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Denim and Organic Cotton Lead Online Searches for Sustainable Fashion

Vague claims and greenwashing over the course of many years have diluted the definition of sustainable fashion, but global fashion search platform Lyst aims to bring some clarity to the topic in its 2020 Conscious Fashion Report.

Along with analyzing the online search behavior of more than 100 million shoppers, this year, to compile the results and align on the definition of what makes a ‘sustainable’ brand, Lyst partnered with Good on You, an organization that helps shoppers make better purchasing decisions by rating companies based on three principles: people, planet and animals.

Together, they defined sustainable fashion as “protecting the future of our planet and its people when we design, create and wear our clothes,” the report stated. “This includes carefully managing resource use to reduce waste and climate impacts, protecting the welfare of animals, and ensuring the safety and fair treatment of workers all the way down the supply chain.”

Awareness of fashion’s impact on these factors is reflected the Lyst and Google search data, conversion rates and sales, global media coverage and social media mentions generated between February 2019 and February 2020.

“More and more people are becoming aware of the issues in fashion and are demanding change,” Good on You stated in the report. “In response, brands are taking action—assessing their social and environmental impacts and setting targets to do better. Importantly, they’re talking about it with their customers too, publishing more information about their practices and promoting sustainable collections.”

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For many consumers, the search for sustainable fashion begins with material.

Two key sustainable materials in the denim sphere are gaining momentum, Lyst reported. Online searches for “organic cotton” have risen by 23 percent since November, while “recycled plastic” has seen a 35 percent rise in interest since January.

And with brands like Stella McCartney and Denham the Jeanmaker adopting Candiani’s first biodegradable stretch denim, fashion-related searches including “biodegradable” have also increased 10 percent since the beginning of the year.

Whereas online interest in materials derived from animals like fur and leather are on the decline, alternatives are gaining traction. Searches for “vegan leather” have increased by 69 percent year-on-year, averaging 33,100 online monthly searches, while searches for “faux leather” remain constant—which Lyst said shows consumers may respond more positively to the keyword “vegan” rather than “faux.”

Denim remains one of the two most-wanted sustainable products. Searches for sustainable denim climbed 108 percent year-over-year. Sustainable sneakers, too, saw exponential growth, rising 142 percent.

However, consumers are beginning to look beyond these wardrobe staples. Lyst data shows that searches for “eco T-shirts” and “sustainable activewear” are growing, as well as interest in sustainable outerwear. Searches for “sustainable jackets” increased 41 percent since November, according to the report, with puffer jackets and vegan leather jackets being two of the most common used search terms on Lyst.

That level of interest in sustainable fashion is carried into the spring and summer seasons. Searches for sustainable swimwear grew 66 percent year-over-year, making it the fastest-growing category, Lyst stated.

The sustainable fashion vocabulary is also evolving.

Since the beginning of 2020, Lyst reports that it has seen a 37 percent increase in searches for sustainability-related keywords, with the average monthly searches increasing from 27,000 in 2019 to more than 32,000 year to date. And in that realm of keywords are some notable shifts in what consumers perceive as sustainable fashion.

Searches for “upcycled fashion” have increased 42 percent in the past three months—a trend that has hit the runway with designers like E. Tautz and Givenchy making new clothes out of old fabrics. Online searches for “pre-owned” and “secondhand” fashion have climbed 45 percent, too, though largely for accessories like sneakers, watches and handbags.

The term “slow fashion” is also picking up steam, Lyst reported. A concept honed by brands like Story Mfg., slow fashion has garnered more than 90 million social impressions in the past 12 months, slowly shifting the conversation away from fast fashion.

Any movement that steps away from “throwaway culture” in fashion, is positive and necessary, says Good on You.

“At Good on You, we envisage a future where people can find out the impact of the brands they want to buy just as easily as they can see the price or size,” the organization stated in the report. “They are then able to use their purchasing power to make brands, including fast-fashion brands, more transparent and committed to sustainable production.”