Sustainability commanded the largest share of conversations at the recent Heimtextil tradeshow in Frankfurt, but chatter among mills and manufacturers highlighted a lingering problem: buyers still overwhelmingly prioritize price over eco efforts.
While consumers grow more interested in sustainability, brands and retailers are simultaneously facing cost pressures and waning interest in spending for the sake of it—and the divergent shifts haven’t quite created an environment where buyers are forking over extra dollars to go green. And that means manufacturers may not see payments for their investments into the environment.
“Buyers are more interested in design, good looks and the price, because, for them, selling is the main task,” said Rohit Kella of Shree India, which manufactures block-print textiles and home goods made from recycled saris. “They want lower price products…because they keep low prices in the stores, everything is transparent and everything is online, so it affects us.”
If it’s not price, designers are still hesitant to adopt more sustainable materials, in some cases, because of the limitations in performance compared to what they’d be guaranteed when using virgin inputs.
India’s Atlas Export Enterprises, which specializes in yarn-dyed cushions and pillow covers made from materials like recycled polyester and recycled cotton, indicated that buyers walking the trade show earlier this month were mostly interested in “good designs” but “with less price.”
What’s more, the company’s managing director N. Senthil Prasath said, “Mainly we are focused on recycled. They are most interested in this but they are afraid of the colors because colors are a limitation with this.”
And even amid embracing more recycled materials over virgin, color challenges aside, the company is lowering its prices even though its input investment is increasing.
“Because of competition with places like Bangladesh, we are pushing to reduce the price,” Prasath said.
Needless to say, it has been slow going to get buyers to put their money where their sustainability demands are—though they’ll have to start making the move to do so soon.
“Brands are already seeing that the consumers are questioning where the product is coming from,” said Andreas Dorner, commercial director for Europe and Americas textiles at the Lenzing Group. “They are asking where the products are coming from and…we see that the manufacturers, they are interested to offer this to consumers in Europe.”
In the U.S., where sustainability uptake has lagged Europe, some hubs, like New York and California are starting to catch up and lead the industry, but many brands across the country still aren’t spending more for sustainability.
“If they have an environmentally friendly alternative, they are interested. If it is cost neutral, everybody will take it,” Dorner said. “It’s not the mass who change…but for brands and retailers who really want to offer an environmental collection on the premium side, they will pay.”