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Report: The Apparel Industry Is Ripe for a Green Revolution

Google searches for “sustainable fashion” jumped 130 percent over the past year, highlighting a potential gold mine for innovative apparel brands looking to do good.

While CPG goods and personal care items remain high on consumers’ lists of green products to shop for, the apparel industry is especially ripe for growth, according to a report released Monday by A.T. Kearney.

Nearly half (49 percent) of young consumers ages 18-44 said they planned on shifting their purchases towards environmentally conscious clothing brands in the coming year. Only 38 percent of those respondents said they’d already changed their purchasing behaviors.

Of note, 71 percent of consumers across all ages and demographics said they consider the environment while shopping—but only 52 percent of those respondents have adjusted their purchasing decisions accordingly. The disparity shows that brands and retailers haven’t caught up to the public’s desire to consume more consciously.

The hesitance that consumers are feeling comes down mostly to cost, with more than half of respondents across all income levels saying they were unwilling to pay a premium for environmentally-friendly products. But it’s not just price that has consumers tightening their purse strings—it’s skepticism.

The chasm dividing consumer intent and action could be attributed to ineffective marketing. Some green benefit claims are more effective than others, the report asserts.

Nearly 50 percent of consumers ranked recyclability as a driving purchasing factor out of 10 possible benefit claims. More nebulous claims like a “product is made in a way that reduces energy consumption” showed much weaker resonance, with only 17 percent of consumers ranking it as a top consideration.

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Consumers prefer green claims that feel more actionable and “immediate” over “remote” claims about policies or manufacturing processes that aren’t easily verifiable or influential to their daily lives. They’re wary of “green-washing,” or attempts by brands to capitalize on the sustainability trend by making false claims about environmental benefits.

According to the report, 40 percent of consumers are looking to brands for hard facts and evidence to prove that their claims are trustworthy, while 37 percent stated that they would be more convinced by third-party validation in the form of governmental approval or certification by a relevant organization.

While these efforts would require more legwork on the part of retailers, they could prove monumental for their bottom lines. The vast majority of respondents (80 percent) said they would consider accepting delayed shipping times if they knew it would have a clear, positive impact on the environment. In a world where fast, free shipping has become a near necessity for sellers, consumer willingness to forgo the perk is telling.

According to Greg Portell, an A.T. Kearney partner, the report makes two things clear for brands looking to compete in the green space: “One: credibility, authenticity, and communications are critical to selling any benefits. And, two: consumers expect manufacturers and retailers to bear their fair share of the cost.”