At the beginning of the last decade, fast fashion was well-established and extremely popular in the United States. Companies like H&M and Zara were thriving, fulfilling the demand of young consumers for cheap and trendy clothes. These brands “placed their bets on this notion that fast fashion was going to continue” to thrive in the next decade, only to find their businesses faltering just a few years later. In September of 2019, fast fashion giant Forever21 filed for bankruptcy, signaling what could be the end of an era.
Accidents like Rana Plaza in 2013 brought awareness to the dangers and exploitation of fast-fashion. The release of the documentary The True Cost in 2015 brought further awareness to the social and environmental consequences of the still popular industry. Many young consumers today are more concerned with sustainability than they are with trends. This shift has been problematic for fast fashion companies who previously relied on the consumer’s desire for cheap and disposable clothing.
The rise of the conscious consumer has contributed significantly to changes in the apparel industry. People want sustainable products and they’re willing to pay quite a bit more for them. A 2015 poll performed by Nielsen surveyed 30,000 global consumers. Of those surveyed, 66% said they were willing to pay extra for a sustainable product. Rishabh Chokhani claims that this is partly due to the fact that consumers “want to feel that whatever they are buying aligns with their personal values.” It seems that sustainability is starting to rival cost in importance for many consumers.
The 2019 ThredUp report found that in 2018, 72% of consumers prefer to buy from environmentally friendly brands, compared to just 57% in 2013. Because shopping sustainably can be more expensive, many consumers are starting to purchase their apparel secondhand. The value of the secondhand market is expected to reach $51 billion USD by 2023. By 2028, the secondhand market is expected to be larger than that of fast fashion.
For decades, apparel manufacturing has been very labor-intensive, leading manufacturers to prioritize cheap labor. Until recently, robots and automation in the industry have been limited, due to the fact that fabric is soft and difficult to manipulate. However, this is changing due to advances in AI, cameras, and mapping technology, allowing companies like SoftWear to create autonomous sewing robots. This technology will allow apparel brands to create sustainable and high-quality products for a lower cost.
The next decade is certain to be one of significant change for the apparel industry. In order to accommodate shifting consumer priorities, apparel brands should be prepared to make changes in the way they manufacture their product. Carol Gstalder of Nielsen warns that “brands that ignore sustainability increase reputational and business risk.”
Whether you already have an apparel brand or you’re thinking about starting one, you should consider how to practice sustainability in your business. While sustainability can seem intimidating and expensive, it doesn’t have to be that way and your investments will likely pay off in the future.
Here’s a few ideas on where to focus if you’re unsure how to get started:
- Foster brand trust – Consumers want to purchase products from brands that align with their own values. Nielsen found that two-thirds of consumers listed brand trust as a factor that influenced their purchase. You can foster brand trust by increasing transparency with your customers. Being upfront and honest about where your product is manufactured, how the employees are treated, and what kinds of products you use will help you gain a loyal customer base.
- Decrease environmental impact – Consumers care about the planet more than they ever have before. Of those surveyed by Nielsen, 45% said that the environmental impact of a product had the power to sway their decision to purchase it. Decreasing the environmental impact of your brand can be as simple as working with a factory that utilizes green practices.
- Increase social awareness – Ethical labor practices play a large part in sustainability. Consumers are realizing that the low cost of fast fashion apparel comes at high social costs – human, in addition to environmental, exploitation. You can increase your brand’s social awareness by working with factories that have proper safety certifications and fairly compensate their workers. As automation becomes more popular in apparel manufacturing, this will likely be even easier in the future.
Blacksmith International is a global supply chain management and manufacturing company. To get your Product Made Right – On Time, On Budget and Without Defects, contact us HERE.