With Instagram, Youtube, personal blogs, and thousands of other digital outlets, fashion has never been quite as visible as it is now. Teenagers and adults alike can share their style with the world in just a few taps. But the growing demand for fast fashion has an immense environmental impact on our planet, and consumers are starting to understand it. While today’s consumers want ethically sourced and produced clothing, the associated higher prices are not usually welcome. Today, we’re taking a look at customer sentiment toward sustainable fashion’s pricing and values.
How does the fashion industry impact the climate?
Let’s take a look at a 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. While global clothing production has nearly doubled in the past 15 years, the number of times consumers wear each item has decreased by 36%. The most significant contributors to this phenomenon are a growing middle-class and the rise of “fast fashion,” the section of the industry where clothes are quickly and cheaply produced. Because of increasing demand driven by growing economies in Asia and Africa, textile production is expected to grow.
Textile production requires enormous amounts of non-renewable resources. This includes oil to produce synthetic fibers, chemicals for dyeing, and fertilizers to grow cotton. Annually, cotton farming uses up 93 billion cubic meters of water, which compounds damage in areas with scarce water supply. In 2015, greenhouse gas emissions from textile production totaled 1.2 billion tons of CO2 gas.
Furthermore, the production process of plastic-based textiles, such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic, creates large volumes of microfiber-filled wastewater. Experts predict that 22 million tons of microfiber pollution will enter our oceans by 2050. Say what?!
Which Brands Are Acting to Reverse the Damage?
The outdoor clothing giant has been a leader in sustainable fashion since its inception. Globescan and SustainAbility recently ranked Patagonia as the world’s second most-recognized sustainability leader.
Since the brand’s inception in 1973, it has been a forerunner in environmental activism – going to lengths such as donating 1% of annual sales toward grassroots environmental organizations and offering a repair and reuse program to lower unnecessary consumption. In addition, as of early 2019, 70% of Patagonia’s products are made from recycled or renewable fibers.
With the growing urgency for sustainable fashion, Patagonia recently changed their mission statement to: “We’re in business to save our home planet.”
Under the direction of CEO Rose Marcario, Patagonia aims to make its supply chain carbon-neutral by 2025. Recently, Marcario posted a letter on LinkedIn announcing that Patagonia would be donating its $10 million tax cut to organizations committed to protecting air, land, and water. This move received praise across social media.
Patagonia’s sustainability efforts extend past just the clothing itself. For instance, in April 2019, Patagonia released Artifishal, a film exploring the dangerous impacts of fish hatcheries and farms. Fans hosted screenings across the country and shared them online.
This LA-based apparel brand made sustainability cool. Reformation’s sophisticated designs target young women in their 20s and 30s and often appear on Instagram and Twitter.
Since its founding ten years ago, sustainability has been one of Reformation’s core tenets. For example, fashion brands tend to overestimate the amount of fabric they need. The leftovers, known as deadstock, are tossed. However, Reformation uses a combination of deadstock fabric, vintage clothing, or sustainable materials to create its pieces. For 2019, the brand aims to recycle 100,000 garments. In the first quarter alone, it has already achieved over 65% of its goal.
But it doesn’t stop there. Reformation focuses on more than just its clothing. For example, its packaging materials are made from 100% recycled paper products and are fully compostable. You go, Reformation!
Reformation hopes to reinvent the way fast fashion operates. Instead of releasing massive collections several times a year, Reformation releases its clothing in limited editions on a rolling basis. By creating in small batches, the brand can “make changes that prevent waste in real-time.” In other words, they only produce more of an item after it performs well. While fast fashion giants contribute to the 26 billion pounds of unwanted textiles headed to landfill each year, Reformation’s approach significantly reduces our carbon footprint.
Nike has been making waves in sustainability for decades. It started its Grind program in 1992, which turns surplus manufacturing materials into running tracks, basketball courts, playgrounds, and other surfaces. Currently, the sportswear giant is also the top recycler of plastic bottles in its industry. It’s claimed this title by turning plastic into a yarn used in uniforms and apparel. Since 2010, Nike has redirected 6.4 billion plastic bottles from landfills into products such as the Nike Air Vapor FlyKnit sneaker, made using over 75% recycled materials.
In an industry where design secrets are rarely shared, Nike broke ground when it released its Circular Design Guide in May 2019. This sustainability guideline explored ten fundamental principles, such as disassembly, refurbishment, and durability. By publishing this guide, Nike hopes to stimulate innovation for sustainable fashion in the industry.
Now, what does customer sentiment towards sustainable fashion look like?
We decided to use our customer sentiment tool to see how consumers feel. When it comes to sustainable fashion as a whole, consumers generally view the movement favorably.
However, when considering the pricing of sustainably produced apparel, the customer sentiment trend lines for positive and negative sentiment suddenly overlap.
The costs of sustainable fashion are not cheap. The higher prices stem from the higher costs of the sustainable crops used for the fabric. Furthermore, these crops are grown without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and have to meet strict federal requirements to be certified organic. It is the production process, and the fair wages behind it, that hike up the price. Understandably, some consumers are not excited about these prices.
According to Forbes, while 52% of consumers want to see sustainable practices in the fashion industry, only 29% of consumers would pay more for a sustainably-produced item of clothing.
Naturally, we decided to take a closer look at the customer sentiment related to the ethics and pricing of Patagonia, Reformation, and Nike’s sustainability efforts.
The prices of these sustainable brands indeed receive more negative sentiment than the mission behind it all. However, the difference is not as high as expected. Furthermore, the positive customer sentiment toward both pricing and sustainability efforts are nearly equal.
In short, these numbers suggest that consumers are warming up to both the motivation behind sustainable fashion and the costs behind it. Clothing brands should make continued efforts to stress the need to reduce environmental impact on an industry-wide level. Moreover, marketing campaigns that discuss production costs and ethical sourcing will show your dedication to transparency and build a base of loyal customers. Above all, brands also need to monitor customer sentiment about their mission and prices regularly.
Where does that leave us now?
We like to believe that, as a society, we’re embracing the protection of nature. According to a 2019 Ipsos report on sustainable packaging, 8 in 10 people think we’re heading toward an environmental disaster if we do not change our habits. So as leading players steer the fashion industry toward sustainability, brands must carefully observe how consumers are responding. What do they think of your mission, and what do they think about your prices? See how social media intelligence can change the way you approach branding.