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Sustainable Apparel is Evolving but Consumers Need to Be Educated

An increasing number of environmentally-conscious consumers are looking for sustainable apparel, and nearly a quarter of U.S. adult consumers say that they have purchased sustainable apparel, reports The NPD Group. As consumer interest in sustainability grows so do the efforts of the apparel industry, but there is a clear need to educate shoppers in order to make this connection.

Educating and informing consumers regarding sustainable fashion and sustainability were among the topics discussed at a recently held panel discussion hosted by NPD and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. The panel, which was moderated by Marshal Cohen, NPD's chief industry advisor, included Vanessa Urenda, co-Founder of LAMINI; Taryn Hipwell, founder, Beyond the Label and Author, How to Shop for Shi(f)t; ValĂ©rie Martin, vice president, global communications & culture at ALDO Group; and Sabra Krock, creative director and co-owner, Everything But Water. As the panelists pointed out, the definition of sustainability is often in the eye of the beholder, but it's important for consumers to know that the fashion industry's overall goal is to create a supply chain that is environmentally and socially conscious of its impact.

Human rights in terms of social responsibility is a pillar of sustainability efforts in the industry. When NPD asked consumers what their top social concern is in terms of clothing production, 29 percent said human rights and fair wages. Human rights ranked significantly higher than consumers' concerns about toxic dyes and chemicals, animal welfare, minimizing waste, and global warming. One-third of consumers say a brand's social responsibility and social position are extremely important to their purchase decision.

Although consumers aren't always aware if an apparel item is sustainable in terms of the label's commitment to environmental and social responsibility if they were aware almost one-third of consumers say they would be willing to pay more for a sustainable apparel item. Young adult consumers, ages 18 to 34, are most inclined to spend more on sustainable apparel, and 33 percent of women say they would pay more for clothing that was described as sustainable, eco-friendly, organic, or ethical than for clothing that was not. On the other hand, the majority of consumers (two-thirds) were not willing to pay more for sustainability indicating they are looking for it to be a part of a brand's social responsibility.

"Sustainability will continue to be an important topic for consumers and the industry in the years to come," says NPD's Cohen. "To attract consumers, particularly young adults and women, apparel brands and retailers will need to stay in touch with social responsibility issues, and educate and inform their customers with clear messaging and labeling about their sustainability efforts. Brands can't rely on the fine print on the inside label, it needs to be woven into the 'fabric' of the brand."