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How Brands Can Fulfill Shoppers’ Sustainability Wish Lists This Holiday

The holiday shopping season is upon us once again. Like other annual events during the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 gift buying experience will be much different than in previous years. Consumer behavior has been changing for a while now, and the pandemic is likely to accelerate those changes.

A prime example is the transition from in-person to online shopping that has been occurring for the past decade. According to data from the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, more online shopping was actually done on Black Friday than on Cyber Monday in 2019. E-commerce sales this year will likely surge by 25 to 35 percent as people seek to avoid shopping in the traditional holiday crowds, per projections from Deloitte.

However, 2020 also will mark the first significant drop in holiday spending since 2014 due to the financial impact of COVID-19. An NRF survey found consumers will on average spend $50 dollars less than they did the year before.

With financial hardships and uncertainty, shoppers will be spending less and therefore making more impactful decisions regarding what gifts they buy. It will be important for brands, particularly apparel brands, to better understand consumers’ priorities.

During initial lockdowns in April, the apparel industry saw sales decline by 79 percent. The holiday season presents an opportunity for the fashion industry to recoup some of its losses. Deloitte data shows 74 percent of shoppers are expected to buy clothes during the holidays, with an average spend of $253 dollars. Apparel purchases will account for approximately one-fifth of holiday budgets.

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At this volatile time, sustainability is especially important when it comes to where consumers choose to buy clothes and what kind of products they select.

“We live in a society where saving the planet is of growing importance. You see that as we’ve gone through the pandemic,” said Dr. Gary Adams, president and CEO of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. “That focus on sustainability and the effort to be as efficient with our resources as possible has not wavered.”

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, the new system for more sustainably grown cotton, has commissioned research to determine how apparel brands and retailers see consumers’ attitudes towards sustainability in fashion and how companies are reacting to reduce their impact on the environment, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent study the Trust Protocol conducted with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) found that 51 percent of 150 fashion insiders felt that consumers were the primary drivers of sustainability in their industry. Demand from customers beat out competition from other brands and retailers and government regulation as the biggest reason why apparel brands are making significant changes towards sustainability. And COVID-19 has only amplified that change.

Additionally, in a Trust Protocol and Sourcing Journal survey of 138 global fashion sustainability executives this summer, 54 percent of respondents said there is more demand for sustainable products during the pandemic than before it.

Brands know that they need to answer the call from customers for sustainability. Executives who participated in the Sourcing Journal survey felt that 48 percent of their customers would switch to a competitor if their brands failed to meet their sustainability goals, so these companies are acting.

Transparency and trust

For brands to drive sustainability and keep eco-conscious customers buying their products for holiday seasons to come, they need to work from the ground up to better understand the impact of their products.

That’s where the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol comes in. In this period of ever greater supply-chain scrutiny and the growing demand for transparency and traceability, the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol provides data that can help brands. The study with the EIU found that 58 percent of executives surveyed are implementing sustainability strategies with tangible targets and 53 percent are collecting data on sustainability performance for their entire business.

The Trust Protocol sets a new standard for more sustainably grown cotton. It brings quantifiable and verifiable goals and measurement to sustainable cotton production and drives continuous improvement in six key sustainability metrics: land use, soil carbon, water management, soil loss, greenhouse gas emissions, and energy efficiency. It also employs a mass-balance credit system allowing the brand or retailer to understand the path of their cotton from field to laydown, or bale processing.

By choosing Trust Protocol cotton, brands and retailers will get the critical assurances they need that the cotton fiber element of their supply chain is more sustainably grown with lower environmental and social risks. Brands and retailers will gain access to U.S. cotton with sustainability credentials proven via Field to Market, measured via the Fieldprint® Calculator, and verified with Control Union Certifications.

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol helps brands and retailers measure and verify their sustainability commitments to their customers, their broader stakeholders, and themselves.

“Sustainability has become a key component of making brands attractive this holiday season, and viable in seasons to come,” said Tara Luckman, director of Flourish CSR and advisor to the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol. “These measures and targets in the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol are designed to give consumers confidence that Trust Protocol growers are transparent in their practices and continuously improving.”

COVID-19 has already proven to be a catalyst for great change. It is likely this November and December that we will see customers continue to prove their commitment to sustainability with their gift spending. With the Trust Protocol, brands give consumers the gift of choosing presents that can be enjoyed today without costing the future.

Click here to learn more about the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.