There are fewer topics today garnering more attention in the fashion industry than that of sustainability. It's drawn so much attention that even the use of the word "sustainability" draws strong reaction, and yes controversy, from all corners both inside and outside our industry. What does "sustainability" really mean? What constitutes a meaningful effort to be a more responsible retailer and brand today?
To start, we know that consumer awareness is at an all-time high, with McKinsey, in its annual Business of Fashion report, citing 66 percent (and 75 percent of millennial respondents) saying they consider sustainability when making a luxury purchase. But the report also mentions that words don't always translate to actions, with 31 percent of Gen-Z and just 12 percent of baby boomers willing to pay more for sustainable goods.
Today we wanted to begin to shed some light into what the data says about a sustainable assortment - and perhaps dispel some misconceptions along the way.
To start, let's clarify some of the criteria for our definition of sustainable goods. For the purposes of our report, we include sustainable goods as containing some element of either recycled materials, organic materials, ethically or locally sourced, or fair trade. Depending on the retailer, the approach to merchandising their sustainable offerings may be by way of a separate label, an edit of products, or an entire assortment philosophy.
There may be more sustainable products than you realize
We wanted to first take the 30,000 foot view of what's out there. We took a selection of retailers in the US, UK, and Germany and looked at what proportion of goods was categorized in some way as "sustainable."
We saw that of our sample, each country had less than 10% sustainable products in the assortment (and this includes men's, women's, and kid's). Of the three countries, the US came out at the top with 7% sustainable goods, followed by the UK and Germany, at 5% and 4%, respectively.
Which categories had the highest concentration of sustainable goods? In our analysis, we saw that shirts and tops overwhelmingly comprised the single largest proportion of sustainable goods at 35%. Specifically, t-shirts made up 16% of all sustainable goods in our analysis. Sweaters were next at 11%, with pants, sleepwear, jeans, and dresses filling out the rest of the list.
Kid's comprises a significant part of sustainable products
We next took a look at sustainable goods by gender to see where there was the largest concentration of products.
What was interesting to note is that while women's unsurprisingly comprised nearly half of all sustainable products, kid's made up a quarter of total assortments. This large proportion of kid's products underscores the desire consumers have to clothe children in materials that are free from irritants and unnecessary chemicals.
But wait, aren't sustainable goods more expensive?
Don't know about you, but our assumption going into our analysis was that the products labeled as eco-friendly would also cost more. But that wasn't necessarily the case amongst the retailers in our analysis.
Across countries and product categories, we saw that, in fact, sustainable goods actually had an average lower price than those not labeled as such. While we can attribute some (but not all) of this difference due to the significantly larger sample of non-sustainable goods with prices covering a larger spectrum, the consistency of this data across our sample indicates that retailers are making efforts to dispel the notion that sustainable means a larger price tag.
The one category where the price was closest between sustainable and not was denim, where sustainable denim was less than 10% cheaper than its non-sustainably labeled counterparts.
Find this data interesting? Stay tuned here for our full sustainability report next week.