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The Impact of Garment Durability and Sustainability on Consumer Behavior

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Many fashion companies are integrating garment durability into their sustainable product strategies. In addition to the physical aspects of durability, companies need to consider how to encourage desired consumer behaviors. Designing a durable garment has little sustainable impact unless its owner wears it longer.

A recent panel discussion hosted by The LYCRA Company, as well as a mini survey of 45 global industry leaders, delved into both the physical and emotional aspects of durability. This article explores some key industry perceptions, as well as the challenges brands and retailers face in helping durable clothing realize its potential.

The Relationship Between Durability and Sustainability

Professionals in the fashion and apparel industry agree that durability and sustainability goals can have a symbiotic relationship with similarly aligned objectives, but do consumers see the connection?

“Most consumers make the connection between durability and sustainability. In many cases, people highlight durability even as the most important aspect of sustainability,” said Meri Lundahl, chief sustainability officer at Teraloop Oy. “But in practical decisions, other factors seem to override that, for example, price or just needing a product for a short time, etc.”

Other panelists suggested brands need to find ways to help consumers see the connection between durability and sustainability to change shopping behavior.

For consumers to commit to durable clothing, some experts offered that the garment needs to address the emotional challenge of how it makes the wearer feel—for example, confident, beautiful, unique. If durable garments fill an emotional need, they may drive the adoption of more sustainable apparel.

The mini survey asked how companies should address the emotional aspects of durability. The top three responses were using quality fabrics/components that retain their performance (73 percent); making garments that are so comfortable and well-fitting that consumers will want to wear them (62 percent); and creating timeless garments that don’t go out of style (56 percent).

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The Challenges of Durability

One of the challenges of focusing on garment durability as a value proposition is how to measure whether something is really durable. In the mini survey, The LYCRA Company asked industry experts to identify the best tools for garment durability metrics. Physical durability tests (tensile, tear, shape retention, color retention) were selected by 49 percent of respondents, 2 percent chose life cycle analysis, and 49 percent said both.

But perhaps the biggest challenge for the industry is how it can evolve business models to balance both sustainability and profitability. With fast fashion dominating the industry for the past 10 years, both companies and consumers need to change their mindsets, but that’s challenging if the net effect is fewer purchases and reduced profits.

“Fast fashion has destroyed the old wise attitude of caring for and preserving clothes,” said Michela Gioacchini, fashion and sporting goods lead at environmental sustainability consultancy Quantis Italy. “Apps like Vinted promote ‘emotionally durable’ or ‘pre-loved’ clothes, changing the image of the secondhand market. It’s not just for income-strapped people—it’s a cool resource to have nice ‘new’ pieces without increasing production.”

Panelists concluded that innovative after-purchase services, new approaches to the secondhand market and alteration services could provide fresh opportunities and revenue streams for brands.

Considering the growing popularity of secondhand apparel consumption, the mini survey asked industry professionals whether their company was designing with a re-commerce opportunity in mind. Fifty-three percent said yes, while 47 percent said no.

Most panelists acknowledged that the biggest obstacle to companies developing and promoting more durable clothing is the possible impact on their bottom line. But the growth of re-commerce and new business models can help turn those challenges into opportunities.

Do you want to find fibers and technologies that extend garment wear life and address the physical and emotional aspects of durability? Find your solutions by visiting lycra.com/sustainability and selecting durable products. 

Visit Keep in the Loop with LYCRA to discover The LYCRA Company’s latest sustainability advancements, and explore its Sustainability Thought Leadership page to read more articles in this series

Content contributed by Jean Hegedus, sustainability director, The LYCRA Company

Survey conducted by Currnt, May 2022

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