The fashion industry recently commemorated ten years since the Rana Plaza Disaster, known as Fashion Revolution Day. Gartner highlighted sustainability as one of the 6 macro factors that will reshape business this decade.
- Commemorated on April 24th each year, Fashion Revolution Day looks to raise awareness of a clean, safe, fair, transparent, and accountable fashion industry.
- As reported by Vogue Business, it marks fashion’s “deadliest factory collapse” in 2013.
- As a consequence, the industry is being forced to look at a matrix of systemic issues. As an output of the event, the notion of fast fashion continues to be a highly debated topic.
- With the increasing focus on sustainable fashion, we dig into the topic and explore the true price of sustainability with Robyn Smith, our Sustainability Lead Analyst here at EDITED.
In times of increased uncertainty, Robyn recently authored the annual EDITED Sustainability EDIT report which combines retail data and insights with industry knowledge from our team of retail experts. In this interview, we discuss how the retail landscape has evolved and what initiatives Robyn has seen brands and retailers introducing to make fashion and softlines more sustainable. We ask for her opinions on the true price of sustainability and the key points that brands and retailers should consider when investing in future sustainability strategies.
What are the elements that need to be considered when implementing a sustainable strategy in business?
How would you define the true price of sustainability?
I would say that the true price of sustainability encompasses a product's cost to the environment, supply chain workers, consumers, and retailers themselves. The cost of a garment goes far beyond its price tag.
A decade since the Rana Plaza Disaster, what are your thoughts ten years on?
From a retailer and customer centric perspective, we’ve seen a general shift to greater consciousness, however we are by no means where we need to be. Discussions surrounding transparency have grown, but levels of action are still underwhelming. I also think, though the topics go hand-in-hand, ethics and the people of the supply chain have taken a back seat to sustainability when it comes to retailer focus. There needs to be a greater balance as there is still heavy injustice in the quality of life garment workers experience.
How can brands and retailers ensure that they are authentically sustainable?
How can retailers have an impact vs. be accused of ‘greenwashing’ which has been a growing conversation around activists and more inquisitive consumers e.g. the conscious Gen Zs?
As you mentioned, consumers have developed a greater curiosity in the lifecycle of a garment, thanks to growing conversations around climate change in general in the press and on social media. Hence, retailers risk being 'called out' if initiatives lack authenticity. For instance, if a retailer introduces resale but doesn’t reduce the number of new styles produced - is this a genuine sustainability move? Or is it just a marketing ploy? Brands must re-consider their entire business model rather than throw recycled PET at the problem. The EU has also announced new greenwashing regulations, so it has become more important than ever to keep sustainability claims credible and backed up with science.
What is the true cost of sustainability and how does it impact business?
Why is it important to understand the true price of sustainability?
COP27 highlighted that we can no longer afford to carry an “ignorance is bliss” mentality and we can now see the impacts of climate change from our very doorsteps. Seasons are changing and retailers are now starting to pay the price, with the UK experiencing one of its wettest Marches on record and sending spring/summer sales plummeting. Both retailers and consumers need to understand the weight of their purchasing decisions to combat overproduction/overconsumption and support people and the planet. Brands should also facilitate this by adding carbon footprints, water consumption, and factory names to product descriptions.
Demand Planning Vs. Cost
Do you think consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable fashion?
When it comes to demand forecasting, planning and price optimization, I think this is an interesting talking point, which sparks mixed opinions. In summary, the lower fast fashion prices we have become accustomed to cannot cover the cost of fair wages and eco materials. Forbes cited a Gartner survey that found over half of customers will only purchase from companies that practice environmental and social sustainability; that applies to the entire product life cycle. But, with a cost of living crisis on our hands, many retailers and customers are not in a position to absorb these increased costs. A recent survey by Untold Insights also found that 53% of Gen Zs and Millenials, the wokest of all generations, prioritize money-saving options over sustainable alternatives. Hence, 96% said that the current economic climate inhibits them from purchasing sustainably and has also contributed to the proliferation of resale - where consumers can find savings and sustainability in the same place. More information on this market can also be found in the Sustainability EDIT.
How can retailers boost interest in higher-priced sustainable products?
In recent months we’ve seen capsule wardrobes surface as a key trend. Consumers are turning to versatile staples to cut back on spending. Brands should consider “back-to-basics” assortment planning and focus on “elevated essentials” in the visual merchandising of conscious core styles, encouraging consumers to pay a little extra for high-quality tees and tanks that don’t cost the earth (in both senses) and last longer. Also, focus on the ‘price per wear’ of more expensive styles to emphasize value.
Key Points To Consider When Investing In A Sustainable Strategy
What are your top points for retailers to consider when investing in sustainability?
It is important to remember the benefits sustainable developments can have on businesses rather than just the environment. I believe true change is possible when retailers evolve their perceptions of sustainability as something they have to, do to something they want to do.
- If set up right, resale and sustainable services can be profitable! At the moment consumer spending has reduced, but there is a definite opportunity in attitudes changing towards clothing - shifting mentality back to periods when garments were an investment and made to re-wear, repair and recycle.
- One of the easiest first steps into sustainability is improving the assortment planning process and taking a customer-centric approach. Hence, EDITED’s data is invaluable when it comes to demand forecasting and eliminating waste. Through having the right product, at the right price, at the right time, we can spare landfill from excess stock. Reducing production levels and offering a more curated selection of products can also boost efficiency and justify more premium price points. In turn, this enhanced, simplified shopping experience can boost loyalty, in an era of fickle consumers.
Interested in understanding more?
Stay informed with EDITED's Sustainability EDIT, your go-to source for the latest insights, trends, and strategies for a more sustainable future. From the rise of thriftcore and the state of sustainable textiles to a deep dive into sustainable denim and sustainability on the fall 2023 runway, our report covers all the essential topics shaping the industry. Plus, get an exclusive preview of the Conscious Calendar 2024.
In this time of uncertainty, EDITED serves as a guiding force. The Annual Sustainability EDIT pairs data and insights from our Market Intelligence platform with industry knowledge from our team of retail experts. This report covers just some of the vital information EDITED’s clients rely on to make informed decisions. You can download your copy here.
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