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Sustainability Has to Get Way Cooler to Get Consumers’ Attention

Brands may have to take baby steps if they want to get customers on the sustainability bandwagon in a bigger way.

It’s challenging enough to get consumers in the West—who voice concern for the environment—to actually buy sustainable clothing in stores, so in China, where buying habits are largely driven by either big name brands or rock-bottom prices like those found on sites like Taobao and Aliexpress, eco-friendly efforts will be slow going.

That’s why Shanghai Fashion Week organizers hosted GreenCode last week, with workshops, talks, a pop-up shop and a fashion show highlighting sustainability.

Rather than the standard, often staid sustainability marketing, GreenCode took things more hip and less serious, though designers in the pop-up shop were perhaps only loosely connected to sustainability at best. According to Jing Daily, some brands were making product from recycled materials, while others were positioning hand-painted clutches as being more “green” because they weren’t produced in a factory.

“We want to make things easy, fun and interesting,” Candy Li, director of fashion management company HardCandy and curator of the GreenCode designers, told Jing Daily. “When we’ve talked about sustainability in the past, we’ve talked about it in negative terms, like ‘you can’t kill animals,’ and ‘it’s not good for the planet.’ This is a really important part of the discussion, but if you make it fun, the average person can get involved.”

The thought process might also do well for Western brands and retailers still struggling to get consumers to put their money where their sustainable ideals are.

In China, much of the general public isn’t aware of fashion as being friendly to the environment, said Fan Yang, who curates a showroom in China called Coda Showroom, featuring designers that both represent good design and are exploring ways to be more respectful and responsible to the planet, Jing Daily reported.

“At this stage, it’s definitely meaningful to have events like GreenCode,” Yang said. “At least it has provoked its audience to think about eco-fashion. We are one step behind—people are not even aware of green fashion yet. In other words, green fashion does not motivate consumption.”

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China may not be the easiest place to get consumers on board with spending more for sustainability, but awareness of the concept is increasing.

At Intertextile Shanghai Apparel Fabrics, which also took place last week, the dedicated All About Sustainability area of the show floor was 10 percent larger than at last year’s fall fair in order to accommodate what has been seen as increased demand for products with less adverse impact.

Sustainable fashion is in a prime position to ride on the coattails of consumers’ already increasing consumption of healthier, organic food and heightened interest in exercise and wellness.

Li told Jing Daily that consumers in China could change their attitudes toward eco-friendly fashion if they are given small and easy ways to participate in the sustainability movement—which is likely the same for consumers everywhere.

For now, GreenCode is trying to get consumers to donate used clothing by giving them easy and convenient places to do so and by using uber-popular bloggers to encourage their social media supporters to do environmentally-friendly things or buy sustainable products by showcasing themselves doing so.

Addressing “green” fashion in China, Yang told Jing Daily, “I’m positive that it all might evolve faster than we realize,” adding that, “If more and more designers want to tackle that area, it’s actually good for both the Earth and their own career.”