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Report: Materials Motivate Consumers to Make Responsible Purchases

Navigating fashion’s oft-greenwashed landscape is complicated for most consumers but the desire to buy better is alive and well.

A new study by IFM-Première Vision Chair, a research partnership between Institut Français de la Mode (IFM) and the trade show organizer, found the 90.5 percent of the 6,000 respondents it surveyed in France, Italy, Germany, the U.K. and U.S. intend to change the way they buy clothes. They just need to be better educated about why and what to buy alternatively.

While sustainable fashion is a steadily growing portion of clothing purchases, the survey illustrates a “great need for clarification on materials and production methods that are still poorly identified.”

Among those who do not yet buy sustainable fashion, 40.2 percent of respondents in France and 49 percent of respondents in the U.S. say they are “held back by a lack of information.” In the same population, more than one customer out of three claims to not know where to find such products. This information gap, the report stated, highlights a major obstacle to growth for environmentally responsible fashion businesses. Nine out of 10 people say that they intend to change the way they buy clothes, but they have not acted on it yet because they lack information.

Information on sustainable materials might be the best place to begin closing the gap. Materials matter to conscious consumers wanting to make environmentally responsible clothing purchases. Among the materials cited as damaging to the environment, polyester, acrylic and polyamide rank first. Other materials like cotton, wool and linen are favored on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Germany, Italy and the U.K., materials are perceived as the “main lever” for a more reasonable fashion industry. Meanwhile, French and American consumers are more likely to associate sustainable fashion with local production. To these consumers, domestic manufacturing means less impact from transportation and stronger government regulations versus having to rely on certifications.

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Though the denim industry has ramped up its production of organic and circular products, opportunities in the storytelling of organic, recycled or plant-based materials remain plenty. Only 5.2 percent of French respondents and 3.7 percent of Germans know about materials derived from agricultural waste, while even fewer are familiar with textiles synthesized from renewable resources. The report found that “connoisseurs and specialists know about them” but that its urgent to introduce them to the general public.

Despite the cloud of confusion that continues to engulf sustainable fashion, the educational steps brands and retailers are making is having an impact on purchasing decisions. In a 2019 study conducted by the IFM-Première Vision Chair, 43.4 percent of Germans and 45.3 percent of French respondents said they had purchased at least one eco-responsible fashion item that year. In 2022, those numbers climbed to 64.4 percent and 65.3 percent, respectively.

The growth is greatest in Italy, where 45 percent of Italians in 2019 said they had purchased an eco-responsible fashion item, compared to 78.4 percent today.

The impact of inflation looms over sustainable fashion, however. When asked to rank the “well-established trifecta of criteria for choosing a garment,” price ranked first for European and American consumers, followed by quality for Europeans and comfort for Americans.

Echoing GWI’s recent report that points to consumers forgoing unnecessary apparel purchases to stay on budget, Gildas Minvielle, director of the IFM-Première Vision Chair, named price as sustainable fashion’s main roadblock in the coming months. “With the return of inflation and increasingly tight household budgets as fuel and food prices go up, the decision to buy clothes could become more complex,” he said.