Founded Blog, Founded Thinking | August 30, 2018

How fashion brands are encouraging new consumer behaviours to tackle the sustainability challenge.

By Theo Pons, Junior Planner

How fashion brands are encouraging new consumer behaviours to tackle the sustainability challenge.

‘Sustainable’, ‘conscious’, ‘responsible’ – it never takes too long for these words to be thrown at us when our consuming habits are up for discussion. That is particularly true for fashion. The industry currently emits as much greenhouse gas as the whole of Russia, but brands are determined to lead the change.

H&M launched « Take Care » this year in Hamburg, a project encouraging their customers to extend the life of their clothes. It includes in-store repair services and sewing kits, garment care advice online and via the app, as well as the launch of an environment-friendly cleaning product line. Whilst this isn’t the first time the Swedish retailer has ventured into the sustainability space, this one might give a new spin to the whole conversation.

In the wake of fast fashion and the tragic 2013 factory collapse in Bangladesh, the public is growing aware of these issues and ever more hungry for solutions – 44% of younger millennials actually say that they would like to see more eco-friendly fabrics in clothes. And, with the 2017 Vogue-proclaimed coat of the year being faux, we can see the industry trying to be responsive to this.

Some brands have identified this new demand a while ago, and have been working hard to incorporate environmental awareness into their DNA. Zara and H&M have both launched sustainable collections. Even Chanel’s spring 2016 couture collection’s theme was high-fashion ecology. But, with repeated controversies around their practices – H&M was reportedly burning 12 tonnes of discarded clothing – brands keep facing scepticism, despite their efforts.

As much as consumers are aware of the sustainability issues around fashion, they are also very aware of the role they play in the problem. The fashion industry has created fast-fashion, a model of consumption that is dictated by trends and seasonality. For brands who have contributed to this model’s creation, and built empires on it, attempting suddenly to take the lead in sustainability clothing production could resemble a pyromaniac warning us against the dangers of fire.

Fashion brands are facing a credibility crisis and this is where the « Take Care » initiative becomes particularly relevant. Instead of telling their side of the sustainability story – which can be challenged – H&M chose to share the dialogue with their consumers, and enable them to be part of the solution. This plays to the broader Help Me Help Myself trend amongst self-reliant millennials, who feel good when given the chance to be their own heroes.

Steering the issue in this direction is unlikely to be the miracle solution for the fashion industry, but it is an interesting additional contribution to the meeting the challenge, giving H&M, and its customers, the opportunity to play a more active role in helping to change things.

It would seem that green isn’t the new black, it’s now the new behaviour.