How Younger Consumers Are Shopping for Fashion

In this report Drapers took an in-depth look at the Gen Z and Millennials groups. How they feel about the fashion industry and where are the opportunities for brands designing and making clothes for these groups?

One thing is clear, and that is the emergence of a more values-led, purpose-driven approach to fashion. Younger shoppers may not want to or are not yet able to pay more for ethically made items, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want them. In addition, the digital and multichannel shifts of the past two decades are not over yet. There is still plenty of work to do to meet those expectations.  (…)

Environmental sustainability is important to these shoppers. More than three-quarters (76.7%) say it is either very or quite important. This is pretty consistent for every age range, although slightly more men rate it as very important (39.6%) than women (32.8%). 

Nearly half of the respondents say they have at some point decided against a purchase because of a brand’s lack of sustainability efforts. Retailers often report that customers do not appear to be willing to pay more for more ethically produced items, which makes it challenging to build a business case internally for investment in sustainable practices.

However, this suggests brands are losing sales to other, more sustainably driven retailers, which is a trend that will not be immediately visible in sales figures. The evidence was strongest among the 18-to-24-year-olds, of whom 55% say they had abandoned purchases. Men are also more likely to fail to complete purchases than women (54% versus 44%). There are also regional variations in how shoppers are approaching sustainability, with shoppers in the South East and London more likely to rate it as important. In London, 63% of shoppers reported having abandoned a purchase.

While there may well be a gap between what people say they are doing, and what they are actually doing, this is nonetheless a trend to take seriously. The fact it is not always showing in sales figures yet could relate partly to the fact that shopping ethically and sustainably takes a significant amount of work and research on the part of the consumer. With comparatively few sustainable options available, it is also still hard for a customer to make sure their purchasing behaviour reflects their values – they may still be shopping unsustainably because choice is limited. Plus, retailers have an uphill battle when it comes to communicating their efforts. Few customers will know, for instance, that Primark’s jeans are among the most sustainable available on the high street, and H&M is often accused of greenwashing, despite a 20 year effort to improve its sustainability credentials that significantly pre-dates the topic’s current fashionable status. In addition, sustainability is not easy for retailers – it is a labyrinthine project that takes years to build expertise in, and is expensive to develop properly. 

Shoppers’ interest in sustainability is a trend that is backed up by search data. Over the last five years Google searches for the term “sustainable fashion” have been on a steady upward trend worldwide, with the biggest rises occuring in Australia, the UK, Hong Kong, Denmark and Singapore. Searches for the term “sustainable fashion brands” in the UK have rocketed by 450% since January 2016. Retailers such as US brands Everlane and Reformation are popular related terms, and both have experienced large rises in search volumes over a similar period.

However, while consumer interest in sustainable fashion is increasing, the retailers leading the way are not necessarily being driven by consumer demand. 

Giorgina Waltier, sustainability manager at H&M UK and IE, says: “While it is truly brilliant that sustainability awareness has increased so significantly with consumers over the last couple of years, our commitment to and communication around sustainability is not consumer led.”

“We started talking to our customers about sustainable materials back in 2011 when we launched our H&M Conscious line, about the importance of recycling clothes in 2013, when we launched our global in-store garment-recycling scheme, and about supply-chain transparency in 2013 when we were one of the first brands to publicly share our supplier list.”

“So, communicating to customers about the importance of sustainability is not new for us. What is new is the increase in appetite for this information, and what we are still yet to master is a balance in the level and detail of information that we share with the consumer.” (…)

Gen Z and Millennials

Produced by Rebecca Thomson
Contributor Kirsty McGregor
Sub editing by Samantha Warrington
Account manager Johnnie Norton
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