For most of my adult life, I’ve been passionate about sustainability and caring for our environment. I blame a late-night viewing of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” in my early 20s for this constant concern, and care for our planet and its future. I compost, recycle, and reuse where I can. However, I am still a Millennial mom living in a modern world, one in which requires “things.” I try to buy sustainable products where I can, but is there really any 100% sustainable form of consumption? A t-shirt may be eco-friendly, organic, and use less water to produce; however, there are inherently some practices throughout the long production cycle that can affect our environment — a defeating thought, no doubt, to both manufacturers and consumers. How can brands and retailers make the necessary steps towards a more sustainable future?
One thing is certain: we know consumers care about sustainability. In a survey conducted by NPD in partnership with CivicScience, close to half (47%) of U.S. consumers said they find sustainable apparel “very or somewhat important,” and this percentage was higher than other industries, including footwear, home textiles, fashion accessories, and beauty. The problem is that we all have different definitions of what the wordsustainability means.
One constant is that consumers seem to equate “sustainable” apparel with “quality” apparel. Similar to last year, when it comes to sustainability, 45% of consumers are interested in long-lasting apparel, footwear, and accessories, which ranked higher than ecofriendly, less packaging, recycled plastic, and water conservation. In fact, 68% of consumers said that quality was the most important feature to consider in future apparel purchases, according to the Future of Apparel report from NPD.
In an ideal world, we would all have a select wardrobe of items that we held onto for 5, 10, or 20 years. However, we live in a world of constant newness and fresh trends. “Fast fashion” exists; as much as consumers care about sustainable and quality apparel, many consumers also want to wear the latest trends at a low cost. In a recent NPD survey, 29% of consumers said they shop on fast-fashion websites, with over half (56%) of 18- to 24-year-old’s claiming to do so. As prices continue to climb across the board, the resale industry could be the answer to slowing our fixation with fast fashion.
Younger consumers’ desire for accessible and stylish trends at a reasonable cost, combined with an interest in quality, might also spur sales in the resale industry — especially because 66% of consumers between the age of 18 and 24 claim to shop resale sites. More brands and retailers are adopting the resale model, expanding buy-back programs and other resale initiatives to help reach new, and maybe younger, consumers.
Quality might be the key to our sustainability challenges, but this is a door that has many locks. First and foremost, with sustainability being a complex topic in itself, and many different things vying for our attention, it’s important for brands and retailers to be clear and concise in their messaging surrounding these efforts. Whether the focus is on quality, conserving water, or using recycled materials, they must ensure that consumers are aware of their efforts to save the planet.
When it comes to sustainability, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. What’s important to remember is that any step towards sustainable practices is a move in the right direction.