Apparel chains such as H&M, Zara
and Forever 21 conquered the retail world by promising fast fashion: cheap, trendy and disposable.
Yet there’s a growing number of consumers this holiday season who want just the opposite. Data shows that shoppers — especially millennials, the target market for fast-fashion
companies — are increasingly looking for clothes made of higher-quality materials or they’re keeping their existing clothes longer. Some are even seeking apparel that’s been reused or recycled.
More than 14 per cent of US consumers looked for apparel and accessories made from natural materials in 2016, up from 12.9 per cent last year, according to a Euromonitor International
survey. Shoppers looking for clothes that were reused or recycled rose two per cent this year. And more millennials looked for “sustainably produced” apparel and accessories than any other age group.
This shift to so-called sustainable clothing is threatening the underpinnings of a fashion
industry that wants consumers to rapidly change styles and move on to the next hot trends.
companies are doing a booming business, but there’s also an increased interest in vintage, learning how to sew and weave, and in repair and mending,” said Susan Brown, a fashion
expert who serves as associate curator of textiles at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. “There’s the Brooklynisation of the world — interest in higher-quality, handmade things that have a narrative story.”
The challenge may come earlier than big retail chains expect. Consumers are more willing to shop at niche, smaller companies this season, according to Deloitte LLP. Some of these retailers tout sustainable premiums for longer-lasting, higher-quality products —think, Zady or Everlane.
“People want to buy trends less and less,” said Jennifer Baumgartner, a clinical psychologist and author of You Are What You Wear: What your Clothes Reveal About You. “It seems they’d rather buy items that are classic and will last a long time. The movement is happening, and it’s been gaining ground in the public eye.”
She said it’s going to be difficult for the fast-fashion
concept to use high-quality, eco-friendly fabric and not create “mass waste”.
companies are trying to respond. In 2013, H&M
launched a worldwide garment-collecting initiative encouraging consumers to reuse and recycle their clothes. The chain also sells a “conscious collection,” a clothing line created entirely from sustainable materials. Zara
launched its first sustainable line, Join Life, in September. The collection consists of simpler designs and clothing made from recycled wool, organic cotton and Tencel — a fabric that includes regenerated wood.