Fashion retailers continue to refine their green credentials in response to mounting consumer pressure to shift their agendas towards greater ecological integrity and social justice.
Last month saw Kering, the French owner of Yves Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta, pledge to stop using fur entirely and launch a partnership with Cartier and the Responsible Jewellery Council to build towards a low carbon jewellery industry. At the other end of the market, Primark has revealed its first sustainability strategy, which points towards a reduction in fashion waste, and seeks to improve the lives of its workers. One key goal is to ensure its entire clothing range is made from sustainably sourced or recycled materials by 2030. Boohoo has appointed a sustainability expert as a non-executive director to ensure the board remain dedicated to a more sustainable future. Superdrug, meanwhile, has officially opened its “most sustainable store”, which displays fully-recyclable signs using graphics made from recycled plastic bottles and yarn, and ceiling tiles created from bio-soluble mineral wool, starch and clay. The Mango Group is set to launch Alter Made, a new sustainable brand, which will sit alongside its other brands. Products will be “durable, timeless, high-quality pieces with sustainable characteristics”, according to its press release.
Oxford Street has launched a sustainable awareness campaign called “Beyond Now”, which seeks to encourage consumers to change their own consumption customs and to inform shoppers about the changes that brands are making to tackle climate change. The campaign includes many of the established Oxford Street residents, such as Selfridges, Urban Outfitters, Nike Town, John Lewis and the Body Shop.
In keeping with the sustainability conversation, we thought it apt to share some of the key findings we took away from a recently published report by Drapers in partnership with Smurfit Kappa called The Sustainability and the Consumer 2021 report.
The report investigates core themes in sustainability and how it is influencing consumer trends in the retail sector. The report is based on a survey commissioned by Drapers in July 2021 that surveyed 2,000 UK consumers aged 18 to 60 to explore the opinions and mindsets of shoppers and whether, and to what extent, the sustainability of products, packaging and retailers impacted their purchasing habits. Here’s a look at some of the key findings.
The key takeaway of the report is that consumers' buying habits are indeed influenced by sustainability: 75% thought about it at least part of the time when they shopped for fashion. Also particularly illuminating is that many had recently made changes to their buying habits, with nearly two-thirds stating that they had made a conscious decision in the last six months to be more sustainable generally. This identifies not only the existing appetite for sustainable consumerism, but also that attitudes towards sustainability are in flux, with a majority changing their buying habits in respect of it.
Consumers also sought to see products that were packaged more sustainably, the report indicated. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed were more likely to buy from retailers with sustainable packaging, and a third said that unsustainable packaging had led them to reject a purchase. What received significant support in the survey was a move to recyclable packaging, or as little packaging as possible, with 66% and 77% respectively agreeing with those propositions. 73% also said that the use of paper or cardboard packaging was important to them.
This is a crucial knockback with sustainability. Consumers and retailers acknowledge that sustainability often brings with it increased manufacturing costs, which are often passed on to the consumer. 76% of shoppers stated that they would buy more sustainable fashion if it was more affordable, indicating that many find these products economically out of reach. 63% did however state that they understood why sustainable fashion was more expensive. That said, this is not necessarily the case. Bristol start-up "Yes Friends", for instance, produces a £7.99 ethically and sustainably made T-shirt, using a streamlined direct-to-consumer supply chain, whilst at the same time supporting living wages for garment workers overseas. The T-shirt is made using Fairtrade certified GOTS organic cotton, and the brand itself has been rated “great” for sustainability and ethics. Yes Friends are partnered with the Fair Share Fashion scheme, which advocates that an increase of just 10p to the price of a T-shirt, or 54p to the price of a hoodie, would result in a 50% increase in the wages of the poorest workers at its factory in India. Yes Friends offer an interesting example of an affordable but very much sustainable product that supports its own manufacturing ecosystem.
The report uncovered an apparent lack of consumer trust in retailers. 69% said that they did not always trust brands and retailers that claimed to be sustainable, with just 36% saying they believed brands were doing enough. This is particularly pertinent when considered alongside the fact that those surveyed believed that it should be the brands themselves that are leading the way on sustainability, with 43% saying it should be brands that improve performance on sustainability, compared to 27% who believe it should be down to governments.
Changing consumer habits
What appears to have developed somewhat as a by-product of unsustainable retail is a thriving second-hand market. More than a third of the consumers surveyed bought second-hand fashion online, which rose to around half of those aged under 35. This growth in second-hand fashion is behind Etsy's £1.2 billion acquisition of the clothing resale platform Depop in June 2021. Consequently, retailers are taking note. Selfridges now provides the "Resellfridges" platform that sells pre-loved bags to consumers, whilst Harvey Nichols has launched the Reflaunt Resell Service in which designer pieces are collected from individuals for authentication by Harvey Nichols, and subsequently listed on their website for a fee. The resale market is evidently gathering strength as a force for sustainability in the retail sector.
The report's findings are clear: consumers want to see brands make genuine commitments to sustainability in both their operations and products. Shoppers also want to see the brands themselves driving this change, rather than governmental intervention. Those brands that heed this message are likely to be rewarded by ever conscious consumers motivated to direct their spending towards retailers that they trust and that mirror their sustainable values.