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Keeping Up with Sustainable Fashion for 2022: From Recycled Materials to Secondhand Shopping

Despite supply chain disruptions and Covid-19 confusion, sustainability remained a major theme in fashion throughout 2021. In fact, as the buying power of Generation Z, the most eco-conscious generation, continued to grow, we saw an uptick in secondhand shopping and the use of term “sustainability” increased on product pages. At the same time, however, fast fashion remained extremely popular and the sector’s product turnover soared.

Conflicting behavior, along with the increased attention to sustainability following the Global Climate Talks in November, have made it difficult for retailers and brands to keep up with changing customer preferences. This is where market intelligence comes into play. Retailers who have deep data and insights into how, when and where customers are truly spending their money will find the greatest success in 2022. And based on what we’ve seen, retailers should plan for the increased importance of recycled materials, a shift in popular keywords and a rise in secondhand shopping as they enter the new year.

Increased importance of recycled materials

Sustainably made products are on the rise in fashion. In fact, according to The Sustainability EDIT 2021, products listed with sustainable keywords have increased 176 percent since 2019 and 52 percent year over year. The initiative is also crossing categories as footwear made up 7 percent of new sustainable products for menswear and 3 percent for womenswear. To ensure their assortment is living up to customer expectations, retailers should use market intelligence to find gaps in competitors’ assortments and fill those gaps when planning their own assortments.

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With market intelligence, brands and retailers can understand which sustainable items are more popular and therefore have frequent stockouts. They can also find opportunities for product expansion, globally and locally, by using these insights to break into new verticals that are underserved by other sustainable retailers and marketing them in a way that appeals to sustainable shoppers like members of Gen Z.

A shift in marketing terms

Mentions of “sustainability” have become a constant in retailers’ communications to consumers, increasing by 84 percent in customer emails since 2019. Yet, the difficulty comes from how the sustainable items are labeled and if that is resonating with the target audience. Currently, “recycled” is the most common keyword in sustainably labeled product listings. In fact, our research found that the keyword accounts for 51 percent of sustainable products in stock in the U.S., up from 29 percent in 2019.

Meanwhile, there are other terms that can convey eco-friendly manufacturing details like bio-based, net-zero or climate-friendly and more. Market intelligence can help brands and retailers determine what keywords are benefiting the competitors and which words can be used to differentiate their offerings for the eco-conscious shoppers. By using less common language on product detail pages and marketing materials, retailers have a chance to educate their consumers and showcase their sustainability efforts to gain loyalty.

The rise of secondhand shopping

Any stigma once associated with secondhand shopping has all but disintegrated in the last few years with the apparel and fashion resale market predicted to be worth at least $64 billion by 2024 by some estimates. While retailers in the past had to worry about the timeliness of styles on resale platforms, today these seemingly outdated products are selling out before they become stale. For example, we found that 89 percent of the products available at pre-owned fashion company Vestiaire Collective are under three months old, and only 4 percent have been listed for over a year. The trend towards secondhand shopping and a new perspective on the timeliness of fashion offers unique opportunities for retailers to adjust their pricing strategies.

With items flowing off the shelves for pre-owned fashion companies, retailers with secondhand options can be more selective with discounts. Using market intelligence to track competitor pricing, these niche retailers can spot pricing opportunities based on the intricacies of how assortments line up with current trends compared to the competition. Similarly, other retailers can take advantage of this new consumer mindset. For instance, with the current supply chain disruptions, market intelligence can help retailers review competitors’ pricing and assortments to set the most profitable price for inventory that arrived after its designated season.

The future is sustainable

While it will take time to reverse the damaging effects of unsustainable practices, there is a strong commitment across the fashion industry to evolve and new approaches are being implemented quickly.  As consumers become increasingly interested in eco-friendly sourcing and secondhand shopping, retailers can make a positive change while still delighting customers. The future of fashion is sustainable and profitable if retailers listen to consumer trends and act on market intelligence insights strategically.

Juliana Prather is the chief marketing officer at Edited, the leader in retail intelligence, market strategy and enterprise data. Before joining Edited, she was a principal consultant at Grant Juerey, where she developed and launched the Strategic Greenhouse. Prather was also CMO at The Marena Group and has held high-level marketing roles for brands and retailers including Maidenform and Superga.