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The paradox of fashion: can fast ever slow down?

By Hannah Teale | Associate director



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November 22, 2021 | 5 min read

As we begin to dust off our old wardrobe after a year of being indoors, the need for new clothing is on the rise again. But have we learnt anything from a time of less frivolous fashion needs? And will our habits curb toward a more sustainable way of shopping?

At strategic insight agency Opinium, we conducted our second issue of the Fashion Fix research to help answer these exact questions and understand whether the topic of sustainable fashion is becoming more top of mind.

A slow but steady climb ahead for sustainable fashion, with some barriers ahead

Concern about fashion sustainability nowadays has increased by 10ppts this year to 48%, with younger generations showing the greatest concern (18-24s – 62% v 43% in 2019). However, this doesn’t seem to be enough to drive a change in consumer behaviors. While an item’s ‘environmental impact’ is becoming an increasingly important factor when making a fashion purchase (11% v 9% in 2019), it stills falls very low down the rank of key drivers of purchase.

Opinium on how marketers can adopt a more sustainable approach to fashion.

Opinium on how marketers can adopt a more sustainable approach to fashion

Ignorance is often bliss when it comes to fashion buying

70% of consumers say that they have never thought to look for information on how to shop more responsibly when it comes to fashion. Over half of this group (55%) mention that it would be something they may look to do in the future, while the remaining 45% say that looking for guidance on sustainable fashion purchases just isn’t something that interests them.

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A third (32%) of the population can’t be sure whether they’ve purchased a sustainable fashion item, while 37% said they haven’t bought any at all. Among those who haven’t bought a sustainable fashion item, lack of thought once again is the main reason (47%). On the other hand, 16% claim that they just wouldn’t know where to buy a sustainable fashion item, highlighting a lack of education.

Having ‘sustainable’ materials is the most persuasive driver of buying responsibly

So how are consumers who claim to have bought a sustainable fashion item in the last 12 months navigating this challenge? What are the attributes or indicators that lead them to believe they are buying responsibly? Well, over half (53%) said that the items were made from ‘sustainable materials,’ while just under a third claimed that the online delivery packaging was recyclable (31%). The same proportion believed that the workers who made the garment were paid a fair wage (31%) and three in 10 thought that the clothes/accessories were made locally in the UK.

Of the responsible buyers, 45% mentioned that they paid more than they usually would for an item because of its sustainability credentials. A similar number (46%) said that the price of an item was similar to what they usually pay but they would have happily spent more for the sustainability status.

It’s not my problem: consumers look to retailers and brands to drive change

However, UK consumers equally believe it is the brand and retailer’s responsibility for encouraging more sustainable shopping behaviors (27% each), with only 15% of adults believing it is up to them as individuals to make the change.

To find out more about how retailers can encourage a continued change in the right direction, download the full Fashion Fix report here.

Hannah Teale, associate director at Opinium.

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