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3 Ways Apparel Retail is Emphasizing Sustainability

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Fast fashion retailers have come under fire in recent years due to an increasing interest from activist consumers on fashion’s supply chain and environmental impact. According to Euromonitor International’s latest Lifestyle Survey, 2019, 54 percent of online respondents globally believe ethical purchase decisions will make a difference.

“As consumers, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, become increasingly environmentally conscious and value-oriented, they are seeking out companies that employ sustainable practices and becoming more comfortable wearing refurbished clothing,” said Ayako Homma, Euromonitor International’s Fashion and Luxury consultant. As a result, several retail models have emphasized sustainability to win consumers.

The rise of fast fashion and online pure play retailers has coincided with a $4 USD decline in average spend per product on new purchases excluding secondhand and resale 2008 to 2018. For the consumer, there is a tension between a decreasing tolerance for single use fashion (items bought to wear once to an event or on vacation) and being accustomed to fast fashion price points. Both rental and resale models attempt to bridge this gap for consumers while other models put the onus of product waste in the consumers hands.

“Drops” limit waste and generate excitement

While streetwear and luxury apparel brands like Supreme and Gucci have long used “drops” to generate demand and hype around new products. A new emphasis on sustainable production has emerged with Amazon’s The Drop – a 30-hour flash sale of an influencer-helmed fashion collaboration with a few Amazon staples mixed in.

This model claims to limit textile waste by making all products after the order window has closed. Drop style releases maintain a constantly refreshing library of items – without the textile waste that is increasingly concerning for consumers. The Drop and other made-to-order retail models seek to address the level of textile waste by putting the choice to manufacture any given good directly in the hands of the consumer.

Rental embraces the sharing economy business model

Some retailers have positioned themselves at the point of consumer tension between unique clothing for special events and conscious consumption through rental programs. As consumers, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, become increasingly environmentally conscious and value-oriented, some retailers have approached this changing consumer preference through launching the rental programs.

These include players like Rent the Runway Ayako Homma, Euromonitor’s Fashion and Luxury consultant said. In 2019, 28.3% of respondents to Euromonitor International’s Lifestyles Survey report renting items rather than buying them. Rent the Runway and Rent Frock Repeat use a Clothing as a Service model – offering subscriptions and one-time rental for on-trend fashions – extending their consumers’ closets and the lifecycle of their clothing.

Recommerce is bringing resales’ sustainability to consumers who care

Consumers seeking to lessen their environmental impact have also increasingly been selling to and buying from online resellers. ThredUp is a leading the charge in this space when it comes to sustainable positioning. Resale positions itself as reducing textile waste by extending the lifecycle of fast and slow fashion alike. In 2019, 46.4% of respondents report buying used or secondhand items. On the supply side of the resale market 58.2% and 44% of respondents report donating or selling respectively.

Platforms like Go Trendier, Depop and Poshmark allow users to curate and resell used clothing. Luxury exists here as well – TheRealReal and Vestiare Collective offer an authenticated, relatively affordable and sustainable way for consumers to spend in the Luxury space.

Recommerce is not divorced from more traditional brick and mortar retailers. Recent partnerships between traditional retailers and resellers highlight the potential of these collaborations from mass to luxury. ThredUp recently partnered with Macy’s to sell consigned clothing within their stores, while Burberry his piloting a resale partnership with The RealReal.

Concerns around sustainable and ethical consumption aren’t likely to leave the consumer consciousness anytime soon. It will be increasing important for not only products and packaging to be sustainable – but retail models as well. Consumers have become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of the fashion industry as healthy and sustainable living becomes more integral to their personal values.

In developed markets, consumers seek out companies employing sustainable practices. If consumers continue to turn to alternative retail models due to environmental concerns, traditional brick and mortar and eCommerce retailers should consider how they can leverage these developments for their own growth.

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