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Why Aren’t Millennials Buying Conscious Clothing?

We’ve all heard the hype: Millennials are going to change the world. They demand socially responsible products and will even switch brands in favor of those with values that match their own. Three quarters believe it’s important for companies to give back and not just hoard their profits. And with annual purchasing power expected to reach $3.39 trillion this year, these 20- and 30-somethings carry a consumer clout that can’t be ignored.

And yet for all of the buzz around Millennials’ love for sustainable, responsible fashion, there has been little data to back that up. New research has shown that price and ease of purchase (95 percent apiece) far outweigh any claims of sustainability (34 percent) when influencing a Millennial shopper to pull the trigger when spending on fashion.

Shopping Trends Among 18-37 Year-Olds, a report led by LIM College professors Robert Conrad and Dr. Kenneth M. Kambara, revealed that Millennials are more interested in even a product’s brand name (60 percent) and uniqueness (92 percent) over sustainability when considering which fashion items to purchase.

So what’s really going on? It’s entirely likely, Dr. Kambara said in a press statement, that there simply aren’t enough apparel and footwear options on the market that meet the total demand for a unique, sustainable product that’s priced attractively and easy enough to acquire.

“There are only a handful of eco-friendly youth-oriented brands—such as Anek, Everlane, Nudie Jeans, Patagonia, People Tree, Reformation and K.O.I.—and none have the scale or variety of fashion offerings to meet Millennials’ requirements for ease, price/value and uniqueness,” he added.

Apparel brands like Eileen Fisher might check the “ethical” box, but they typically lack the critical under-35 appeal. What’s more, the fashion industry’s obsession with low-cost sourcing—which means supply chains are ripped and replaced with alarming frequency as companies chase the lowest cost—makes it that much more difficult to confirm which brands are truly responsible from end to end.

[Read more on sustainability: VF Corp. Set to Change the Way It Handles Sustainability]

Conrad said the fashion industry’s current approach is backward, bringing to market “what they want to offer, rather than what Millennials want.” Brands must listen to what millennials are saying and develop products that resonate with this class of conscious consumers.

That could look like a retailer with the size and scale of a Zara—known for its affordability—but with all eco-minded offerings, Conrad added. That lines up with a Charles Schwab report last summer that found 69 percent of Millennials buy apparel they don’t need—far ahead of their baby boomer parents (45 percent) as well as Gen X (53 percent). Purchasing budget-friendly eco-apparel from a retailer with fast-fashion scope and reach would offer Millennials greater peace of mind when splurging on niceties rather than necessities.

The professors polled 685 students and alumni (ages 18–37) from LIM College, RMIT University in Australia and London College of Fashion.

The findings hold up even when looking specifically at luxury goods. Brands ranging from Gucci to Stella McCartney have made great progress with going green and using responsibly sourced materials. Yet a 2017 Deloitte report found that just 2.6% of surveyed millennial luxury shoppers across China, Italy, the U.K. and the U.S. said that a brand’s ethical standing was a consideration when making a purchase. However, 49 percent of the Americans polled said they “always” confirm that a luxury product is sustainable before going ahead with the purchase.

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