Do consumers care about sustainability?

INTERVIEW_ Sustainability is quite a buzz word for the textile and apparel industry right now and though many manufacturers, brands and retailers have put it high up on their agenda, for many consumers, it is still a “nice to have” rather than a “must have”. A recent study, the

“Jeansworld - Global Report”, found that there are national differences when it comes to sustainability and its importance for consumers. FashionUnited spoke with denim maker ISKO’s head of worldwide marketing, Marco Lucietti, to find out more.

Do consumers care about sustainability?The “Jeansworld - Global Report” was commissioned by Turkish denim manufacturer ISKO, part of multinational holding Sanko Group, and carried out by Italian market research company Sita Ricerca in 2013. It included five countries – Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and USA – and 32 focus groups and four shopping tours in Italy.

FashionUnited: As the study revealed, sustainability is currently a “nice to have” for consumers in most countries, with the exception of Germany, where it is seen as crucial. When do you think sustainability will move from a “nice to have” to a “must have” feature in the minds of the consumers when buying clothes?
Marco Lucietti: Well, I think that different markets require different approaches. According to the global consumer market research, the interest for the sustainable dimension when buying jeans is felt in Germany. In particular, German consumers pay attention to features of eco-friendly production. In Sweden, Norway and Denmark, consumer awareness is high as well. In all other countries, sustainability is a “nice to have”. Unfortunately, there is no proper communication in place yet to let consumers understand the importance of this area.

How did the other countries fare that were analyzed in the study?
Sustainability is mainly a “nice to have” feature. When it becomes a “must have”, it indicates a bit more advanced mindset. The UK for example is moving toward sustainability, but in many other countries, the concept of profit prevails. However, in every country, there are some brands that are very concerned about sustainability.

Do consumers care about sustainability?As I mentioned before, it is also important that consumers know about sustainability and what they can do, what brands can do. Brands and retailers should not throw sand in the consumers’ eyes but be responsible. There are basically two key points: looking at the full value chain and being responsible; without the former, there is no way to be in control and to shift the paradigm from cost to value in the long run.

Of course, everything has a cost – compliance, the environment – but if you only look at the cost, a product cannot be fully sustainable. It’s not so much about mark-ups - premium brands with higher mark-ups may have the means to invest in sustainability but may not be concerned, whereas other brands with lower mark-ups may well be on top of it. Thus, it's an industry problem, not a brand problem.

How does ISKO invest in sustainability?
At ISKO and Sanko, sustainability is an old phenomenon - if you don't have it, you can’t proceed. We like to be in control and produce responsible innovation. Each pair of jeans, before it is put on the market, goes through seven to eight different processes from cotton growing, spinning and weaving to packaging and finally reaching the stores. If those jeans are not certified, then there is no control and we can't speak about sustainable jeans. We also try to minimize the impact on the environment whenever and wherever we can.

ISKO took up the challenge of sustainability really seriously, backed by the belief that the eco-friendly approach should be integrated in the entire process, starting from the early stage of the design project itself: only in this way, in fact, does sustainability become an effective part of the process. This is a 360-degree “responsible innovation” aimed at optimizing all the steps in a conscious way – because responsibility must involve the whole production chain, it cannot stop at denim production.

Do consumers care about sustainability?Could you elaborate a bit on the concept of 360-degree “responsible innovation”? Which steps are being taken to make denim production a more sustainable process?

Transparency is key, also control across the full value chain as I mentioned earlier. This will lead to responsible products that consumers are pulling. It’s a push and pull. It’s also important to keep in mind that customers are indeed beginning to count a company's responsibility among the discriminant factors influencing their purchase. So eco-commitment becomes both a moral duty and even a clear business task for companies, representing their capability to understand and mainly to anticipate consumers' needs and market trends.

Do consumers care about sustainability?

Photos: jeans display (Tony Hisgett); denim production at the ISKO factory in Inegöl (ISKO)

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