Sustainable Fashion Drives Radical Transparency

The fashion industry has an incredibly complex and global supply chain. It is one of the largest polluters in the world, from manufacturing to the waste created at the end-of-life stage of old clothes and shoes in landfills. In an era of fast fashion it might seem like consumers don’t know or don’t want to know how their clothes are made, and often there is not a lot of information available at retail.
I recently had the opportunity to speak at WEAR 2015 (World Ethical Apparel Roundtable). Hearing about the experiences of fashion designers and entrepreneurs working in sustainable apparel underlined the challenges that the sector is facing in its drive for enhanced sustainability.

Consumer Expectations

Consumers have high expectations of the global apparel industry. The latest GlobeScan Radar data shows that consumers’ perceptions of the clothing industry’s CSR performance have deteriorated since we began tracking them back in 2001.

Despite the economic contribution made by the fashion industry in poorer countries, consumers in developed markets are much more critical of the industry’s performance, pointing to higher expectations of both retailers and manufacturers of fashion. The collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013 likely sparked consumers’ awareness of some of the costs of fast fashion. The event had lasting power in the global media as contracting companies slowly responded to the crisis.

Ethical Consumption

But there is another shift taking place. GlobeScan’s data shows that ethical consumption in general is on the rise. Some leading apparel brands and retailers are starting to take consumers along with them on their journey to make the apparel industry more sustainable. Marks & Spencer (M&S), Eileen Fisher, and H&M have garment take-back programs to help reduce growing textile waste. Fearless fashion house, Everlane, uses the tagline, “Modern Basics. Radical Transparency” and wants its customers to know the true costs of their products and discloses the markup on each product. Everlane publishes the breakdown of its costs of materials, labour, duties, and transport for each item, as well as detailed information about the factories used to make each product.
Thinking back to WEAR 2015, I was encouraged by the excitement that the designers and entrepreneurs displayed when I spoke about the Aspirationals, a market segment that GlobeScan and its colleagues at BBMG have tracked for the last four years.

Global Consumer Segmentation

The Aspirational segmentation explores the intersection of consumer needs, desires, and shopping behaviors with social and environmental beliefs, values, and priorities. As the chart below shows, the segmentation reveals a spectrum including highly committed Advocates (26% of consumers globally in 2015), style and social status-seeking Aspirationals (39%), price and performance-minded Practicals (25%), and the less-engaged Indifferents (10%).

Aspirationals combine a love of style, social status and sustainability values to shift cultural norms and rewrite the rules of marketing. The Aspirational segment isn’t defined by age, but rather by the desire for their actions to meet their needs, and to have a positive impact on others and connect them with an ideal or community that is bigger than themselves.
Representing more than one-third of the global adult population, Aspirationals are connecting the right thing to do with the cool thing to do, creating new possibilities for brands, business, and society and therefore seem to be a prime target for sustainable fashion.
Aspirationals matter because they are the first to unite materialism, sustainability values, and cultural influence, making them an essential audience to build markets, influence cultural norms, and shape behavior change at scale.

As the largest segment worldwide, and particularly present in large transforming markets in Asia, Aspirational consumers will drive the apparel industry in the direction it apparently wants to go.