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Sustainable fashion – movement in the fashion market?

by Saskia Thieme , 16.10.2015

Textilwirtschaft Fair Fashion Summit, Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, Fashion Revolution Day, and ecological trade fairs like the Ethical Fashion Show and Greenshowroom. Two and a half years after the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh, we have seen and are still seeing considerable movement in the textiles market in the areas of sustainability and social responsibility.

From adidas, C&A, H&M, KiK and OTTO to s.Oliver and Tchibo, big industry names have joined the German Partnership for Sustainable Textiles with the aim of improving social, ecological and economic conditions along the textiles supply chain – from cotton fields to clothes hangers. Even food specialists Aldi, Lidl, real and Rewe, which have been dealing with the topics of organic products and sustainability already for a very long time, are increasing efforts in this field and have also joined the partnership.

The new collection by Hessnatur – the big pioneer in organic fashion – is proof that organic products and fashion are in no way mutually exclusive and makes the company's product range attractive for further, fashion-conscious target groups. Fashion giant C&A, which has long catered for the general public, is now also becoming more ecological. The company is spearheading the use of certified organic cotton around the world and launched its first GOTS*-certified baby collection this year. Small labels like ARMEDANGELS and0 MUD JEANS have specialized in combinations of fashion and sustainability from the very beginning. From niche providers to mass suppliers, they all have one thing in common – they are uniting fashion and sustainability under one roof. As we can see, the fashion market is transforming. But what about demand?

Are we seeing more demand for fair fashion in the market? How important are environmentally friendly and socially responsible criteria for different target groups? Are people prepared to pay more money for fair, sustainably produced fashion? The industry must not lose sight of the needs of its own target groups and needs to recognize and tap into (new) potential. To be successful in the market, companies need a targeted approach. A current study by Fashion & Lifestyle on sustainable fashion identifies these target groups and provides valuable information on how different target groups have different needs with regards to socially responsible, environmentally friendly and sustainable clothing.

The study by Fashion & Lifestyle tells us which criteria with regards to the environment and social responsibility (if any) consumers find important when buying clothing. To gather this information, over 7,700 people aged 15 and up were interviewed in an online, nationwide representative ad-hoc survey in summer 2015. One of the unique aspects of the study is that it combines information from the target group segment of the GfK Roper Consumer Styles (which shows the exact interests and values of individual consumer types) as well as from purchasing data from the GfK textile panel, where over 16,000 people provide detailed information about their clothes-buying behavior.

The study by Fashion & Lifestyle shows that just 5% of consumers feel truly knowledgeable about textile labels. All the same, 13% say that there are certain textile labels that they trust. However, the overwhelming majority of people are skeptical about the information that fashion retailers provide on environmental and social sustainability.

In particular, consumers want their clothing to be kind to their skin and free from harmful substances. Most consumers consciously refrain from buying clothing with fur. The clear majority of consumers say that the question of whether clothing is needed plays an important role in their purchasing decision. While one in four young women under 30 in particular are more likely to buy clothing they will never wear, many individuals buy clothing sustainably and donate well-kept, no-longer-needed clothing to those who will continue to use it.

In conclusion, 72% of consumers attach (great) importance to environmentally friendly, socially sustainable clothing. The topic of sustainability is widespread and has become an integral part of the textiles industry. The next step is to tell consumers about your own range, build up trust and communicate the value of sustainability in order to stand out from the crowd and expand your business in a sustainable manner. More details on the content, timing and costs of the study are available here in our study overview.

For more information, please contact Saskia Thieme at saskia.thieme@gfk.com.

*Global Organic Textile Standard