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Weaving Sustainable Messaging Into Fashion

Jun 4, 2018
Maria Rugolo, Director, Industry Analyst ;
Apparel

As temperatures finally warmed up, something I thought was never going to happen – I set my sights on switching out clothing to match the season. Part of the process included going through last year’s attire to determine what to keep, what should never be worn again, and what to donate. After completing the task I felt good about my donation bag and the opportunity to give my clothes a second-life.

I am not alone when it comes to donating. Nearly 80 percent of adults recently told NPD they typically donate clothes they no longer want.  But what happens after we drop these bags into donation bins, are they given to those in need, or will they ultimately end up in a landfill?  While I can’t answer those specific questions, they make me think about sustainability and whether consumers even know what sustainable fashion is.  

In a recent survey, NPD asked consumers some questions on the topic of sustainable fashion.  Nearly a quarter of responders said they have purchased clothing that was described as “sustainable,” “eco-friendly,” “organic” or “ethical.” This number increases to 30 percent when looking at younger responders (18-34 year olds).  The higher interest from younger consumers does not surprise me given these are generations that grew up well informed on social causes. What does surprise me is that nearly a third was not sure if they ever purchased these types of clothing, indicating a need for clearer messaging.

When asked about their specific concerns regarding the production of clothing, human rights and labor laws topped the list, especially when it came to females – nearly a third of females noted this to be their top concern.  On the flipside, nearly 30 percent of consumers were less specific, driven by male consumers.   

Will consumers pay more for these types of apparel products?  It depends on who you ask.  Overall, seven out of ten said they would not.  However, as you’d expect, younger consumers were more inclined to say they’d spend more (four out of ten).  This doesn’t mean these aren’t areas of interest for older consumers, instead it could indicate an expectation of the benefits without paying more for them. 

While sustainable fashion is something the industry continues to evolve each year, there is a clear need to educate shoppers in order to make this connection.  This is especially true for those targeting younger consumers, as 55 percent of 18-34 year olds stated they do not check clothing labels for country of origin – the highest percentage for this response among all ages.  They are buying based on what they know about the brand.  

According to NPD’s new Future of Apparel Study, which forecasts sales for the next two years, Millennials will be fueling much of apparel dollars, especially when it comes to certain categories. Understanding how and where this consumer plans to spend will be essential to maximizing dollar sales, and marketing to the sustainability aspect could help capture attention in a crowded market if done right. But, if a brand wants to attract this consumer with sustainability they need clearer messaging, not only through social influencing but also on the product itself – brands can’t rely on the fine print on the inside label, it needs to be woven into the ‘fabric’ of the brand.  

Source: The NPD Group/Omnibus May 2018


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