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Wait, How Many Consumers Would Back a ‘Fast Fashion Tax’?

The data appear to be clear: consumers want sustainable clothes.

According to a recent U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol’s survey, 61 percent of U.S. and U.K. brands and retailers have seen demand for sustainable products increase since the pandemic began. Fifty percent expect to see customer spending on sustainable apparel grow over the next 12 months.

Earlier in the year, Lenzing Group discovered similar interest in sustainability from a global consumer perception survey it conducted. According to the wood-based fiber specialist, 76 percent of apparel consumers actively learn about sustainability by researching a product’s production process before purchasing. It also found that most respondents would be willing to pay an average of 40 percent more for clothing or home textile products with descriptions that reflect sustainability.

A recent survey of 2,000 U.S. teenagers and adults from Genomatica further supports these findings.

According to the chemical manufacturer’s research, U.S. consumers are well aware of fashion’s environmental impact, with 72 percent reporting having heard of sustainability issues in the industry and 51 percent saying they believe Americans’ clothing purchases result in substantial greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Furthermore, over one-third, 34 percent, said if there was a store for sustainable clothes, they’d do all their shopping there. Thirty-one percent claimed they would support a “fast fashion tax” on unsustainable clothing.

“Consumers want to make more environmentally-friendly choices and are even willing to pay more for those options,” Genomatica CEO and co-founder Christophe Schilling told Sourcing Journal. “This creates a huge opportunity for brands to meet consumers where they are by developing clothing that’s better for the environment and providing more transparency and education behind their sustainability claims.”

While just less than one-third support the idea of a tax of unsustainable clothing, a majority, 52 percent, consciously make choices to be more sustainable, Genomatica found. Even more, 55 percent, say they are interested in purchasing “sustainable clothing.” Many—48 percent—however, don’t know how or where to find sustainable clothes and 42 percent are confused about what actually makes clothing sustainable.

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Consumers are particularly suspicious of “greenwashing,” the commonplace tactic whereby brands misrepresent their products’ sustainable benefits in order to appear eco-friendly. Genomatica found 88 percent of consumers don’t immediately trust brands that claim they’re sustainable and 51 percent believe greenwashing to be rampant in the fashion industry. Half, 50 percent, say a sustainability label would help them identify sustainable clothes and 38 percent say clearer information about sustainability features would make them want to purchase sustainable clothing.

“Consumer confusion around sustainability in fashion presents both a big challenge and opportunity for apparel brands,” Schilling said. “Consumers want brands to help them make better choices by making the choice clear: information around the sustainability profile of garments through a tag or similar labeling can help consumers understand how their choices are impacting the planet.”

Genomatica’s research supported a widely observed trend: consumers have become substantially more interested in sustainability during the pandemic. According to the manufacturer’s survey, 38 percent of those aware of sustainability issues in fashion have only cottoned on to them in the past year. Given how depressed interest in buying clothing has been until recently—44 percent of consumers purchased less clothing during the pandemic compared to before, Genomatica found—the impact of this shift has yet to be fully felt, Schilling said.

“As we see more and more consumers become aware of fashion’s sustainability issues, we expect to see an even greater shift towards brands providing more sustainable options for clothing and increased transparency and education to prove those claims,” Schilling added.