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Is the PR around sustainable fashion getting its message across?

Fashion brands are working hard to become greener and more sustainable. Yet research by our client, Nosto, indicates their PR and marketing on this is not hitting home. Consumers remain confused about which fashion brands are really sustainable.

There has been a wave of publicity about the huge negative impact the fashion industry has on the environment. For example fashion’s carbon impact has been reported to be bigger than the airline industry’s; three-fifths of all clothing  is said to be thrown into an incinerator or landfill within a year of being produced; and  less than 1 percent of material used to produce clothing is believed to be recycled .

Now, new research from Nosto, which supplies AI and personalisation tech to fashion ecommerce businesses, suggests more than half of UK and US consumers want fashion to be more sustainable. And that attitude is cross-generational: 50% of those over 64 want fashion to be more sustainable as do 56% of Generation Z , 51% of Millennials and 55% of 35-44 year-olds.

Given the strength of feeling and the negative publicity about fashion’s poor sustainability record, many fashion brands have been working hard to clean up their act and polish up their green credentials. For example H&M is experimenting with upcycling, Everlane now has a stated goal of eliminating all virgin plastic from its supply chain by 2021, and Gap has announced it is working with supply chain partners to source all cotton for its family of brands from sustainable sources by 2025. 

But in the survey that CloudNine PR commissioned for Nosto, 45% of the 2,000 consumers who were polled said it was difficult to know which fashion brands are really committed to sustainability. Only 23% were prepared to say they generally have a good idea what fashion brands mean when they say they are committed to sustainability. 

One of the big challenges – as the survey shows – is that the concept of sustainability has a lot of different strands to it in fashion. And consumers have differing views on what aspects of sustainability are most important.   

For example the research reveals consumers want fashion companies to address five different areas in order to be more sustainable.

  • Reduce the amount of packaging’ (ticked by 75% of consumers who want greater sustainability in the industry).
  • ‘Provide fair pay and good working conditions’ (74%),
  • ‘Use renewable and recyclable materials’ (73%);
  • ‘Make clothes that are designed to last longer’ (71%)
  • ‘Use fewer resources e.g. power/water/materials’ (64%).

Sustainability is a complex issue and brands need to shout louder and be clearer about just which aspects of sustainability they are addressing. Retailers can also play a part, for example 74% of people who want fashion to be more sustainable want retailers to put clearer labelling on clothes to help online shoppers make more sustainable choices.

CloudNine PR worked with Nosto to commission the research with online survey company MaruUsurv

The survey story has been widely covered by the media including fashion and apparel industry publications such as Fashion United, Fashion Network and Just-Style, retail sites such as Internet Retailing and business publications such as Forbes.