Sustainability priorities

WGSN: The seismic events of 2020 have shifted peoples’ priorities

In the early days of the pandemic, the clear skies seen over manufacturing hubs in South Asia, Southern California and China pushed the narrative that ‘nature is healing’. Though the phrase has since become a meme, it highlights the direct correlation between human actions and the health of our planet, and the fact that people recognise and are embracing the positive impact they can have on their local environment and communities.

A 2020 World Economic Forum survey found that 86% of 21,000 respondents among 28 countries would like to see more responsible and equitable products in the post-pandemic market. WGSN analysis shows that sustainability remains a key consumer priority, with conversations about the topic remaining relevant on social media across industries. But not all consumers have the same priorities. Below, we outline three mindsets that will drive purchasing decisions post-pandemic and beyond, providing brands with insight into the new fashion consumer.

Value-driven mindset

For this cohort, expectations will be centred around affordability and accessibility. Businesses will need to respond through models and strategies that democratise access to sustainable education and lifestyles.

Addressing the climate emergency requires global-scale behavioural change to adopt mindful lifestyles en masse. To enable this shift, affordability and accessibility to lower impact propositions will be fundamental for consumers. Increasingly driven by value for money and a need for independence, this cohort will look for convenient local solutions that simplify their life and enable them to regain control of it.

Convenience and socio-ecological responsibility will need to be integrated into the commercial fashion system, as the majority of global consumers (63%) consider value for money a key purchase driver. Some brands are implementing this mindset with initiatives - Soulland for instance recently launched their resale platform together with Create 2 Stay where they buy back pre-owned Soulland garments and resell them on their website. This initiative aims to prolong the lifecycle of their garments and is currently available on the Danish website.

Purpose-driven mindset

This customer group is channelling their fears about the climate emergency into hope and action, willingly adopting new behaviours in order to reduce their ecological footprint.

The extreme effects of the climate emergency, from record low temperatures in Texas to floods in Japan and Australia, are impacting people's mental health – in particular, young adults and children. A 2020 study by the UK's Royal College of Psychiatrists stated that 57% of psychiatrists working with children and adolescents in England reported seeing children and young people distressed about the climate crisis and the state of the environment. The Journal of Climate Change and Health also reported that climate depression and eco-anger drove greater engagement in climate activism.

The purpose-driven consumer will transform negative emotions related to the climate into hope and action, making efforts to change their lifestyle and fashion choices to minimise negative impact. According to IBM, more than half of consumers (57%) are willing to change their purchasing behaviour to be more sustainable, and brands will need to provide customers with propositions that facilitate the shift towards responsible consumption, from personal carbon footprint tracking apps to zero-waste products.

Several brands are designing in an effort to reduce waste. Opening the SS22 edition of Copenhagen Fashion Week, design and fashion label (di)vision offers their (di)construct line where used garments and textiles are reworked to give them a new life.

Disengaged mindset

Driven by a sense of mistrust in institutions and by misinformation, this cohort rejects the responsibility of minimising personal environmental impact through new behaviours. Instead, they place their expectations on business to step in and lead environmental transformation.

The Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 found that business is perceived as the only trustworthy institution over NGOs, government and media by 61% of over 33,000 respondents in 28 countries. The disengaged consumer expects companies and business leaders to address and solve macro socio-environmental challenges, with 68% of those surveyed saying CEOs should step in when the government does not fix societal problems. This will provide an opportunity for fashion businesses and retailers to establish themselves as thought leaders, guiding customers to a more resilient and responsible future.

Maintaining quality information standards will be another key element for rebuilding trust among the disengaged customer. According to a commercial report, two thirds of a sample of over 5,500 adults across four markets do not recycle all their plastic waste due to a lack of information and confidence in the recycling system. Brands, in collaboration with governments and media, will need to provide truthful, unbiased and reliable content around sustainability, helping customers navigate the complexities related to it, such as recycling products at the end of their lifecycle.

A perfect example of communicating sustainability efforts in an informative, yet digestible and engaging way is put forward by Ganni who keep track of their progress in an annual Responsibility Report and communicate about everything sustainability-related via their Instagram channel Ganni.Lab.