Consumers are now paying more attention to the sustainability element of the fashion items they consume

Consumers are now paying more attention to the sustainability element of the fashion items they consume

Consumers are becoming increasingly vigilant about the clothing they wear each day, seeking out more sustainable options, as well as information on supply chains, production processes and product afterlife. Which is why there's an ongoing need for consumer education, as well as collaboration among all stakeholders to redefine the standard of transparency practices across the industry value chain, says Dr Florian Heubrandner, vice president of global business management textiles, at Lenzing AG. 

Sustainability is not just a buzzword, but rather a way of life, ensuring we make the right choices to take care of our fragile environment.

Consumers are more aware than ever about the food they consume and are paying closer attention to food labelling. This trend is being echoed around the world, with more emphasis being placed on health awareness and sustainable food production and consumption habits.

However, this shift is not limited to just food. Consumers are becoming increasingly vigilant about the clothing they wear each day. For example, between July 2017 to August 2018, studies revealed a 130% increase in sustainable fashion Google searches, a staggering 400% increase over the past five years. Such a sharp increase reveals the reality of the current consumer mindset – a group who are now paying more attention to the sustainability element of the fashion items they consume.

Customers are becoming savvier as they seek out more sustainable options, no longer simply interested in the quality of the product, but also the supply chains and production processes and product afterlife.

The increasing awareness about sustainable fashion has enabled the industry value chain to produce a generation of consumer watchdogs – unconsciously; while also providing an opportunity for sustainable brands to grow, and present their unique offerings to the market. One such growing trend is the adoption of fabrics made of fibres derived from natural and upcycled materials such as cotton, which is an eco-friendly way to embrace sustainable fashion.

This is not just a trend related to one specific consumer demographic either. Indeed, consumer awareness of sustainable and eco-friendly fashion has been growing, with the acceptance of sustainable fashion seen at Shanghai Fashion Week, where designers and industry leaders recognised China's unique potential to reduce the industry's environmental footprint.

Designer Zhang Na, took to the catwalk with her brand – Reclothing Bank – and showed a collection that was made from upcycled materials and environmentally friendly fabrics. Shanghai Fashion Week also hosted influential global players in the sustainability fashion movement to discuss what sustainability in Chinese factories could look like, citing brands such as Patagonia and Uniqlo who are producing sustainable products in China.

Raw materials

Being eco-friendly is more than just a passing trend. When it comes to clothing's raw materials, consumers are increasingly aware of the origin and its production. To ensure a brand is sustainable, it is crucial for consumers to investigate the very source and origin of their products, and choose fibres derived from natural and/or renewable wood sources, such as wool and lyocell fibres or filament.

Aside from offering natural comfort and supreme functionality, consumers will also help to limit the environmental impact of their purchase, as their sustainable and eco-friendly choices will be reducing the level of carbon emissions made during the production process.

With an ever-increasing array of brands seeking to become more eco-conscious, and introduce sustainable fibres into their collections, there has been a shift toward embracing upcycled fibres from garment productions.

Fibre blends based on recycled materials, like those produced with the Refibra technology which incorporates upcycled cotton and natural wood pulp, have quickly become one of the most eco-responsible alternatives when looking to embrace the circular economy and introduce the trend into everyday life.

With the aim to establish a new standard of natural comfort, these fibres offer a range of features in addition to their botanic origins, such as sustainable production methods, long-lasting softness, enhanced breathability, colour retention and biodegradability. In addition, consumers can be satisfied that the products have a limited short- and long-term environmental impact.

Ecological accreditation

In terms of traceability, one way of identifying sustainable fashion is by utilising ecological accreditations. One example of this is the adoption of the EU Ecolabel, which recognises a product manufactured ecologically, keeping in mind nature preservation and offsetting environmental impact.

To enable a fully traceable production process, companies can also opt to use fibres made from special manufacturing systems, which enable the fibres to be identified in the final product, even after the textile processing and conversion steps in the value chain. These fibres can help provide a solution for the fashion industry and its supply chain to respond to consumer demands for reliable visibility of product origins that can be traced back to the fibre.

With conscious consumers and textile industry leaders leading the way in innovation and the use of sustainable and eco-friendly fibres, it is vital to continue consumer education. It is important to foster collaboration among stakeholders and consumers in a continued movement to redefine the standard of transparency practices across the industry value chain from the disclosure of raw material sourcing, production and manufacturing stages, to carbon footprint, packaging materials and the product's afterlife.

About the author: Dr Florian Heubrandner is vice president of global business management textiles, at Lenzing AG. The company's Refibra technology incorporates upcycled cotton and natural wood pulp to produce fibres that offer a range of features in addition to their botanic origins, such as sustainable production methods, long-lasting softness, enhanced breathability, colour retention and biodegradability.