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What are the 3 sustainable categories to update in 2021?

An analysis on the categories that underwent a sustainable update and how retailers can continue to innovate them in the future.
What are the 3 sustainable categories to update in 2021? | EDITED

With consumers now more aware of fashion’s environmental impact, it’s been pivotal for retailers to make positive changes to their assortments for a more sustainable future.

We analyze three products that underwent a sustainable update and how retailers can continue to innovate them in the future.

Want to monitor your competitors’ assortments and pricing strategies in real-time? Reach out for a demo of the EDITED Retail Decision Platform.


What happened in 2020?

Buoyed by celebrities and influencers alike, comfort dressing was slated to be a core trend of 2020 even before the pandemic sent demand into overdrive. Organic cotton T-shirts were successful as consumers sought casual essentials to work from home, alongside joggers made with recycled polyester.

To capitalize on the hype while keeping people and the planet in mind, a myriad of brands debuted eco lounge collections. Nobody’s Child and ROTATE Birger Christensen introduced ranges made from natural and repurposed materials, while Ganni introduced its Software collection using recycled EcoLife® yarn. The H&M Group stood out as a frontrunner in scaling circular fashion – also a priority on brands’ sustainability agendas for 2021 – with its Green Machine breaking down fibers to be respun into an exclusive loungewear capsule sold through Monki.

Successful 2020 arrivals

What to consider for 2021

With national lockdowns now second nature and homebody styling cropping up in Pre-Fall 2021 shows, loungewear still holds court. Eco alternatives will be integral to offset the influx of cheaper loungewear options continuing to flood the market from fast-fashion players in traditional and less sustainable materials. Already, new hoodies, T-shirts, sweatshirts and sweatpants described with eco keywords arriving in 2021 are up 11% YoY.

The “buy less, buy better” sentiment has reemerged as a post-coronavirus trend. Combined with WFH continuing and the sadwear movement, invest in high quality, conscious fabrics to boost the feel good factor such as responsible silk and cashmere, linen, bamboo and Pima and Supima cotton. Tie-dye saw a strong rebound during quarantine, a key pattern in this loungewear and demand is still high. Experiment with eco-friendly dyes so the conscious consumer doesn’t miss out.

Outdoor apparel

What happened in 2020?

Months in lockdown resulted in consumers yearning to reconnect with nature and exercise outside of their four walls. Puffer jackets received an eco makeover by mass market retailers. Based on EDITED data, recycled and eco styles arriving in Fall 2020 saw a massive uptick of 761% compared to 2019 as recycled materials for the shell and/or filling were favored across Uniqlo, COS, Gap and more. With the rise of Adventurecore and Gorpcore, outdoor wear is swiftly becoming 2021’s cash cow and will require category-wide innovation to become more sustainability-centric.

Successful 2020 arrivals

What to consider for 2021

2021 kicked off with the hotly-anticipated collaboration between The North Face x Gucci, created in line with both brands’ sustainable policies and building hype for outdoor apparel, where VP of Global Apparel at The North Face, Kelly Cortina, speaks more on the brand’s sustainability effort in an episode of unEDITED: Inside Retail. Cult brands such as Patagonia, Helly Hansen and Fjällräven are the market leaders for eco innovation in this space, embracing technology to create long-lasting, durable products with a low environmental impact and championing activism. With functionality core here, retailers need to ensure details are updated accordingly.

For example, Moncler recently sourced ECONYL® zippers and buttons for its Born To Protect puffer jacket. Brands have long concentrated their eco efforts on trainers, which needs to translate to outdoor footwear styles as hiking boots and trail sneakers become hot commodities. Sustainable sneakers continue to land in 2021 – an area we can expect adidas to dominate following its announcement to make more than 60% of products from sustainable materials this year, alongside its upcoming launch of mushroom leather sneakers.


What happened in 2020?

Eco-packaging came into the mainstream last year, with L’Oréal’s Garnier launching its first solid shampoo bar. Research by IPSOS revealed that 79% of customers are willing to seek out environmentally friendly products and beauty industry suppliers cite PCR (post-consumer recycled plastic) and the 3 Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) are the most requested sustainable packaging by brands. This year, Tata Harper and Dermalogica launched refillable skin products, which decreases production costs and often lowers purchase pricing.

Successful 2020 arrivals

What to consider for 2021

L’Oréal has pledged to be fully sustainable by 2030. By 2025, Garnier will ensure all its products are made with Zero Virgin Plastic, all its packaging with be reusable, recyclable or compostable and all industrial sites will be carbon neutral. We expect more brands to become more transparent about their environmental impact through QR codes and blockchain on the packaging. Refillable skincare will only continue to grow with brands like Ren Skincare aiming to make zero waste in 2021. While this business model is commonly seen on liquid beauty products, we expect to see more makeup brands offer customizable/refillable products – with Kjaer Weis proving that sustainability can still look luxury.

Categories to note


With consumers spending more time indoors, retailers are expanding their assortments by debuting homeware ranges. In April, Mango will launch homewares made from sustainable textiles, with 80% of items produced locally. An unexpected partnership with Target will mark Levi’s first foray into the category with a capsule including dinnerware, barware, quilts and dog beds. Created with the people and the planet in mind, the collaboration will boast timeless design, recycled materials and pieces with Fair Trade USA, Goodweave and FSC Wood certifications.


In 2020, gloves were adorned by celebrities like Harry Styles and Ariana Grande and saw growth as an accessory to watch. This year, mittens are having a moment thanks to unexpected style icon Bernie Sanders who broke the internet by wearing an upcycled pair at the inauguration ceremony. A low impact way to capitalize on a cultural zeitgeist, repurposed mittens will provide an entry-level eco buy-in to major trends like outdoor apparel, dad dressing and Cottagecore.


A daily essential, the lack of eco-friendly underwear is an oversight and an opportunity for retailers. Gen-Z favorite Parade recently launched its Universal collection, the world’s first carbon neutral underwear. By using sustainable recycled yarns, the range generates 8.5% energy savings, 84% water waste savings, and 77% gas generation savings. Men’s underwear can’t be overlooked. Australian legacy brand Bonds recently gave its signature Chesty styles an organic update, while Levi’s will drop a sustainable range aimed at Gen-Z men.


While it’s been a challenging year for denim, sustainability will remain a core focus in retailers’ assortments due to the high amount of pollution the production of this material causes the environment. Reformation spotlighted Bossa, a solar-powered, zero-waste mill in its January 25th eco denim email, while a partnership with Lee saw H&M drop its first 100% recycled cotton jeans.

As we move into a new year, the climate needs to be framed as a top priority. It’s essential retailers continue to innovate to improve their fabrications and processes, as well as strive to provide consumers with full transparency. For a full 360 view of sustainable fashion in 2020 backed with EDITED data, check out The Sustainability EDIT

Contributions by kayla and Heather.

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