conjunction with NPD partner CivicScience
**Source: The NPD Group/March 2020 NPD Trend Tracker survey done in conjunction with NPD partner CivicScience
***Source: The NPD Group/Omnibus July 2020