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Oct 3, 2019

Influencing Up: The Younger Generation’s Impact on Sustainable Fashion

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Like many of you, I’ve been inspired by the Global Climate Strike movement led by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg. As awestruck as I am with her, I can’t help but think what was I doing at 16-years-old to help mankind?  At that age, the only time I really thought about the climate is if it was too humid and my hair would frizz.  Today’s youth, on the other hand, are focused on the environment and social responsibility and the fashion industry appears to be listening.

The industry has been making strides on how ethical and sustainable fashion is being produced and marketed.  In a recent poll, 13% of consumers felt that sustainable fashion has become more stylish over the past few years, with the majority of 18-24 years olds in agreement*.  Sustainable and eco-friendly apparel was once synonymous with rough materials and drab colors, but today, brands like Everlane (+15% in dollars YOY**) are changing the perception of what sustainable apparel can be – they are focused on style and trends, while also touting their sustainable practices.   

It feels like every day I read about a new brand or retailer making some effort to contribute to the cause.  Whether it’s through production transparency, eco-friendly practices, or recyclable materials, brands are aligning with efforts that mirror their core values.  Authenticity is key here, especially with the younger consumer. Twenty-seven percent of consumers reported to have made a purchase specifically because they supported a brand’s social position***.  This trended even higher for younger consumers 18-34 (35%)***.

Although fashion has come a long way, there is room for more education on the sustainable efforts being made.  In a recent poll, 28 percent of consumers reported not knowing if they bought sustainable, eco-friendly, organic, or ethical apparel.  This trends higher in younger consumers (37 percent) ****.  Gen Z is a standout leader in this movement, and the oldest members of this group are just starting to enter the workforce.  With passion by their side, and a growing wallet, they will have a significant impact on the retail landscape in the future.

Many apparel brands have made great strides on the sustainability front and are authentic, but it’s vital that brands clearly communicate their efforts, especially to the younger consumers who hare having such an impact on the market. 

* The NPD Group/Civic Science May 2019
** The NPD Group/Checkout, 12ME Aug 2019
***The NPD Group/Omnibus May 2018
**** The NPD Group/ Omnibus May 2019

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