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The fashion fix - why brands need to embrace sustainability

By Olga Cieslak, Junior research executive



The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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August 20, 2019 | 4 min read

Many of the fashion retailers we love and buy from today built their empires on the fast-fashion model of churning out new products every week. Moving away from the traditional four fashion seasons, the monstrous new model created 52 fashion micro-seasons and while that's good for business, it's not so good for our planet or its people.

Sustainable fashion

This trend-based nature of fast-fashion implies not only a short shelf life but also a short post-purchase lifespan. A recent sustainability study from Opinium reveals that over-consumerism, driven by new collections being available with every store visit, drives a third of the UK population (34%) to buy clothes on impulse. Customers know that if they like something they need to snap it up right away, as it won’t be there next month. Fashion gluttony coupled with throwaway culture fuelled by social media has led to a quarter (25%) of Brits admitting to owning copious ‘single-use’ garments.

While such mindless consumption is currently comfortable for the modern consumer and lucrative for brands, its impact will soon be irreversible if we do not change our shopping habits fast. Happily, there are real signs that this is on the cards.

Consumer naivety

British shoppers have begun to recognise the negative impacts of the fashion industry placing it as second least sustainable (29%) after the travel industry (38%). Many do also make the association between fast-fashion and unsustainability, naming fashion giant Primark as the least sustainable retailer – yet seven in ten shoppers (70%) still say they currently buy from the brand. Such contradiction is expected as consumers look for affordability with two thirds (67%) admitting that price is the most important factor when purchasing clothes, versus just 9% who consider the environmental impact. This leaves the fashion industry to face its biggest challenge yet, bridging sustainability with affordability and making it inclusive for all.

The knowledge gap

With the majority of Brits (76%) feeling uninformed about sustainable fashion and over a third (39%) not being able to identify a single sustainable initiative, the pressing question arises - could it be the lack of knowledge and education on the issue, that drives British consumers to unsustainable practices? In a world where fast-fashion has consumers hooked on consumption, will education be the disruptor?

Knowledge motivates action

The fashion industry has been under increased public scrutiny over the recent years with shocking statements making headlines like - 2,500 litres of water are needed to produce a single cotton T-shirt. The Opinium sustainability research educated consumers on some of the most alarming facts on the fashion industry’s harmful impact and it is optimistic to see that once informed they dramatically shift their attitudes and purchase intent.

Over half (58%) of British consumers are likely to actively choose a retailer who promotes and delivers on sustainability (vs only 10% prior to facts) and a further 54% are likely to avoid retailers who engage in fast-fashion practices (vs 14%). While it’s good news for sustainability advocates, the attitude shift poses a huge threat to fast-fashion retailers who risk losing out if they don’t jump on the bandwagon.

The future of fashion is sustainable

Future generations and those setting trends are already choosing sustainability. The concern with sustainable fashion is much more noticeable among vegans and younger consumers as over half (58%) and a quarter (24%) respectively claim to be concerned, as opposed to only 17% of the total UK population. The purchase decision making among vegans and those aged 18-24 is also much more influenced by the environmental impact of clothing, with 35% and 18% respectively considering it when buying clothes.

Embrace the change

The fashion sustainability movement looks set to continue. The Opinium sustainability research confirms that the rise in awareness and education, shifts British shoppers to a more mindful consumption, while the younger and more educated consumers are already choosing sustainability. The message is clear - match their thinking or risk losing out in the game.


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