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Why Brands Must Work Fast to Catch Up to ‘Slow Fashion’ Movement

Consumer appetites have long been shifting away from disposable fast fashion and its questionable supply chain.

But as the unprecedented events of 2020 wear on, shoppers are becoming even more conscious about how they spend their money—and the impacts of their purchases.

Helene Behrenfeldt, Fashion Industry Strategy Director at cloud-based retail technology platform Infor, believes that “slow fashion” may be the next consumer craze. Brands, she said, must get their houses in order as they attempt to court a more educated, shrewd shopper than they have seen in seasons past.

The rise of a global pandemic has left many confined to their homes, nixing the need for a rapidly rotating wardrobe. “With consumers spending ample time at home, they’ve realized they don’t need to purchase as many new garments as they normally would,” Behrenfeldt said.

Many are choosing to invest in higher-quality loungewear pieces they can wear at home, instead of trend-conscious designs.

“We’re seeing consumers slowing down their pace of purchases, and increasingly taking time to consider the benefits of sustainable fashion,” she added. Business models like clothing rentals, recycling and repair are also generating more interest as shoppers have more time on their hands to consider their options.

“With the increase in slow fashion and attention to sustainability, I would anticipate renting to have the most staying power,” Behrenfeldt said. While consumers have historically made purchases based on their immediate needs—like school, work, and other predictable activities—what the future holds is anyone’s guess. When unexpected needs arise, rented fashion can fill the void.

Supply-chain transparency is becoming an increasingly important issue for brands looking to court savvy shoppers, and modern ERP software “can provide deep visibility into the supply chain behind fashion,” she added. The technology has the capacity to trace where a brand sourced its materials from, how a garment was made, how much water or chemicals were used, and what sustainable or ethical practices were used throughout the process.

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“Consumers are increasingly asking tough questions of their favorite fashion brands and are voicing their concerns with their dollars,” Behrenfeldt said, citing a McKinsey study that showed that 52 percent of millennials always research background information prior to making a purchase. Data also showed that 66 percent of all consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods.

“It’s clear that the leading fashion brands of tomorrow will proactively offer complete transparency to their customers,” she added. “For example, a consumer will be able to walk into a store and make an educated decision between two T-shirts,” she said, “by scanning QR codes on the garment swing tags and deciding which brand follows a supply-chain practice that aligns with their own beliefs.”

Brands are also actively working to revamp their material selections with an eye toward what happens to a garment after its time has come and gone. “The fashion industry is steadily becoming more aware of the importance of end-of-life focused materials,” Behrenfeldt said. Biodegradable fashion has seen a huge influx in interest.

Searches for Tencel, an all-natural cellulosic fiber, shot up by 42 percent since 2017, while searches for other similar products including lyocell, increased by 36 percent, according to global fashion platform Lyst.

Behrenfeldt also cited new and inventive developments in components like sequins, for example, which can now be made with a sustainable polylactic acid (PLA), “instead of petroleum-based plastics and PVC, which release persistent and carcinogenic toxins.”

While McKinsey data shows a five-fold increase in the number of sustainable fashion products produced over the past two years, “retailers have a long way to go,” she added. And though the rate of sustainable production has indeed increased, the company’s analysis showed that across 235 online retailers in Europe and the U.S., just 1 percent of new products launched in the first half of 2019 qualified as sustainable.

“Tackling sustainable fashion comes with several obstacles, the primary one being that manufacturers and suppliers must commit to accepted environmental practices and regulations,” Behrenfeldt said. “Physical proximity is also a key indicator of faster reaction times and lower carbon footprint for shipping—the closer the supplier is to its target market, the better.”

The ethical sourcing of labor, “including non-exploitative wages and humane working conditions,” along with sourcing recyclable fabrics are two of brands’ primary challenges. “The most important consideration is that brands treat fashion sustainably from end-to-end,” she said.