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Do Millennial Consumers Really Care about Sustainability?

Millennials, or that huge group of young adults born between 1981-2000 who represent about 30 percent of the world’s population, are the marketing hot topic on everybody’s mind. They’re the trendsetters, the opinion leaders, the people who will be running the world shortly if they aren’t already. They are, without question, the most influential generation of our time.

How do they really feel about sustainability? Well, think about it. They have been raised in a world where “climate change” is part of the daily international dialogue. The future of their world and their children’s world is threatened not only by nuclear war but also by melting glaciers and species extinction. In the OEKO-TEX® global consumer study, “The Key To Confidence: Consumers and Textile Sustainability,” 40 percent of millennials surveyed listed climate change as one of the top five things that worry them. Climate change tied for second with personal finances and health, right behind terrorism (45 percent).

So, the answer is yes, millennials care about sustainability. They understand the interconnectedness of the world and their families. They understand the role they can play with their purchasing habits. Almost 70 percent of them report having purchased organic food and almost 60 percent have purchased organic personal care products. The real question is do millennials really care about textile sustainability?

The answer to that is also yes. Then why isn’t eco-fashion jumping off the shelves, skeptics ask. Well, as OEKO-TEX® discovered, there is a gap between what people know about textiles and what they need to know in order to be concerned. As with other generations, when OEKO-TEX® asked millennials about how their clothes were made, about 38 percent agreed that they didn’t know much. Although that is less than the boomers at 42 percent, it’s still a big chunk of the generation.

However, the point with millennials is that they will find out more information about the textile industry. It’s only a matter of time. And when they do, they will care more. millennials’ online media usage alone supports that. They aren’t waiting for a newspaper to come out to learn about child labor or a line of clothes with harmful substances or the factories polluting rivers in Bangladesh. The information is flying at them from documentaries on Netflix, from passionate advocates on social media, from celebrities who use the red carpet as a pulpit, to name just a few. Millennials see and hear it all. Remember, this generation was practically born with a smart phone in their hands.

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Millennials are already more aware of the industry’s less attractive aspects than most. Twenty-six percent of millennials consider the industry to be a serious polluter compared with 16 percent of Boomers, which may explain why they are also 10 points ahead of Boomers with their concerns about harmful substances in their clothing (43 percent) and home textiles (41 percent). They are even more impressed with “eco-friendly” and certified clothing than their older friends.

So again, why aren’t eco-fashions flying off the shelf? Maybe it’s about availability, maybe it’s about price. Most likely, it’s because many millennials have yet to connect the dots between the clothes they buy and sustainability. Sure, they know organics when they see them at the grocery store and they know organic cotton, recycled polyester, fair trade, etc., when they are called out at the clothing store but does it click when they’re looking at that little black dress or T-shirt, or work khakis? Maybe not. At least, not yet.

Millennials are avid shoppers. They don’t want to shop less. However, they do want to buy more responsibly. They are looking for brands and retailers who align with their values and can help them do the right things like reduce their sustainability footprint, protect the planet and people, and not unintentionally harm their families. Millennials know that their dollars have the power to improve society and the environment.

And millennials are on the front line of consumption. They are going off to school, beginning a career, furnishing new houses and apartments, and starting families. Moreover, our study shows that as millennials become parents, their sensitivity to all things responsible is likely to go into overdrive. Parenthood is often a portal to more environmentally and socially responsible living. Suddenly the survival of the world takes on a different meaning when they have a child who will live in it.

More than half of parents of young children in “The Key To Confidence” study expressed apprehension about harmful substances in their children’s clothing. These concerns ranged from worries about ingestion of chemicals to anxieties about chemicals triggering allergies and autism. While millennials are on the leading edge of the textile sustainability wave, parents are definitely the top targets for marketing messages about responsible, sustainable, safe clothing and home textiles.

Millennials are a massive group of consumers and even if only a portion ever fully embrace textile sustainability, it will have a major impact on the industry. As OEKO-TEX® heard, if eco-fashion isn’t flying off the shelves today, soon sustainable fashion will be critically important for brands and retailers who want to appeal to millennials. Those brands and retailers who act as textile sustainability role models and make “doing the right thing” easy for their shoppers will be the ones riding the sustainability wave hand in hand with millennials.

To learn more about the OEKO-TEX® “The Key To Confidence: Consumers and Textile Sustainability” study, go to