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‘Sustainable’ Clothing Product Descriptions Have Soared 125% Since 2017, Edited Says

With a “new era of sustainability”—as Nielsen once described it—supplanting an older, less enlightened one, retailers are changing the way they communicate with their customers.

Since 2017, retail products described using sustainable buzzwords such as “eco” and “recycled” have seen a “marked increase” online in the United States and United Kingdom, according to Edited, a retail-decision platform based in London, New York and San Francisco. Overall, new products described as “sustainable” in those markets have increased by 125 percent.

Edited also found a 49 percent growth in “eco” products and a 173 percent increase in “recycled” goods. Environmentally adjacent terms witnessed an uptick, too, with a 25 percent growth in items described as “conscious” and a 70 percent boost in those labeled “vegan.”

“With sustainable and eco initiatives hitting the headlines daily, there [has been] a gradual increase in mentions of sustainability,” Edited wrote in its “Sustainable Edit 2019” report. The trend dovetails with peaking consumer interest in sustainability, Edited noted, with an average of 90,500 Google searches for the term per month in the United States alone.

“Retail products described using these key buzzwords have seen a marked increase as retailers and brands take it upon themselves to educate consumers about their sustainable options,” it added.

Still, despite what may appear to be “significant strides” by the fashion industry, Edited cautioned its numbers don’t reveal the whole picture. To wit? Such planet-pandering products account for only 3 percent of the products available online in the United States and United Kingdom.

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Because terms like “sustainable” and “eco” are unregulated and can be freely misused, looking at an item described by a retailer as such “doesn’t give consumers a whole lot of insight on why it is better for the environment than any other,” Edited said.

That’s not to say shifts aren’t happening—you just have to dig deeper. Edited found an 83 percent increase in U.S. products containing organic cotton and a 127 percent increase in U.K. ones since 2017. In terms of “better cotton” from the Better Cotton Initiative, gains were more dramatic: 1,031 percent year on year in the United States and 887 percent in the United Kingdom. Incidences of “recycled denim” have likewise intensified since 2017, with a 720 percent increase in products tagged as such sold in the United States and a 337 percent one in the United Kingdom.

“Due to the huge amount of pollution denim production has caused the environment, retailers are seeking eco-friendly alternatives,” Edited said.

And consumers, by and large, are willing to shell out for the often higher cost of sustainable apparel, the firm said. Take, for example, Los Angeles’ Reformation, which sells through the majority of its SKUs in an average of 38 days—a rate Edited describes as “on par” with budget fast-fashion brands such as Fashion Nova.

“[Our] data indicates, despite pricing perceptions, customers are willing to pay for an eco-friendly product, provided it is fashionable,” Edited added.