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Fashion: The changes that consumers want to see

UK consumers sent 300,000 tonnes of textiles to be burned or dumped in a landfill in 2018.

The term fast-fashion has been in the public eye a lot over the years, but what does it mean? For us to be able to move past the fast-fashion phase and into a more sustainable industry, we need to know what we are talking about.

Fast-fashion is what it says in the title: fast production rate; the decision to purchase is fast; delivery is fast; and clothing is worn fast, with one in three young women consider garments worn once or twice to be old. The business model for fast fashion has led to an unsustainable industry.

“Over the past 20 years the fashion industry has been totally transformed, sped up dramatically, and that’s had resulted in very unstable and exploitative practices, for both people and the planet. The fashion supply chain is broken,” Orsola de Castro.

Listen to our free webinar to understand whether consumers really care about sustainability and how it impacts their purchasing decisions. We have brought together new data from over 30 sources to give you the answers you are looking for: Whether you are a business, retailer, or charity – knowing where consumers really stand on this issue is critical for success.

The Problem - Fast-fashion is creating toxins and waste on a huge scale

In a world where we can buy a whole new outfit to upgrade our wardrobes for the same cost to make an evening meal – it is no surprise consumers are jumping on the trend. Our high streets and online shops are stocking items that are cool and trendy: that you can wear a handful of times and then throw away. Suddenly, everyone can wear the latest trends fresh from the catwalk or their favourite celebrity that week.

The idea you always have to be on top of fashion trends is like a popularity contest – if you want to stay relevant, you have to be on point with the latest looks on the market.

“People do not wear at least 50 percent of their wardrobes,” Fashion United.

The impact fast-fashion is having on the planet is massive. From having such high demand to get cost down and production up is meaning brands are having to cut corners to meet needs. The fashion industry has several negative impacts:

1. The dangerous environments garment workers are in, for low wages, and without basic human rights – for example, in 2013 when the Rana Plaza clothing manufacturing complex in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over £1000 workers who were producing materials for western clothing brands at the time.

2. The clothing is made from using virgin resources: with the use of toxic chemicals, dyes, and synthetic fabrics that are produced and pushed out into the world with little thought on the impact they will have on the environment or wildlife who are living in and ingesting these toxins – according to Ellen MacArthur Foundation, washing clothes releases half a million tonnes of plastic microfibres into the ocean every year, equivalent to more than 50 billion plastic bottles.

3. The speed garments are produced also means that consumers are purchasing more and throwing away more, creating a massive amount of waste. An estimated 50 million tons of clothing are thrown away every year, and most of it will not biodegrade in a landfill.

4. The impact fast-fashion has on the consumer. Encouraging the throw-away culture can hurt people by creating a constant sense of need and ultimate dissatisfaction within themselves.

“Consumers throw away about 80% of their textiles directly in the garbage," Vogue.

How are we able to move past the fast-fashion phase and into a more sustainable industry?

But there is a solution - The 2020 Circular Fashion Pledge

Back in February, the 2020 Circular Fashion pledge; was launched during Fashion Revolution week – and just after the 50th Anniversary of Earth day to take actionable steps to make circular fashion an industry-wide reality.

With the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought, 177 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have signed onto the pledge, recognising the negative impacts that the fashion industry has on the environment, such as climate change, toxic waterways, and pollution and have committed to substantially reducing waste generation by 2030.

“If nothing changes, by 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world's carbon budget,” The Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The 2020 Circular Fashion Pledge focuses on three main circular actions and, signatories are encouraged to be implementing at least one come the end of 2020 to accelerate positive change:

  1. Enable take-back or resale: Launch at least one method or partnership to enable their customers to send-back or resell their used items
  2. Increase recycled content: Increase the total percentage of certified recycled content or scrap fabric by 10 percent in their top five selling items
  3. Design for durability: Increase the use of non-blended materials, and/or modularity and repairability in their top five selling items.

According to Sustainable Brands: of the 177 brands that have already signed onto the pledge, 62% have committed to take-back/resale on products, 60% will increase the amount of recycled content they use, and 50% are focused on designing for durability; almost half of the brands have promised to at least two of the three commitments.

However, the pledge isn’t just for businesses. 2020 Circular Fashion is giving consumers the chance to pledge to shop circular and allowing service providers to help the commitment to circularity.

“Three out of five of the 100 billion garments made in 2018 will end up in landfill within a year,” Clean Clothes.

But do consumers care?

Sustainability in fashion has been on consumers' agenda for a few years now, with nearly 60% of Gen Z consumers already buying second-hand clothing. “They love the hunt, they love finding a really unique item, and it makes it even better that it’s a sustainable choice,” Jen Sey, Chief of Marketing at Levis for Vogue.

However, the COVID-19 crisis has deepened consumers' values for sustainable fashion. From our research, we can see that 65% of consumers will be purchasing higher-quality clothing; that will last longer, while consumers over 35 (56%) are more likely to act on buying less but better-quality clothing that lasts.

Consumers are wanting the fashion industry to act responsibly and consider the social and environmental impacts of their business with, 68% of consumers saying that manufacturers and retailers are solely or partly responsible for reducing waste. Because of COVID-19, it has influenced consumers to change their behaviours accordingly, with 71% of consumers saying they will throw out fashion items less often, and; 43% of Millennials and Gen Z only planning to buy from ethical companies.

For more information on how COVID 19 has impacted consumer behaviour around sustainability, you could watch our webinar.

Brands that are taking action

With the rise in awareness, we are starting to see a change in the industry and brands pledging to make a difference. With the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse now being Fashion Revolution Week making consumers ask themselves, “Who made my clothes?”.

Having said that: several brands have started to change the way they’re producing, selling, and throwing away their products. For example:

1. Levi’s

Taking advantage of Gen Z's increased interest in second-hand clothing, Levi's have launched Levi’s Second-hand an eCommerce site for previously worn Levi’s jeans and denim jackets. Starting now, anyone can turn in any Levi’s denim item (even if damaged) for a gift card towards a future purchase.

“Buying a used pair of Levi’s saves approximately 80% of the CO2 emissions, and 1.5 pounds of waste, compared to buying a new pair. As we scale this, that will really start adding up," Vogue.


As Seen On Screen brand has launched Circular Fashion Collection, training all designers in circular design after a commitment at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in 2018, a process which reduces waste and aims to ensure clothes remain in circulation, rather than just heading to landfill after just a couple of uses. The team has now brought out their first circular collection.

3. H&M

H&M has introduced the recycling system 'Looop' which helps H&M transform unwanted garments into new fashion favourites - the world’s first in-store recycling system turning old items into new. Looop uses a technique that dissembles and assembles old items; while using no water and no chemicals.

4. Stella McCartney

This brand is creating innovative ways to reuse materials, including recycled nylon and polyester: and regenerated cashmere. Stella McCartney believes that "the future of fashion is circular – it will be restorative and regenerative by design and the clothes we love never end up as waste."

The global pandemic has opened the eyes to what is going on in the world – particularly sustainability and how they can make a difference. Because of this, more and more fashion brands are eager to let the world (and their consumers) know that they are making a difference and that a sustainable planet is still top of mind.

Whether you need insight to adjust your strategies to the new normal or are thinking about launching new services, we can help you get it right. Emotional Logic is a specialist behavioural insight agency, and we offer a range of cost-effective research solutions to ensure your strategy connects with the constantly shifting needs of the consumer. Please get in touch for a free consultation.

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