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The New Consumer Profiles Shaping Sustainable Fashion

Rivet’s 2021 winter issue has dropped! This in-depth issue examines the steps the global denim industry is taking to minimize its impact on the environment, from implementing zero waste production and design processes to establishing greenhouse gas emissions goals aligned with the Paris Agreement.

While many consumers report wanting to adopt more sustainable consumption habits, doing so is not necessarily their top priority. With a sustainable label often comes a higher price tag—and for some, that’s a challenge to justify, even if it’s for the greater good.

According to a new report from trend forecasting company WGSN, this value-driven consumer is one of three new consumer profiles to consider when engaging with customers. The report referenced a KPMG survey of more than 75,000 respondents across 12 markets from May to Sept. 2020 that showed 63 percent of people consider value for money as a key purchase driver.

Though budget-focused, this consumer group can still be swayed by other types of value, including convenience and socio-ecological responsibility. Opening localized stores and offering customer-centric opportunities such as curbside pickup, BOPIS, and shipping directly from stores are strategies that companies like Torrid and Levi’s adopted during the pandemic to provide better convenience and engagement for this cohort.

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“Increasingly driven by value for money and a need for independence, this cohort will seek convenient local solutions that simplify life and enable them to regain control of it,” the report stated.

On the other hand, purpose-driven consumers care most about a company’s ethics and supporting actions. WGSN described this cohort as those who “transform negative emotions related to climate change into hope and action,” pointing specifically to Gen Z and millennial consumers as most likely to feel a sense of climate-related dread and helplessness.

Brands can tap into this cohort with dedicated messaging that outlines their sustainability efforts. And before companies pump their marketing with empty statements and greenwashing, the report makes it clear that this consumer group demands to see supporting action.

“For businesses, being vocal about sustainability commitments will be as important as following with actions,” it stated.

Tracing technology, which has been adopted by Turkish denim mills Calik Denim and Orta Anadolu in recent months, directly challenges greenwashing and provides a level of transparency that’s especially appreciated by this cohort.

But while the Covid-19 pandemic and increasing focus on the climate crisis has propelled many into action, there’s still a subset of consumers that refuses to change their habits. WGSN refers to this cohort as the disengaged consumer, described as being “driven by a sense of mistrust in institutions and by misinformation.”

The same systems that help provide credibility for the purpose-driven consumer can also benefit the disengaged consumer. Providing supply chain transparency and sharing evidence of sustainable practices can help brands rebuild trust among this group, as can working with governments and the media to demonstrate their commitment. In May, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe backed an Ethereum-based transparency toolkit for tracking garments and footwear from raw components to the point of purchase, signaling hope for a better future.

An underlying theme across all consumer profiles is an expectation that companies do better. In collaboration with Copenhagen Fashion Week, WGSN reported on key takeaways from the Covid-19 pandemic that can help brands better engage with customers.

“Conscious citizens are hyper-aware of the social and environmental pitfalls of organizations and brands; legislation focusing on the EU textiles sector is underway; and as part of our strategy at Copenhagen Fashion Week, show brands will need to live up to a set of standards and requirements as of 2023,” said Cecilie Thorsmark, CEO of Copenhagen Fashion Week.

The report indicated that companies are looking to upgrades like more durable designs, increasing use of regenerative fibers, closed-loop and biodegradable packaging, and cross-industry collaborations in the wake of the pandemic to shift its focus from “doing less harm to doing more good.”

For this reason, an increasing number of apparel brands is doubling down on hemp and other regenerative fibers. There’s also a growing emphasis on collaborations with sustainable sourcing programs. Artistic Milliners’ Milliner Organic is a recent example of a company supplying local farmers with the tools they need to produce more sustainably at scale. The program supports the expansion of indigenous organic cotton in the Pakistan’s Baluchistan region to help farmers and meet the growing global demand for organic cotton.

Similarly, footwear brand Timberland launched an initiative to source all of its natural materials from regenerative supply chains. Last year, it introduced its first collection of boots made from regenerative leather, and has since built new supply chains and systems for regenerative rubber, cotton, wool and sugarcane.

Responsible design is another area of focus for companies that can be applied to even the seemingly smallest details, such as packaging. WGSN recommends partnering with closed-loop recycling and reuse companies to keep packaging in circulation, and avoiding single-use virgin materials. Teaming with other brands and technologies can also help both parties become more sustainable and efficient.

“[Collaborations] can be truly progressive and signal how to design a better future when they spark innovation, cross-pollinate ideas and transmit knowledge, whether it’s keeping traditional skills alive or bringing cutting-edge innovations to the market,” the report stated.