Consumer shift to favor sustainable practices creates key opportunities and challenges for global fashion brands

Consumer shift to favor sustainable practices creates key opportunities and challenges for global fashion brands

Shopping trends will shift in favor of buying decisions that favor more sustainable practices, a report by Bain & Company and the WWF Italy finds

Shopping and purchasing trends among global fashion consumers are set to move sharply towards favoring more sustainable practices in the coming years, creating important new opportunities as well as challenges for fashion brands, new research released today by Bain & Company and the WWF Italy concludes.

In a new report, How Brands Can Embrace the Sustainable Fashion Opportunity, Bain and WWF find that currently some 15% of global fashion consumers are already highly concerned about sustainability and consistently make purchasing decisions to lower their impact. But the report concludes that this percentage is likely to increase sharply, to more than half of fashion consumers as more shoppers gravitate toward sustainable practices.

The report, which examines consumer behaviors related to sustainability and fashion, shows that of the nearly 5,900 fashion consumers across six countries (China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that Bain surveyed, approximately 65% said they care about the environment, but only some regularly prioritize sustainability in their shopping.

“Sustainable shopping is an inevitable change. Concern for sustainability is strong among younger generations – and growing overall. Hence, fashion brands need to embrace the sustainability conversation and make sustainable purchasing easier for all consumers. Brands that proactively design sustainability into their strategy and operations will cement their relevance and capture a windfall of unmet demand, now and into the future,” said Claudia D’Arpizio, a Bain & Company senior partner in Milan and the firm’s global head of Fashion & Luxury. “In fact, everyone will benefit from a commitment to sustainability from the fashion industry”.

“The fashion industry is highly dependent on nature and biodiversity. A great deal of the raw materials used in fashion and to make textiles come from nature, and the production and processing of these materials wouldn’t be possible without natural resources like water. But despite all of these dependencies, the industry’s practices are responsible for many damaging impacts to nature that put the sector's survival at risk,” said Payal Luthra, Global Apparel and Textiles Lead at WWF. “The time is now for brands to take action on sustainability – they'll not only benefit from enhanced resilience but will have an incredible opportunity to build brand loyalty with increasingly conscious consumers.”

Five sustainability personas for global fashion consumers

Bain and WWF have identified five personas of global fashion consumers with well-defined socio-demographic profiles and behaviors. The personas exist along a spectrum that measures consumers’ concern about sustainability, their willingness to take action, and their actual behavior.

  • Sustainability Champions: Highly concerned about the environment and regularly buy sustainable apparel. Their intentions and actions are aligned, and those consumers are willing to pay a very significant premium price (84%) to access sustainable products.
  • Idealists: They mainly belong to the millennial generation. They show a high level of concern for the environment but hardly ever purchase sustainable fashion goods.
  • Good citizens: This category mainly consists of millennials and Gen Z consumers, who usually gather information from in-store displays, social media, and brand websites. They are willing to pay a less significant premium price (64%) for sustainable products.
  • Shoppers: Gen X and older consumers. They usually acquire their information from in-store displays and word of mouth. They are willing (sometimes) to engage in sustainable behavior.
  • Indifferent consumers: These consumers are not concerned about sustainability and seldom factor it into their purchasing decisions.

Despite being among the top six purchase drivers for most global fashion customers, sustainability is an explicitly lower priority than other, more tangible factors closely related to sustainability, such as product quality and durability.

The report also examines obstacles that consumers face if they wish to purchase sustainably: assortments are often limited, and it can be difficult to distinguish between sustainable and non-sustainable items, a challenge that increases with age. These barriers were consistent among every generation of fashion consumers. Younger consumers said that higher prices were a deterrent, too.

“One can easily see that the fashion industry is very closely linked to nature loss and degradation across its value chain, but this is also what makes it a sector that can lead in bringing about change and sustainability. Our planet will benefit greatly if brands take action and the fashion industry transitions from a polluting, overly-consumptive linear path to a circular one,” said Benedetta Flammini, Marketing and Communication Director at WWF Italy.

“Fashion brands are on the cusp of a great opportunity but are often overwhelmed by complexity, especially along lengthy supply chains. Brands have a social role in this epoch-making change: they are called to address the information gap, engage consumers on product durability and impact; and make sustainable purchases more convenient and appealing. This will make them successful, while help shifting consumers toward more sustainable consumption,”, concluded Federica Levato, senior partner at Milan’s office and EMEA Leader of Fashion & Luxury at Bain.


Claudia D’Arpizio

Is a leading member of the firm’s global Consumer Products and Retail practices and leads Bain’s Luxury Goods vertical.

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