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Consumers demand sustainable fashion – but won’t pay more for it – studies show on World Environment Day

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Coinciding nicely with World Environment Day, new research out today suggests that more than half (52%) of consumers in the UK and US want the fashion industry to become more sustainable, with calls for reduced packaging and fair pay for workers among their top demands. 29% of these consumers say they will pay more for sustainably-made versions of the same items.

And despite many clothing manufacturers and retailers already taking steps to become more sustainable, 45% of the 2,000 consumers who were polled agree that it is difficult to know which fashion brands are really committed to sustainability.

The survey was commissioned by Nosto, the ecommerce personalisation and retail AI platform and reveals that many people who want greater sustainability in fashion are acting on their principles by modifying their own behaviour.

Jim Lofgren, Nosto’s CEO, explains: “Of those that want a more sustainable fashion industry, 57% say they try to keep clothes for longer because it’s better for the environment – among women this rises to 60%, while it’s 52% for men. These numbers underline the strength of feeling on the issue.”

The Nostro study comes as retail analysts BJSS publish a new retail report named ‘You, Me and Sustainability’, which reveals start-ups are leading the game when it comes to sustainability versus major retail brands.

The BJSS report investigates what retailers are doing around sustainability and how they can – and should – help consumers be more green. Providing an honest assessment of major brands including Lush, IKEA and Stella McCartney, the report also investigates the start-ups that are pushing the industry to change, notably Henri, Neal’s Yard and Aida.

And BJSS’ retail team has identified three trends that resonate across both established retailers and start-ups and the current opportunities. Firstly there is a lack of customer engagement in sustainability, with very few of the stores offering customer education about sustainability of value chains. Retailers are missing a trick by not educating their consumers by not shouting about how they work, says the report.

Secondly, finds the study, there is no complete value chain transparency across most retailers. According to BJSS, there is a huge opportunity for someone to get value chain transparency right for the first time: everyone from sustainable design, to transport, to reuse of materials.

Finally there is a massive gap in men’s fashion, the report concludes. 

Meanwhile, Nosto’s survey identifies five individual areas that consumers consider important for fashion companies to address in order to be more sustainable.

The top priority was ‘Reduce the amount of packaging’ (ticked by 75% of consumers who want greater sustainability in the industry). Second came ‘Provide fair pay and good working conditions’ (74%), followed by ‘Use renewable and recyclable materials’ (73%); ‘Make clothes that are designed to last longer’ (71%); and ‘Use fewer resources e.g. power/water/materials’ (64%).

Interestingly, the call for more sustainability in fashion is present in broadly similar numbers across the generations. The research suggests 56% of 18-24 year olds (Generation Z) want the fashion industry to be more sustainable, 51% of 25-34 year olds (Millennials) and roughly half in the other age groups, including 55% of 35-44 year olds, 47% of 45-54 year olds and 50% of those over 64.

Those in favour of greater sustainability also pointed to the following actions retailers can take to encourage shoppers to buy clothes that are more sustainable when shopping online:

  • Clearly label clothes that are made in sustainable ways (74%)
  • Offer discounts on clothing ranges that are more sustainable (62%
  • Do more to advertise and promote clothing that is made in sustainable ways (62%)
  • Allow online shoppers to trade-in their used clothes for discounts on new items (54%)
  • Automatically show people more sustainable alternatives to the items they are viewing online (43%)

“Retailers are an important part of solving fashion’s sustainability challenge,” said Lofgren. “They can support the industry by making it easier and simpler for shoppers to make sustainable choices.”

The voices behind the sustainability issue are only going to get louder, according to Lofgren: “Although brands are aware that consumers are increasingly concerned about sustainability in the fashion industry, they need to be more transparent and get better at communicating how they’re addressing it.

For example, only 23% of consumers we questioned agreed that they generally have a good idea what fashion brands mean when they say they are committed to sustainability.”

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