The study was carried ahead in April 2022 on a sample of 6,000 people in France, Italy, Germany, the UK and the US involving 1,200 people per country aged above 18.
The context of the study refers to a market where fashion consumption hasn’t recovered by the first half of 2022 and that, after the health crisis, saw the bursting out of the war in Ukraine. Along with it, clothing prices have increased by around 10% and more, slowing on consumption significantly. Along with all that, the rise in prices of gasoline, food, and other costs has led households to review their consumption choices.
A first main aspect that emerges is that there is an increased interest in the consumption of eco-responsible purchases, that are products made with recycled and organic materials, and new fibers, and whose country of origin in terms of production is strictly controlled.
“The results of this study are very interesting as they show that the consumer is deeply interested and willing to buy products that are less harmful for the environment, though they are not informed enough about how they are made, what specific certifications means and why sustainably made products’ prices are still too high,” said Gilles Lasbordes, general manager, Premiere Vision. “Our task is to support the industry in explaining, educating and informing more about all this high-potential growth product.”
Lasbordes added: “Also the perception of sustainable fashion as being not attractive now belongs to the past, though consumers still don’t know where they can buy eco fashion…therefore still more information is needed in this sector. Consumers are willing to change habits, even if not many of them yet. The industry has the task to pursue this goal further more in the future,” continued Lasbordes.
According to the study, in the last 12 months, the purchasing of eco-friendly garments has risen in all the countries. For instance, in Italy, 78.4% of consumers have purchased an eco-responsible garment. Similarly, 65.4% of French consumers surveyed have purchased an eco-responsible garment, a higher number when compared with 2019 when they were 45.8% of the champion.
Also, the yearly budget dedicated to eco-friendly fashion has grown in all countries with an average of €189 in Europe, with Italy reaching €227 and Germany more than €200.
Although, despite consumer’s budgets are significant, it seems hard for them name specific 100% sustainable brands.
Consumers buy sustainable fashion according to the principle it is made out of eco-responsible materials in three out of five countries. In Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, the use of eco-friendly materials is the criterion that receives the most responses, while in France and the United States, this criterion comes in second place. The number one factor for these two countries is the fact that the garment is produced in the country of origin, therefore its environmental impact is lower.
Are there barriers in buying ecofriendly?
Buying ecofriendly fashion also meets some difficulties. Among those who have not purchased an eco-responsible garment in the last 12 months (34.6% in France), the primary reason cited is the lack of information on the subject. Though, the "price" criterion is gaining importance, too. In France, 37.1% of people who have not purchased eco-responsible clothing consider it too expensive (compared to 33.4% in 2019). The current context of the return of inflation, which leads consumers to review their consumption choices, is undoubtedly a factor.
Is cotton king?
The selection of sustainable apparel is tied to choosing specific materials. Among most harmful materials, consumers consider polyester, acrylic fibers and polyamide. On the other hand, linen production is rightly judged to have a limited negative impact on the environment.
As far as cotton is concerned, it stands out as the top of the list of favorite materials in all the countries surveyed. Nevertheless, many consumers are aware that its production has a negative impact on the environment for the high request of water and pesticides it requires. In France, 28.7% of consumers believe that cotton production has a negative impact on the environment, compared to only 18.4 percent of American consumers, though it is also true that the United States is one of the largest cotton producing countries.
Information and education continues to be a key aspect in judging the impact of a product. Although, whether it is about the different eco-responsible certification labels or new materials (from food waste, recycled plastics or biopolymers), the degree of consumer knowledge is very low.
If we take for example the case of leather, the most known alternative materials are by far the fake leather (coming from the petrochemical industry), while the materials coming from pineapple, apple or mushroom, are less known.
These gaps show that the issues of education and communication will certainly be at the heart of companies' strategies for the years to come.
Why leather can be good
In the last 12 months a significant proportion of consumers have purchased a leather fashion item, including clothing, shoes or accessories, with the highest percentage for this product type registered among American men (58.5%). On the contrary, in France, 54.9% of those who did not buy leather goods gave price as the reason (57.2% in the US).
When consumers were asked if they know that the leather used in fashion is recovered from animals destined for meat consumption, an average of 53% were aware of it, for all countries, which is certainly a fair result, but nevertheless shows a potential for improvement in the image of this sector.
Furthermore, a significant proportion of consumers believe that leather products can be eco-responsible, in particular by 45.2% of female consumers and 54.5% of French consumers.
Why secondhand doesn’t mean second best
For a very large majority of consumers (73% as an average for the five countries) in all the countries studied, second-hand purchases are part of an eco-responsible approach.
In France, 29.1% of consumers bought more second-hand clothing in 2021 than in 2020. This percentage is equivalent to that observed in the United States, but higher than that of European neighbors. In particular, among 18-34 year olds, the proportion of those who bought more is even much higher.
Looking at future perspectives the majority of consumers think that buying fewer products but of better quality will be their main driver with high marks for Italy (85%), UK and France (78%), while only for Italy prioritizing eco-friendly purchases will be key (82%), while for other countries it will remain much lower.
Skeptics of eco-responsibility, instead, remain a few as those who won’t change habits. For instance, in France, 16.3% of consumers do not believe that organic fabrics are better for health or the environment than conventional fabrics, and also very low for Italy (6.3%), Germany, (13%), UK (11.6%) and in the US (12.5%).
So there is much work to do in order to encourage and inform the consumer while constantly pushing ahead R&D, make new achievements widespread and more affordable.