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Will Inflation Drive Consumers to Make More Sustainable Purchases?

The pandemic posed an unprecedented threat to sustainable innovation. The crisis, however, also led to brands, retailers and shoppers themselves taking a more honest look at their consumption habits. Designers promised smaller collections in the future, and consumers cleaned out closets and rediscovered the joy of resale and thrifting. Companies established more stringent protocols for measuring and reporting their environmental impact.

But sustainability is facing a new challenge two years later. Despite worker wages rising, consumer insights company GWI say they are not keeping pace with the cost of living. As a result, people are looking to make cutbacks where they can.

The inflation crisis in the U.S. means consumers may have to find alternative ways to practice sustainable lifestyles on a budget. GWI’s latest report found that more than half of the consumers surveyed said they feel the cost of living has changed compared to 6 months ago, and 23 percent said inflation has had a “dramatic impact” on them personally.

To reduce spending, some of the most popular consumer actions center around reusability—be it using a water bottle or prioritizing versatile clothing. “Inflation could have a big impact on what clothing pieces consumers buy, with more potentially opting for traditional and timeless pieces, which won’t need to be repurchased as often,” GWI stated.

Though Gen Z and millennials are often viewed as the most vocal and knowledgeable about sustainable fashion, this is where the cohorts could take a cue from their older counterparts. GWI reported that over half of Gen Z and millennial consumers buy clothes at least once every two to three months and are “far more likely” to say they purchases clothes and footwear that they don’t need compared to baby boomers and Gen X.

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“When it comes to clothing, boomers also prefer to buy more traditional styles rather than the latest trends, which could mean they end up consuming less,” GWI stated.

The secondhand market, which GWI said is expected to double to $82 billion by 2026 in the U.S., is one avenue young consumers may get their retail fix responsibly. Access to secondhand garments have never been greater with household brand names like Levi’s and Wrangler adding vintage and preowned jeans to their assortments and new secondhand e-commerce sites like Denim Library popping up.

Gen Z is especially comfortable shopping for preowned items. “Just over a fifth of Gen Z and millennials say they’re planning to buy more secondhand clothing due to rising costs, and we may see this number continue to grow,” the report stated.

While consumers may opt for cost-saving ways to shop sustainability, they still expect companies to reduce their environmental impact. The report found that Gen Z and millennials are more inclined to say they want brands to be transparent about how products are made, which could help them make more informed decisions and shop more sustainably.

“Younger generations place more onus on the government, while older generations feel more responsibility lies with individual consumers but overall, more than a fifth feel that brands have the most responsibility in supporting sustainable initiatives,” GWI stated. “It’s time for brands to lead the way in the movement.”