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Today’s fashion retail market is full of consumers with more choices than ever. While big brands and iconic fashion houses remain front of mind for shoppers and style experts, smaller brands are pulling ahead by leading in sales with ethics, sustainability and appealing to values-driven consumers (while also remaining on-trend). And research shows – shoppers will continue to spend consciously, using their wallets as their vote and demanding transparency at every step in the production and shopping process.
Ethical Consumption has a new definition
Traditionally, the ethical consumer movement has involved spenders who believe that we are slowly and inexorably driving business and society to be more responsible one purchase at a time. While the building blocks of this ideology remain sound, today’s shoppers are smarter because they want to tackle the root of the problem.
A recent controversial piece in Atmos perfectly articulated that while the myth of ethical consumerism is hard to shake, buyers should, and are starting to, push back against the market. Instead of fighting privately against large organizations to demonstrate the desire for change, consumers (or really, humans) must organize and demand that their favorite brands get to the root of the causes that plague them.
By creating action through demand, the trend toward holding companies accountable for their part in the regulation, policies and financial choices that affect our community is strong.
Fashion ethicist (and author) Elizabeth L. Cline reminds us that “we must confront that it’s unacceptable and arguably deeply unethical itself to ever tie human “goodness” to what we buy.” We must accept that we are human, and we can be bad or good, but we have a choice in how good something we buy really is. The job of a fashion brand has expanded to fit this new definition of an ethical consumer.
More time online = More time to research
With more than 59% of shoppers buying clothing items online in 2020, the trend and attention toward digital spending is expected to grow.
In short: more time online means consumers are paying more attention than ever to what they’re buying (and why), especially when they are filling the gap of a retail, in-person shopping experience.
COVID-19 has changed many elements of consumer behavior from retail acquisition to shopping preference. Nowhere is this more relevant than in online shopping, but browser frustration has become a major topic.
Renoon empathizes with their experience and has curated a search engine to gather all sustainable brands under one application.
While trends in purchasing behavior shift, attention to consumer research has also adjusted. More time to evaluate a product’s cost per wear, production, sustainability, trendiness and quality means more time to elevate your expectations as a consumer. In addition to producing products that are stylish and seasonal, brands must now have a stance on pressing problems in our society like the climate crisis, systemic racism, living wages, unchecked corporate power, unregulated capitalism and our weakened democracy.
New frontiers in transparency, prove your worthiness
Gone are the days when brands could hide hind behind overtures of do-gooder isms within the fashion industry. We’ve moved past baseline expectations for our fashion brands and expect them to invest in the well-being of what is in their control. Repeatedly, eco and policy experts point to the breaking points in the supply-chain process of fashion production.
Investing in collaborative brand oversight, policy alignment and management are the new expectations, and frontier for the industry. In addition to meeting customer demand, brands can elevate their market value, ethics and standards in turn. By being transparent, you can fully show the quality of your product experience, from beginning to end.
- Ethical fashion has been evolving for years. COVID-19 has sped up the opportunity for research and raised the bar for consumers to spend with values-driven brands.
- Buyers want more. They want quality and style, in more sizes, sourced from sustainable sources and built and sewn by valued employees. Will they up their spend to invest in this more expensive process? We will see if these new shopper expectations translate into a real change in long-term shopping behavior.
- What are you doing aside from checking off “do-good” items on your to do list? It is critical to make sure that diversity, ethics and inclusivity are now built into all layers of your brand. Align your sustainability missions across the full circle of production to consumption. Consider investing in an ethical market, including Fair Trade production and BCorps certification. It must be apparent that you are measuring what matters to the consumer!
How will you be more transparent in showing your value, utility and function as a fashion-forward organization? Let’s get back to basics and talk about managing what you can measure.
Thanks for reading! I’m Sarah Sharif, Senior Manager at Board of Innovation. Reach out to me on LinkedIn to share your thoughts on creating and shopping for your fashion ethically, or to arrange a time to chat.