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Consumers praise sustainable fashion, but unwilling to pay premium price tag

By Vivian Hendriksz


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Fashion |REPORT

London - How important is sustainable, ethical and eco-friendly fashion to consumers today? Although consumers around the world have been calling for more conscious fashion following the Rana Plaza disaster of 2013, which saw over 1,100 garment factory workers making apparel for the likes of Primark, C&A and Mango crushed to death when the building collapsed in Bangladesh, new research indicates they are unwilling to pay more for ethical clothing and footwear.

When questioned, most consumers said retailer’s sustainability and eco-friendly credentials are important to them when making a purchasing decision. However, data from retail research agency Verdict shows they are not willing to pay more for conscious fashion, and would rather pay more for stylish, quality and veritable fashion which gives them value for money. Fashion retailers must find the balance between investing in sustainable and ethical practices in their supply chains and driving sales, as despite growing awareness, conscious consumerism is still somewhat of a niche market, according to Verdict, with not enough people willing to pay more for sustainable fashion to warrant a huge company overhaul.

Sustainable fashion credentials important - but not as important as style, quality and value for money to consumers

Although 60 percent of consumers say retailer’s sustainable credentials are an important factor when purchasing footwear and clothing, only 15.6 percent said they would not buy from a retailer is they were not transparent about their ethical credentials, which give retailers little incentive to change their current practices argues Verdict. However a complete lack of consideration for ethical and sustainable work practices can also significantly commercially harm a retailers reputation, as seen in the case of Sports Direct. Following an undercover expose into the sportswear retailers warehouse work practices, which found the retailer using ‘Victorian work practices’ led to a 0.8 percent decline in the company’s retail store sales for fiscal year 2015-2016, compared to the 7.4 percent increase seen the year before.

“Though ethical consumerism is somewhat seen as a niche market, retailer ethics is important to consumers and the topical case of Sports Direct serves as a reminder that retailers cannot be complacent. Consumers admitted factors such as price, style and quality of products were barriers to purchasing eco-friendly or sustainable products," commented Sarah Johns, Analyst at Verdict Retail in a statement.

20.2 percent of consumers said they refused to pay more for sustainable fashion, and only 3 percent were found to be willing to pay more than 21 percent more ethical or conscious products. This is highlighted as the tipping point for retailers and consumers alike, as from the shoppers who had not purchased any sustainable clothing over the last few years 31.1 percent did not do so because they felt the items were too expensive. Although higher prices for sustainable and ethical fashion is unavoidable due to more costs throughout the supply chain, retailers are urged to justify the high-price tags using design, innovation and quality to give consumers more reason to purchase.

In addition, availability and range were also said to be key considerations for purchase, as 18.8 percent of consumers did not buy sustainable fashion because they felt it was not easily available and 17.5 percent did not make a purchase due to lack of choice. Verdict’s data highlights that fashion and footwear retailers should ensure that sustainability and ethical practices become the heart of their supply chain practices, but they should not neglect to place focus on what consumers actively seek out, namely style, quality and value for money.

Photos 1-4: H&M Exclusive Conscious Collection, courtesy of H&M

Photo 5: Topshop Reclaim. website