Macy's, Nordstrom, H&M and Zara embrace sustainable fashion
Green fashion is everywhere. Millennial and Gen Z consumers consistently report a greater interest in eco-friendly apparel brands—although, as a new Brand Keys survey shows, they don’t always follow through with their wallets. Patagonia is taking the reused or “upcycled” clothing market further with its new ReCrafted line at the company’s Worn Wear outlets. Even Meghan Markle was photographed recently wearing clothes made from recycled plastic water bottles.
Ad Age Studio 30 contributing writer Michael Applebaum examines these and other storylines in our latest quarterly trend report, “How Green Became the New Black.”
One of the casualties of an apparel industry gone green has been fast fashion. Leading fast-fashion retailers H&M and Zara have been forced to reinvent themselves by launching eco-friendly marketing initiatives and new collections—Conscious and Join Life, respectively—made from recycled and organic materials. Still, “greenwashing” critics continue to condemn their reliance on a business model that cranks out chic yet affordable clothing with little regard for the environment. “There is no way that you can base your entire business model on volume and ever say you’re sustainable,” says Dana Thomas, who makes the case for a “slower” and greener model in her book “Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes.”
A return to retail post-coronavirus?
The trend report also dives deeper into the decimated apparel retail environment and ponders what clothes shopping will look like in a post-coronavirus world. It’s fair to say that among the least of people’s concerns these days is what they’re wearing. But when stores reopen for good, will fearful memories of coronavirus cause consumers to stay home and shop for more yoga pants and secondhand sweaters online?
Retail experts are not so sure. “I think the fundamental shifts happened in the last five to 10 years in terms of the move to online shopping and the popularity of athleisure and secondhand clothing,” says Wendy Liebmann, founder and CEO of WSL Strategic Retail in New York. “There will be more questions about how much clothing do we really need and a heightened sense of what we’re putting on our bodies in relation to the environment. We may even want to get dressed up for a while after being casual for so long. But in general, the forces that will shape retail’s future were already in place.”
St. Joseph’s University marketing professor Michael Solomon, who teaches courses in consumer behavior, thinks there will be some lingering changes. “The virus is forcing us to become aware of other ways of doing things—teaching online, for example,” he says. “Once you do that, people are likely to realize there are more options available to them.”
The coronavirus may accelerate the move to e-commerce in consumer goods, though the fashion category may be less susceptible to a shift. According to Forrester Research, more than 70 percent of apparel and accessories purchases are still made offline. Solomon predicts a short-term spike of foot traffic at retail stores after some of the pandemic concerns wane. But then, he says, patterns should revert back to form.
“When we settle down into a [new] new normal, it will be more integration of things people have already figured out,” says Solomon. “Consumers have different motivations to shop. Recreational shoppers do it for the social aspects. Those people are going crazy right now, but there are a lot more task-oriented shoppers out there who’ve always hated the experience. Virus or no virus, those things won’t change.”
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