The Covid-19 crisis could be the turning point for fast fashion brands to change the way they design, produce and distribute their products in a bid to act more sustainably, a new survey has revealed.

Software and technology specialist Lectra recently acquired Retviews, whose automation solution is based on a model combining artificial intelligence and big data. The two produced a survey of sustainable fashion among the leading fast fashion brands.

Retviews says the pandemic has given many people the desire to live more meaningfully and act responsibly.

"Since, for consumers, buying is a way of expressing a commitment and affirming their values, brands have an incentive to change their offer in preparation for the future, by taking a more eco-responsible, authentic and transparent approach.

"While these factors were apparent before the pandemic, they have now become the key to interacting with consumers wanting a more responsible offer. The era of the consumer activist, long heralded without actually becoming a reality, is now here, and brands must adapt in response."

Of the key findings, Retviews says the proportion of sustainable fashion in collections varies considerably from one retailer to the next. For example, eco-friendly collections constitute only a "small portion" of the ranges offered by leading retailers Zara and H&M. Zara's Join Life collection represents 14% of its range, whereas C&A's #Wearthechange represents nearly 30% of its total collection. The Conscious collection at H&M, which tops the Fashion Transparency Index, created by Fashion Revolution, accounts for less than 10% of its total range.

C&A, H&M and Inditex (Zara) are among the top four users of organic cotton. All the brands analysed in the Retviews survey present their cotton as sustainable and consider it a priority for 2020 and beyond.

There is little difference between the fabrics most commonly used in the mass and premium markets. The same is true for eco-friendly compared to standard collections, Retviews says. Cotton, synthetic fabrics such as polyester, elastane and also viscose are the most widely offered and used fabrics.

And, the assumption that sustainable and/or organic garments are more expensive is a misconception, according to the results of the survey. H&M's exclusive sustainable collection, Conscious, is a good example. The average price of a dress in the standard collection is EUR39.90 (US$36.34), whereas in the Join Life collection it is EUR31.70.

"The opportunities offered by sustainability are significant. It's an issue attracting much greater interest from Generation Z, and retailers have listened to and taken on board these concerns. 90% of consumers say they are aware of the situation and are prepared to change their behaviour to combat climate change. This shows their real inclination to invest in eco-responsible products.

"In view of this change, brands have a social responsibility to inform their customers, to be transparent about their progress in this area, and to share some of the challenges they face, in order to educate their communities. There are currently no international regulations for apparel defining what can be described as sustainable. This means that there is still a long way to go before the standardisation of sustainable fashion is achieved," explains Quentin Richelle, chief marketing officer, Retviews.