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The Silver Lining: how COVID accelerated a shift to conscious consumerism

“War, revolution, economic collapse and plague are closely related. The historical evidence is that they all change behaviour.”

 

David Kauders, author of The Financial System Limit

A woman wearing a Chanel high-fashion face mask
Image courtesy of Now Fashion

A crisis causes people to decide what they really value. Before the pandemic, the world was stuck on a consumption treadmill that none of us knew how to get off. We knew we needed to change – but change feels scary, and overwhelming on top of getting through the daily grind.

 

But with the temporary closure of physical stores, and as factories and supply chains ground to a halt, we were given the opportunity to re-evaluate our shopping habits. Stuck at home, we were confronted with the impact of every consumption decision we were making – from the increase in food and waste as we ate all of our meals at home, to the excess packaging from all the online shopping we were doing to pass the time. Perhaps it was just the reality check that we needed.

 

There is no denying that the last few months have been an emotional rollercoaster – ranging from difficult and scary, to bored and frustrated. We’ve been thrust into a new world order with very little clarity on the rules of engagement. But it’s not all doom and gloom: in the last few months we’ve also seen admirable fashion trends that would have normally taken years compressed into a matter of weeks. A HighSnobiety study found that post-Covid 43% of shoppers are finding sustainability more attractive than  before1. Similarly, other studies have shown that nearly three-quarters of consumers expect online retailers and brands to use recyclable packaging (73%) or minimise their use of packaging (74%)2

A mask wearer at Milan fashion week
Image Courtesy of Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

It’s exciting to know that there’s a silver lining in the calamity. But what does our new consciousness mean for the future of fashion? Are we shunning new clothes for hand-me-downs and foregoing style for sustainability? Far from it. In the same HighSnobiety white paper, it was found that 99% of readers expressed a positive outlook on a post-Covid future1. And why? Because now more than ever, brands are being forced to invest and innovate to satisfy this new consumer consideration. Small, independent brands experimenting with new textiles and techniques are being thrust into the spotlight as people hunt for the next new frontier, and mainstream fashion houses are being forced to fall in line.

“What we see now is desire for fashion to engage with its audience beyond the level of appearance and necessity: something that strives toward knowledge, education, and appreciation.”


HighSnobiety: The Immunized Shopper

Images courtesy of HighSnobiety / Julian Tell

Two areas we can expect to see exciting developments…

 

New textiles:

 

From wood pulp to citrus by-products, the “ingredient list” of our clothes is diversifying at a dizzying rate.

 

TENCEL™ created a branded Lyocell fibre that uses dissolved wood pulp to create a cloth that uses far less water for production. The resulting fibre is not only biodegradable, but super strong, with enhanced breathability, efficient moisture absorption and gentleness on the skin.

 

Orange Fiber is an Italian based company that manufactures natural fabrics from citrus by-products. It’s made by extracting the cellulose from the fibres that are discarded from the industrial pressing and processing of oranges. The fibre, through nanotechnology techniques, is enriched with citrus fruit essential oils, creating a unique and sustainable fabric.

Arlo Hudson Tencel Underwear

New technologies:

Waste had become par the course in the garment production chain, with significant numbers of items never even making it to the shop floor. But some brands have taken it upon themselves to fundamentally redesign the production process away from the take-make-waste model that characterises the industry today.

 

ByBorre is just one of the brands experimenting with how technology can help cut down on the waste produced by the industry. An Amsterdam based textile innovation studio working on the frontiers of material development through engineered knits, their studio focuses on rethinking all stages of the garment-creation process, from design to manufacturing – using technology as a playground to experiment with ideas, shapes, products and finishes before committing to real life production. Their in-house label BYBORRE demonstrates the ability to unite the whole manufacturing process under one roof to prevent waste and excess transportation and promote responsible design.

Image Courtesy of ByBorre

Super exciting times ahead, but let’s not forget that innovation is only half the problem: how do we get everyday people to turn newfound good intentions into smart purchasing decisions? McKinsey research3 shows us that average global consumer now buys 60% more clothes per year and keeps them for half as long as they did 15 years ago. The vicious cycle of over-consumption fuelling over-production will continue to rage until drastic change is taken at scale.

 

To get this hard to convert audience off that treadmill, we need to show them that change isn’t scary at all; it’s full of possibility. A possibility that will only get richer should they start to vote with their wallets, investing in brands that share their values and showing the industry that sustainability is not only here to stay but is actually the new battleground for creativity and success. Not such a bad thing to come out of a global pandemic, hey? Let’s finish with this quote from Jaoquin Pheonix who captures the essence of creativity and change far more eloquently than I have in his 2020 Oscar’s acceptance speech:

“We fear the idea of personal change because we feel we have to sacrifice something; to give something up. But human beings, at our best, are so creative and inventive, and we can create, develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings and the environment.”

  1. HighSnobiety: April 2020. Accessed October 2020. Link: https://www.highsnobiety.com/p/hype-generation-quarantine/
  2. Selling Sustainability: Adapting to the New Conscious Consumer. PFS & LiveArea Research Report. 2020.
  3. McKinsey & Company: October 2016. Accessed October 2020. Link: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability/our-insights/style-thats-sustainable-a-new-fast-fashion-formula

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