Would you pay more for sustainable fashion?

The seemingly low cost of fast fashion tempts even the most conscientious of shoppers

Would you pay more for sustainable fashion?

A recent survey showed that while people are willing to pay a premium for sustainably made fashion, that premium isn’t much…

IBM and Morning Consult surveyed over 1000 adults in Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK and found that Germans would be willing to spend an additional €3.94 for a sustainable t-shirt whilst Brits would only pay an additional €2.04 for an ethical product.

A number of factors that could be at play here – an economy in turmoil first from Brexit and then from COVID springs to mind – but there is also a lack of understanding amongst the general public of the true cost of our clothes.

While the mainstream press has provided more coverage of the human cost in fashion’s supply chain – 50% or more consumers in every country said fair conditions and wages were important – the environmental costs still aren’t cutting through, especially in the UK.

And this is a problem in an industry responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of all industrial water pollution worldwide. Fashion is linked to deforestation – not only for tree-based fibres but also for boxes, packaging and wrapping paper – and there’s documented widespread abuse of animals for the sake of fashion.

Deforestation and logging in a tropical rainforest
Deforestation and logging in a tropical rainforest. Shutterstock

Sustainability expert Dr Patsy Perry, professor of fashion marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University, says there is understandably little awareness of the true impact of fashion outside of those who have been educated or work within the trade.

‘It makes sense that [labour rights issues] would be top of mind for people, because that’s… about humanity,’ she says, ‘whereas if you think about water or chemicals, it’s more abstract.’

Conscious brands and industry thought-leaders need to expand the narrative to include these non-human costs to help shoppers understand the consequences of their purchases.

‘There’s a real need to think about how you surface that information at the point of engagement with the brand, at the point of research… and ultimately at the point of consumption,’ says Luq Niazi, global managing director of consumer industries at IBM.

The IBM and Morning Consult survey acknowledge that Gen Z care a lot about sustainable fashion and the environment, but as Vogue Business notes, fast fashion continues to grow with those same shoppers flocking to e-tailers like Boohoo, Pretty Little Things and Missguided for their ‘trend-led, influencer inspired clothing, extensive sizing and fast delivery’.

Fashion influencers and social media are driving the trend of fast fashion
Fashion influencers and social media are driving the trend of fast fashion

Fashion consultant Aja Barber, writing for Eco-Age at the end of last year, challenges this pursuit of an affordable look. Her question: is fast fashion actually as cheap as it seems?

The answer for her was a definitive no:

‘It’s often no cheaper than a well-made, second-hand find and more importantly, the repetitive buying and replacing of items which haven’t lasted in the long run actually ends up being quite costly.’

Her anecdote of going into the shops for one item and emerging with five will be familiar to many people. But she found that the quality of the clothing wasn’t good enough to stay in her wardrobe for even two years, let alone a lifetime.

‘It’s disingenuous for fast fashion makers to pretend that they are encouraging anyone to buy something and wear it forever. Especially when there are new items being pushed to consumers every day and stores are laid out in a way which encourages you to buy things you may not need. No one is being encouraged to “buy forever” when brands send daily marketing emails encouraging consumers to buy, buy, buy….

‘The formula for the industry’s success and survival depends on the continuous cycle of consumers buying and rebuying way more than they actually need. So, how can we break the cycle? Buy less and buy better quality. You’ll save in the long term and find items to last you a lifetime.’

The seemingly low cost of fast fashion tempts even the most conscientious of shoppers
The seemingly low cost of fast fashion tempts even the most conscientious of shoppers

There are a lot of brands operating today that are willing to invest in a supply chain that treats people fairly and minimises harm to the environment because doing so aligns with their values. We need them to continue to lead from the front.

But to move the rest of the market, we need consumers to act on their sentiments and pay more for sustainable fashion AND we need governments to implement legislation and regulation that moves the entire industry toward creating shared value for people, animals and the environment.