There are few words more apt for defining the cultural trends of 2019 than ‘sustainability’. Today’s consumer is increasingly socially aware and will choose to adjust spending behaviour according to their social and cultural beliefs. Attitudes towards retail are changing, according to Edelman’s 2018 Earned Brand study two-thirds of consumers globally will avoid buying products from brands they believe are ethically inferior.
Spending money is now likened to casting a vote and customers will ‘vote’ for brands that align with their principles, values and beliefs. Social issues including racism, LGBTQ+ support, feminism, equal education, fair labour, sustainable energy, and environmental issues are expected to be handled appropriately by brands and customers are demanding transparency. The fast fashion industry is now entering into the minds of consumers as a serious environmental threat. The high street is adorned with mountains of clothing at such low prices that items are often bought, worn once and promptly discarded. Consumers are beginning to wake up to the real effects of this market, and they are asking ‘who is really paying the price for these clothes?’ So what can fashion companies learn during this era of awakening?
“The high street is adorned with mountains of clothing at such low prices that items are often bought, worn once and promptly discarded.”
In this article, we look at how the fashion industry (the second largest industry in terms of waste) is influenced by the socially and environmentally conscious consumer. We look at the new responsibilities for fashion brands (regardless of size and segment) to address these social issues and factor them into future strategic decisions. Today, if something is bad for the environment, it is bad for society. The companies who accept these changes and adapt will see many new opportunities for growth.
In order to get an idea of the issues surrounding fast fashion here are some ‘fear-enticing’ facts:
- Britons spend £52.7bn a year on fashion, according to the government-backed Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP)
- About 1.2 million tonnes of fibre from clothing is sold in the UK every year, about half of which is cotton.
- 300,000 tonnes of clothing are sent to landfill every year in the UK.
- In the past 15 years, global clothing production has doubled to meet demand.
- Less than 1% of the material used to produce clothing globally is recycled into new clothing, with 12% recycled into other products such as insulation or mattress stuffing.
Four Generations of Consumers
To further complicate matters, there are 4 distinct coexisting groups for fashion companies to accommodate, (Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials & Generation Z) each with different values and expectations. For each target group, fashion brands need to adopt new ways of working, producing, selling and communicating. Catering to the needs of younger generations is key for many businesses as Millennials now form the bulk of the labour force globally. Fashion brands need to digitise their strategies, increase agility and continue to achieve even greater efficiency.
By tapping into the audience of 10 million millennial consumers in the UK, we identified that the fashion segment has grown by 3.9% the past 6 months with 1 out of 5 millennials showing a considerable passion for fashion. Starcount’s study revealed some corroborating evidence as to the effect of social issues within this growth. The last 6 months, social media activity promoting Greenpeace grew by 7.2% in this audience and PeTA (anti-animal-cruelty organisation) activity grew by 14.4%. The social presence of anti-plastic pollution and recycling organisations WRAP and Recycle Now grew 42.9% and 73.6% respectively, revealing the rapidly escalating importance of environmental issues in the Millennial consumer mindsets. This can also be seen in companies such as Adidas who, in response, teamed up with Parley for the Oceans and brought to market shoes made from recycled ocean plastic. Designers Gucci, Burberry, John Galliano, DKNY, Versace, Michael Kors, Giorgio Armani, Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood are among many designers who have dropped fur from all their products. John Galliano stated. “Today we don’t want a product, we want ethics, a firm that defends the values that we admire,”
Social Media Culture
“The millennial fashion audience is 1.8 times more likely to engage and consume the products and the content that is presented on social media channels than other media sources.”
We can also see changes in the way consumers absorb content in the industry. Social media culture is important to the younger audience who are keen to accumulate likes and shares across their platforms. The millennial fashion audience is 1.8 times more likely to engage and consume the products and the content that is presented on social media channels than other media sources. Millennials are also significantly more likely than older generations to produce content than silently absorb it. Fashion retailers must be willing to accommodate these trends. Ease of consumption for news and media is of growing importance. Facebook and Twitter, leading platforms for content consumption, are in slow decline with more visual platforms, such as Youtube and Instagram, taking the lead.
The Resale Market on the Rise
“The resale market has grown exponentially in recent years as consumers look to consistently reinvigorate their wardrobes but without the carbon footprint”
As the importance of visual content rises, having the right outfit at the right time is of the utmost importance and has supported the growth of alternative markets. The resale market has grown exponentially in recent years as consumers look to consistently reinvigorate their wardrobes but without the carbon footprint. As consumers realise the true cost of fast-fashion they spend less time on the high street and browse the web in search of alternative sellers. This is particularly noticeable among the Millennial and Gen Z audience. Companies such as Vinted and Depop are taking the lead on the resale market and making many luxury items affordable. These platforms stock clothes that aren’t just second hand but have often been upcycled giving them a personality unavailable in the fast fashion world. The resale movement has revealed a new strategic direction for many fashion brands and is expected to go from strength to strength, with predictions it will outgrow the highstreet market over the next decade.
The evidence of growing concerns over sustainability is obvious and by no means a novel phenomenon
As mentioned earlier in this article, catering to the needs of younger demographics is an important focus for many brands, but we shouldn’t forget that nothing remains an exclusively youthful exploit – like many other trends, the effects show their worth across many age groups. The evidence of growing concerns over sustainability is obvious and by no means a novel phenomenon. This makes the retailers’ job more complicated. Not only must they stay on top of fashion trends, keep stores immaculate with competitive prices and rapid speed-to-market, but also be at the cutting edge of sustainable solutions, both socially and environmentally, to appeal to the values of their changing customer communities. Retailers must understand their customers’ behaviours, preferences and patterns to formulate the right business strategy and differentiate their operations. Emerging trends such as visual content on social media and the rise of the resales market are important for fashion brands to realise and accommodate. Social data can enhance the knowledge and awareness of brands, revealing cultural shifts and movements as well as new ways of working and communicating with their audiences.