Shopper attitudes to sustainability and fashion
Our new survey of 10,532 fashion shoppers uncovers their attitudes towards sustainability in fashion
With Extinction Rebellion making the headlines with attention-grabbing protests, and public awareness around single-use plastic higher than ever, it is undeniable that sustainability is at the top of the agenda at the moment. But how much is this affecting consumers’ mindset when it comes to their clothing?
The fashion industry is no stranger to controversy in this area, having long attracted attention for its impact on the environment. The BBC’s recent documentary ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secrets’ highlighted the environmental consequences of fast fashion, and in September, protestors staged a funeral procession to draw attention to the use of animal products on London Fashion Week’s runways.
Our new survey of 10,532 UK fashion shoppers uncovers their attitudes towards sustainability in fashion and finds a fifth of respondents believe fashion is one of the industries which has the greatest impact on the environment. Though some shoppers believe that other industries like transportation are more of a concern, retailers and brands can no longer ignore the impact of this growing issue as the spotlight turns towards fashion.
Responsibility to act
So who should be making steps towards change? Our study found 55% of shoppers agree that retailers should be taking responsibility, not only through adopting more sustainable behaviours but also actions that tackle environmental impact long-term. In fact, of those respondents who said the fashion industry does not have a big impact, over 80% still feel it is important for brands to be making their products more sustainable.
Despite this, only 13% could identify a retailer or brand that they felt actively sought to reduce its environmental impact. Of those that were picked out were the market leader, Marks & Spencer, along with high street stalwarts Primark and Next, and relatively smaller retailers H&M, Zara and Seasalt. These smaller retailers are punching well above their weight in terms of impact on consumer attitudes – with the percentage of mentions from respondents outstripping their market share. So, while retailers may already be making a conscious effort to reduce their impact, the results show more evidence of this needs to be visible to their already concerned consumers.
Sustainability and spending power
With consumers demanding change from retailers, how do they feel about their own role in moving towards a more sustainable approach to fashion? Our survey found 36% of consumers would agree to pay a higher price when purchasing from retailers they deem to be ethical, as well as for environmentally-friendly packaging and natural materials. These shoppers are spending 9% more a year than average, demonstrating an opportunity for retailers with strong green credentials.
In contrast, shoppers state that they are less likely to pay more if products are swapped to incorporate recycled or ‘vegan’ materials in replacement of suede, leather or wool. This demonstrates consumers are happy to pay more, as long as they feel the perceived quality of their purchases has not been compromised. Another opportunity therefore is for retailers to lead the way in educating shoppers that products made from recycled materials are just as good and much better for the environment.
Changing our ways
Although shoppers feel strongly that change needs to come from the retailers, they also accept a level of personal responsibility. Some 42% of consumers also agree that they have a responsibility for minimising the fashion industry’s impact on the environment too. And they are acting upon this; 57% of shoppers claim to only buy clothing when necessary and over a third say they buy vintage or second-hand items. This is corroborated by the significant fall in fashion purchases made by shoppers over the past five years, which has resulted in 168 million fewer units sold now than in 2015.
With consumers minimising their fashion purchases in response to environmental concerns, it is even more important for retailers to reach out to those shoppers who are still willing to buy new items with a compelling, and sustainable, offer. ‘Make do and mend’ repair services within stores, for example, give consumers an opportunity to not only give a fresh lease of life to their existing wardrobe, but also tempt shoppers instore with a new experience.
At present, while it may seem that other areas are attracting more scrutiny – such as meat consumption and plastic bag usage - it will not be long before the fashion industry faces a reckoning of its own. For a retailer to succeed in an already struggling market, it will be crucial to have a full understanding of its shoppers and how they are likely to respond as sustainability in fashion continues to gain salience.