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Will Millennials Force Apparel Industry into Transparency?

Millennials have already embraced the craft/local/small batch/global comfort food movement, so much so that transparency and origin are now second nature in the food business. Now there are some who say it will take Millennials to bring that same transparency to the apparel industry.

“Like other generations, seven in 10 Millennials say they’re committed to living an environmentally and sustainable lifestyle,” said Ellen Karp, founder of Anerca International, a consumer research firm commissioned by Oeko-Tex for a study on the global consumer, who presented the findings during a webinar for the American Apparel and Footwear Association. “So what are they doing? They’re purchasing organic foods. They’re purchasing natural organic personal care products. And that follows a very standard pattern of adoption of sustainable behaviors. People generally start with what they ingest and then move into what goes on their body.”

According to Karp, four in 10 Millennials try to avoid brands or companies they feel aren’t friendly either to the environment or those making the product, which could have an effect on retail and apparel brands.

“This is something that comes up again and again,” Karp said. “The general findings of the survey suggested that as people increasingly learn about the impact of textile production, the greater the likelihood for shifts in attitudes and behaviors as they seek to ‘live a better textile life.’ And brands and marketers should be ready.”

Right now, consumers—especially younger shoppers—will vet food more than their clothes. Overall, more than 43 percent of all consumers say they always/usually check the country of origin information before purchasing fruits or vegetables. That compares to 38 percent for clothes and 34 percent for home textiles, according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey.

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But digging deeper, it’s clear younger consumers are putting effort into researching some products more than others. When it comes to checking food, 52 percent of those age 25-to-34 “always/usually” check the country of origin, significantly more than those aged 35-to-55 (40 percent). And while fewer consumers check clothes for country of origin, 25-34 year olds were more likely to do so than those 35-55 (46 percent versus 36 percent).

Consumers also check labels for fabric content before buying. The Monitor™ research finds more than four in 10 (42 percent) “always or usually” check the fiber label, and cotton is their favorite fiber or fabric to wear (81 percent). Consumers say compared to manmade fibers, cotton clothes are the most comfortable (86 percent), sustainable (86 percent), soft (83 percent), and have the highest quality (78 percent).

Karp said the Anerca study shows once people have children, their levels of concern regarding harmful substances increase. For instance, parents of young children are most concerned (51 percent), compared to parents with older kids (47 percent), and those with no kids (28 percent).

“Among the quotes from Millennials, we had one person say, ‘I never worried about harmful substances before, but after my daughter was born, I started to become interested in ingredients in personal care products. Now I want to learn as much as possible about clothing safety and responsibility,” Karp said.

Most consumers (90 percent) say they would feel good about wearing apparel made with cotton that’s grown in the U.S., according to Monitor™ research. And 58 percent would pay more for clothes made with U.S.-grown cotton.

Searching fiber labels for sustainability information might seem daunting, but Elizabeth L. Cline, author of “Overdressed, the Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion,” and the upcoming, “The Conscious Closet: A Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good While Doing Good,” offers advice to both help shoppers as well as accelerate change in the industry. She suggests consumers vet the environmental and social impact of their favorite brands through apps like Good on You and Buycott, which allow users to search their favorite labels or scan a garment’s barcode while shopping. Consumers can also buy ethical and sustainable products using the shopping directory on Cline’s website, which features designers and brands that “are committed to producing fashion in a way that protects both the environment and human rights.”

Karp said Millennials want easy assurances that the brands they favor are doing the right thing. However, she said, this generation also has a heightened sensitivity to false claims, so greenwashing will only lead to lost trust. Brands need to be transparent and communicate that they’re a conscious brand in a very clear way.

“If we are indeed approaching a tipping point in textile sustainability, Millennials are driving us there on the internet highway,” Karp said. “And even if you don’t market to Millennials, if your core audience is older, it’s still important to take heed. Millennials are already the loudest voice in the marketplace. They’re shopping more often than others. They are coming into positions of social, cultural and business leadership and dominance. Their values are soon to become the norm.”

This article is one in a series that appears weekly on sourcingjournalonline.comThe data contained are based on findings from the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Surveya consumer attitudinal study, as well as upon other of the company’s industrial indicators, including its Retail Monitor and Supply Chain Insights analyses. Additional relevant information can be found at