Sustainable Fashion and the Modern Consumer

The modern consumer claims to be more concerned with the environmental impact of fashion brand. Millennials for instance are said to be among the most socially and environmentally conscious of generations, or so they say. They have an opinion about everything and are sure to voice their perspectives whenever possible. Among their “concerns” are those of sustainable fashion. In the article “Why Consumers Don’t Buy More Sustainable Fashion”, Susanna Koeblin explores this theory that modern consumers claim to be “more concerned about the impact fashion brands have on the plane” yet “there is a huge gap between what consumers are saying and how they behave”. Why is that?

According to research, consumers answer to surveys about fashion sustainability to meet a socially acceptable image. Since being “green” and socially responsible is trending, consumers argue that sustainability is important yet their actual shopping behavior shows the opposite. Factors like price and brand association rank higher in importance when it comes to actually making purchases. Koeblin examines a study that shows 60 percent of millennials demonstrating interest in sustainable clothing while only 30 percent have actually purchased any. She goes on to explain how consumers are not always willing to pay for the “greener” option, but rather focus on spending on items they believe to be more fashionable and high quality.


Is sustainability fashionable?  

Koeblin makes the point that fashion is meant to be dynamic and in novel. What is fashionable today may not be trending next week. The idea that fashion is constantly changing almost directly contradicts sustainability. On the other hand, reusability and continuation are important factors of sustainability. Koeblin, suggest that for this reason, niche services like fashion renting and even thrifting aren’t necessarily making large moves. Similarly, other factors of sustainability, like actual productions processes, don’t always have a huge influence on purchase decisions either. Questions of how your jeans were made, like how much water or harmful chemicals were used, are probably outweighed by the question of “do these make me look good”.


So why is it so hard to do as we say?

It turns out our purchasing habits are a little more subconscious than we’d like to believe. Buying behavior consist of many underlying decisions. The truth is, we purchase what we believe to be of value for our many. So say you are a bargain shopper and could pay $100 for jeans that were made ethically with natural dyes and reusable energy in a socially and ethically responsible factory, or you could purchase an entire outfit at TJ Maxx not knowing how the items were made nor who made them which would you chose? Chances are the entire outfit at TJ Maxx sounds like the better deal; we get more for our money. Koeblin says this is because shopping is an emotional experience; we buy things because of how they make us feel. We feel pleasure when we purchase what we believe to be a great deal. She also explains that shopping is influenced by our reference groups; if our friends are not spending the extra money to buy sustainably then we are less likely to be the odd ball to go out of our way in changing our own habits.


Making Sustainability Fashionable

Now the question is, how would companies make sustainability fashionable? Businesses that promote their environmental and social responsibility may find it difficult to get their foot in the door if they are only pushing their “sustainability” aspect. Koeblin says consumers are not interested in understanding a companies supply chain nor do they want to be overwhelmed with that information. As we’ve learned, shopping is an emotional experience and if consumers are being emotionally overwhelmed while making purchasing decisions, they are likely to simply avoid making such a choice and leave the store or click out of the website. Sustainable companies need to make their process clear and concise. We at Genesis Fair Trade, for instance, focus on creating a sustainable fashion system that supports indigenous artisans in Latin America. Rather than using a middleman or vendor, we work directly with the artisans. Our message is simple, shopping from Genesis Fair Trade means buying high quality ethically sourced fashion accessories made by empowered individuals. Buying from us means supporting a global economy and sustaining communities and individuals. Depending on what type of fashion brand the company is, fast fashion or luxury, brands need to find a clear and concise message that explains their sustainability to their unique audience.


Bridging the Gap

As modern consumers, its seems the quick solution to this cognitive dissonance, or inconsistency, regarding being a sustainable shopper is to simply shop less. In Koeblin’s words, “If we don’t buy, we don’t have to make ethical decisions over emotional ones. It’s not just a matter of what we consume, but also of how much”. She goes on to conclude, “the best way to be a more sustainable shopper is to buy less and less cheap”, but rather to shop for higher quality items that are timeless and made to last. Genesis Fair Trade is among the few companies that offer solutions to this ethical gap; shopping with us means shopping with a clean conscious and no need to choose between sustainability, quality, and fashion.