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Consumers Say One Thing About Sustainability and Do Another

Zalando has some ideas for making sustainable fashion more attractive to consumers—and it’s taking its own advice.

Though recycled, upcycled and pre-owned fashion has never been more accessible, a new report by the ecommerce company reveals gaps between consumer values and and how people actually behave when it comes to sustainability.

Out of the 2,500 consumers surveyed in the report, 60 percent consider transparency important, but just 20 percent actively seek out information from brands before purchasing. Further, 53 percent believe brands’ ethical labor policies are important, but only 23 percent investigate policies themselves. And while 58 percent of consumers believe they should know the materials used in a garment, only 38 percent actually do.

Notably, when identifying a single word to associate with sustainable fashion, consumers most commonly chose “guilty,” and rarely used the word “fun.”

To close this information gap and reframe attitudes toward sustainable fashion, Zalando made a number of suggestions for the fashion industry, including investing in the resale market and making sustainable fashion even more accessible—two initiatives it’s currently undertaking internally.

Last week the company launched a program that allows customers in Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy and Sweden to trade in and buy pre-owned fashion directly on the Zalando website.

“There are stats out there showing how the secondhand market will overtake fast fashion in the next decade—we know that increasing the longevity of our clothes is key to outweighing the impact of their production,” said Jodi Everding, an expert interviewed in the report and a fabric, trim and sustainability manager at sustainable fashion brand Filippa K.

According to a report from secondhand e-tailer ThredUp, the fashion resale market is poised to more than double in value from $24 billion in 2019 to $51 billion in 2023. A number of brands, including Levi’s and Guess, have recently entered the resale business, underscoring its ripe future.

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Despite the optimistic growth, some consumers are still hesitant to embrace pre-worn apparel. Zalando’s data showed that hygiene concerns are an obstacle for 43 percent of men and 30 percent of women. To fight this stigma, Zalando recommended showcasing new and secondhand garments together in marketing campaigns, retail environments and on social media.

Offering clothing repair services could also help consumers become more sustainably focused. According to the report, 58 percent of respondents consider it important to repair clothing, but only 23 percent routinely repair their clothes.

Nudie Jeans has earned recognition for its industry-leading repair service that is intended to extend the lifecycle of its jeans. In 2020, Nudie had 43 repair spots around the world, and aims to open 50 more in the coming years. By providing easy access to repair services, customers are able to keep and cherish their items for longer.

Zalando is also making sustainable fashion more accessible by introducing a new feature that allows customers to shop based on the values they care about, such as water conservation, worker wellbeing, material recycling, animal welfare and more.

This follows through on the company’s 2018 initiative to flag sustainable products. It now has more than 80,000 articles in its sustainability assortment, and has goal in place to increase that number in the coming years. By 2023, Zalando aims for 25 percent of its gross merchandise value to come from more sustainable choices, and by 2023 will choose partners based on their alignment with sustainable standards.

The report also highlighted the need for more strategic discounting, noting that 54 percent of respondents said a rewards scheme would encourage them to purchase more sustainable fashion. However, it recommended using data and technology to tackle overstocking and avoid unsustainable discounting. Adopting innovations such as machine learning and AI for forecasting improvement and on-demand production capabilities can help balance supply and demand and lead to less of a need for discounting.

Transparency is another way to get consumer buy-in, according to the report. For years, brands have published sustainability reports that provide proof of their claims and build trust among their customer base. Guess recently earned accolades for its FY18-19 Sustainability Report, which the CR Reporting Awards (CRRA) acclaimed for its clear and effective presentation. Kontoor Brands, which owns heritage denim brands Wrangler and Lee, just recently published its first.

Zalando recommended providing more transparent messaging, including a glimpse into production visits or audits and new sustainability partnerships, but advised to “be humble and do not overclaim your progress.”