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What is it Really Going to Take for Millennials to Embrace Apparel Sustainability?

Millennials are said care about causes that mean the most to them, including protecting the planet. But why aren’t these young shoppers stocking up their wardrobes with more sustainable apparel?

It’s a question much of the industry has sought to answer as things move more toward less impactful product.

LIM College professors Robert Conrad and Dr. Kenneth Kambara have suggested myriad reasons for this behavior, including price point, lack of eco-friendly garment options and failure to properly target this demographic with niche shopping experiences.

Both professors recently tackled the issue in their study, “Shopping Trends Among 18-37 Year-Olds,” which revealed some insight on what’s holding millennial consumers back from buying eco-friendly clothes. The study, which surveyed 685 shoppers between the ages of 18 and 37, revealed that only 34 percent of participants said sustainability was a driver for their fashion purchases, compared to 95 percent for ease of purchase, 95 percent for price/value, 92 percent for uniqueness and 60 percent for the brand name of a product.

Price and uniqueness play a part

More millennial consumers might be on board to reduce apparel pollution—provided the price is right.

The report’s data demonstrates that millennial consumers are concerned more about their wallets than reducing their carbon footprint. What’s more, many of those shoppers have had difficulty finding eco-minded brands that resonate with their individual styles and budget.

Though some brands, like Eileen Fisher and Stella McCartney, have worked to revamp their apparel offerings to be more sustainable, Kambara said this process isn’t a simple one. For a brand to add lower-impact product to its stable, that could entail a new approach to design, navigating the constraints of more sustainable materials, and rethinking the supply chain.

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“One piece of the puzzle is price—or what we call value—price given the perceived value of what’s being purchased. Another is access to sustainable fashions that they want to purchase. Right now, sustainability is a part of millennials’ belief system, but until other factors align with it, it’s unlikely to be a driver of purchases,” Kambara said. ” The pathway to that momentum is likely through uniqueness and perceptions of value, which is a tall order.”

Who’s securing millennial shoppers?

Though the uptake hasn’t yet been ideal, their are a few sustainable brands proving to resonate with millennial consumers. According to both professors, brands like Anek, Everlane and Nudie Jeans are nailing brand relevance and reshaping the market by focusing transparency and the “cool factor” of sustainable/repairable denim in their branding campaigns. Each discloses information about the origins of their products and works to offer reasonable prices that millennial consumers will be willing to pay.

So what would the ideal eco-friendly clothing destionation look like from a millennials perspective? According to the study, it would be a solid mix of value, uniqueness and convenience, while supporting solid engagement in stores and online.

“Get the fundamentals right and think about how your omni fits with your IMC (Integrated Marketing Communications),” Kambara said. “So, I think blueprinting the customer touchpoints using physical retail, web, mobile and social while factoring in eco-friendliness and relevance is a good starting point.”

Can the industry improve millennials’ affinity for sustainable apparel?

Sustainable apparel may not be first to mind for millennials looking to spend on clothing, but the coming years could see that shift. If brands find the right balance between price, uniqueness and convenience, the millennial consumer could be more likely to make the switch to more sustainable garments.

“The balancing act in this sector lies between achieving ‘economic scale’ and maintaining authenticity through relatively scarce distribution,” Conrad said, adding that sustainable apparel may also become part of the emerging trend among the younger populations of “intentional living.”

“Among other things, this might include shutting down the phone, going for a walk and actually doing something for the fun of it rather than as part of a life devoted to competition and achievement,” he said.