The cost of looking good affects more than just our bank accounts. Our appetite for keeping up with fashion and purchasing clothing and accessories also has a significant impact on the environment.
The trend of buying more and more clothes, often for low prices, has been dubbed “fast fashion” because it’s the fashion equivalent of fast food – it’s quick and easy and ultimately not very good for us.
The clothes are cheap, they’re mass-produced quickly, we might wear them once – or never at all – before discarding them for whatever reason. Clothes aren’t kept for as long as they used to be. To keep up with the world’s ever-increasing appetite for more and more clothing, huge amounts of resources are consumed, including water, energy and land.
The fashion industry is the second biggest polluter in the world after the oil industry. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the fashion industry produces nearly 20 per cent of the world’s waste water and is responsible for about ten per cent of carbon emissions.
In the United States alone, approximately 3.8 billion pounds of clothing is sent to landfill every year as solid waste – which is around 85 per cent of the clothing that Americans use.
There are also social consequences of fast fashion: many people involved in the production – from growing crops such as cotton through to the manufacturing in factories – are not paid a living wage and work long days, with extremely poor conditions.
More and more consumers are rejecting fast fashion for its environmental and social consequences. This is part of a growing trend where consumers are becoming more ecologically conscious, and base their purchasing decisions on how sustainable a product is and how purchasing it will contribute to their carbon footprint.
Savvy consumers will research a brand more to determine how the clothing or footwear is produced, and what impact that it has on the planet, and also whether the supply chain of producing it has been ethical.
Increasingly, influencers are promoting sustainable fashion brands such as Everlane (this brand boasts to have the world’s most environmentally friendly denim production process), Alternative Apparel (brand creates its garments with sustainable materials and processes), Kotn (a basics brand that is concerned with both transparency and fair wages) or Thredup (the world’s largest secondhand clothing marketplace).
Environmentally conscious customers are increasingly looking for garments made from biodegradable materials. They’re also more likely to purchase more second-hand, use clothing and shoe repair services to extend the life of items they already own, or use clothing-as-a-service wardrobe hire companies – an emerging trend in the sharing economy where consumers can rent new wardrobe items and return them, like a library.
Brands and retailers can’t afford to ignore these trends as they pose a threat to ongoing viability. They need to alter their processes and practices or risk getting left behind as consumers reject fast fashion.
It’s a double-edged sword, of course. Fast fashion provides huge sales for retailers because of the sheer volume of garments. The sustainable fashion trend can influence sales, but it can also decrease them.
What can retailers do in order to keep their sales coming, while being mindful of the move away from fast fashion and shifting consumer preferences?
In order to survive, retailers need to evaluate their production processes at every point in the supply chain to determine impact on the environment as well as any human rights issues involved in the production process.
Once issues are identified, new processes and technologies need to be implemented in the production of new garments. And it isn’t just enough to say your brand is ethical: if you are caught lying about it, it would be an absolute PR disaster and probably the end of your brand altogether.
Marketing and sales strategies need to reflect the brand’s commitment to sustainability and acknowledging how it is an important factor that influences customers.
It’s a common business practice among retailers to try to maximize the average purchase price of any sale by deploying a range of strategies to encourage customers to spend more money. This helps the business to achieve healthy profits. But how do you do this when people want to buy less things because of concerns about the environment?
A solution to help with this is SuitApp – a ‘complete the outfit’ Artificial Intelligence solution that helps retailers increase sales and improve revenue and brand loyalty.
The AI offers a more personalized experience for shoppers, and suggestive sells additional items based on a store’s inventory and suggests limitless outfit looks based on a range of factors, including a customer’s individual preferences.
Shopping can be a very emotional experience for many people and they can impulse buy something they end up never wearing – which can go to landfill. When the person receives personalized recommendations instead they can make a conscious decision about each item, thoroughly evaluating how it could be worn alongside other items they already have in their wardrobe to create a different look – meaning that they are more likely to buy items that will last longer in their wardrobes.
Coupled with new, sustainable practices and eco-friendly materials involved in the manufacturing process, your fast-fashion rejecting customers will be able to make wiser, more sustainable choices and still be fashionable.