Are consumers gaining an eco – conscience?
Rollback a mere twenty years and the concept of shopping for environmentally friendly fashion was very different from what it is today. Retailers filled their rails with seasonal merchandise and consumers, for the most part, seemed oblivious to where the products were made and what they were made from. However, the seed of sustainability was slowly starting to be nurtured.
With media focus on the ozone layer and melting ice caps, attention was turned to the world’s worst polluters. The general consensus was that the fashion industry was the second-largest polluter in the world, second only to oil. This bold fact combined with sweatshop stories, such as the devastating Rana Plaza disaster and undercover footage of well-known brands using sweatshop labour, had opened consumer’s eyes to the production process of fashion items before they hit the shop floor. By 2006, London Fashion Week introduced “Estethica”, a dedicated platform for sustainable and environmentally friendly fashion that combined ethical values with fashionable aesthetics. It then became clear that the industry was on the verge of change.
Today, we seem to be hearing a lot of positive noise from fashion brands, including key “green” words such as: natural, recycled, sustainable and eco-friendly. However, do modern-day consumers really care about the origins of their garments? Nosto, global e-commerce experts, commissioned an online survey  in April 2019 to further understand how consumers feel about sustainability in the fashion industry. They found that over half of survey respondents (52%) said they want the fashion industry to become more sustainable.
The Lenzing Group, a global leader in sustainably cellulose fiber production, recently (September 2020) revealed its findings  from its “Global Consumer Perception Survey on Sustainability in Apparel and Home Textiles”. From the 9,000 surveyed consumers across 9 countries, the majority responded favourably to terms like “Eco-friendly”, “Biodegradable”, “Natural”, “Transparency” and “Recyclable” and were shown to be more likely to buy a product that used these claims.
Almost all (86%) respondents believe purchasing clothes made from sustainable raw materials is a key component of living a more sustainable lifestyle, and they frequently purchase products from brands that are committed to using sustainable raw materials (80%) or recycled materials (77%) in their products.
Throughout the survey, interest in sustainable fashion and textiles remains consistently high, which reveals a consumer shift in attitudes. According to PositiveLuxury.com , “sustainability” as well as keywords related to sustainability in fashion, increased by 75% from 2018. That included 27,000 searches specifically for sustainable fashion each month in 2019. Searches for particular sustainable materials also saw an increase since last year. Econyl rose by 102%, organic cotton rose by 52%, and TENCEL™ brand rose by 42%. EcoTextileNews  reported that the European online platform Zalando saw stronger than expected growth in the first quarter of 2020 with nearly 30% of its customers sourcing items classed as “sustainable”.
The figures speak for themselves as consumers strive for sustainable reassurance. Conscious consumers will proactively read labels and corporate responsibility statements on brand websites and they will be loyal to those that are committed to using sustainable raw and recycled materials. Attitudes have clearly changed as consumers have become more clued-up about the fashion supply chain transparency and eco-friendly practices being incorporated at every stage.
With fashion and textiles, total transparency can sometimes prove difficult because of the many processes involved. Consumers need assurances that the process is sustainable from beginning to end. Çiğdem Kaçar from Calik Denim , a denim producer with over 30-years of industry experience commented on what sustainability means to the Calik brand: “Sustainability is a must, not a trend, for textiles production because there are many aspects of the textile industry that can evolve to better protect our planet and working conditions for employees. Both our customers and industry partners also care deeply about sustainability. I’ve seen this much more recently compared to previous years. So, as a textiles company, we must think about the future and ensure we can act in a sustainable way.”
So what new technologies or procedures are textile and fashion businesses bringing in to ramp up their sustainability credit score? Pilar Tejada López from Pyrates , a smart fabric and textile supplier, explains: “We try to use sustainable fibers in our formulas: natural, organic, biodegradable or upcycled fibers, which consumes less water, energy and CO2 during their production process. We focus on developing fully traceable, durable fabrics, which, due to their quality, will last in one’s wardrobe for years.”
Denim brand giant Levi’s® are constantly looking for new ways to become as sustainable as possible. Their most sustainable collection is designed and modelled on four guiding principles: Materials, People, Environment and Process. The Levi’s® WellThread™ collection is made with earth-friendly hemp, uses Water<Less® technologies saving up to 96% of the water normally used during the finishing process and is designed to be recycled.
Stripping back and questioning the entire raw material to the end of product life-cycle is the best way for brands to make key sustainable changes, whether it’s opting for environmentally-friendly fibers or incorporating a new technology that can reduce water or chemical use. Consumers have stated, they want fashion and textiles that consider the environment and it’s now down to the industry to deliver, for both consumers and the natural world.