Old with the old, and in with the new

According to the New York Times, fast fashion is the name given to the shopping habits of  consumers who rotate through clothing by buying discounted apparel with a limited shelf-life. Cheap clothes, which are the staple of stores like Primark in the UK, and Old Navy or Target in North America, allow customers to change styles easily by discarding and replacing garments with minimal investment.

The environmental impact of fast fashion is devastating, both in the way they are produced and the way in which they are cared for. However, while the recycling of cans, bottles and newspapers has become routine for many consumers, people have yet to accept the necessity of lessening their carbon footprint by choosing sustainably sourced and manufactured apparel (including supply chain, energy use, and water consumption among many considerations). As a result, businesses are left struggling to find ways of lessening their energy-use and producing green products that don’t cost a fortune once they hit the market.

The question now, is whether or not the $1 trillion global textile industry can somehow encourage more sustainable habits and close the gap on fast fashion.

Honesty (and quality) is the best policy

According to Women’s Wear Daily, 57% of all shoppers say “sustainability” claims influence their behaviour when it comes to purchasing apparel, however only 23% “always or usually” buy clothes marketed as such. It would seem as if there’s a disconnect between the intentions and the reality of how customers are choosing to spend their money. The reason for this is potentially twofold; firstly, customers are searching for products that are both sustainable and of exceptional quality– if the quality is low, people still won’t by the end-product, no matter how green it is; and secondly, customers are tired of companies greenwashing their policies, and their products (read more about greenwashing in retail).

Adage reports that the significant drop in the number of customers willing to pay more for clothing made of organic and recycled materials is largely due to aggressive claims that create distrust among customers. After performing a market study in 2008 regarding the buying habits of consumers, the Consulting Director at GfK (global research firm) says that: “Consumers have become hypercritical. You see it with green and health claims.” The bottom line? Customers want businesses to be honest about the extent of sustainable policies within the company that affect the carbon footprint of the end-product.

How to attract eco-minded customers

A number of companies are starting to take notice of the growing demand for green products, including some of the biggest retailers around the world including Swedish retailer H&M and British retailer, Marks & Spencer among many. According to the Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at M&S, Mike Barry, research shows that customers are getting very concerned about environmental issues: “We don’t want to get caught between the eyes.” In an effort to give eco-minded customers what they want, last year the company introduced a new organic line of products throughout their food division. The result was a staggering jump in sales by 12%.

While companies like M&S is on the right track, much can still be done by other retailers – particularly those who specialize in fast fashion – to lessen the impact of what they sell and meet the growing demand for greener products. While some companies have contemplated leasing or buying back clothing from customers, a good place to start is by avoiding the trap of green washing and just be honest about what you sell.

Questions or comments about fast fashion? Leave them below!

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