Sustainability, But Make it Fashion: The Rise of Consumer Interest in Eco-Friendly Apparel

Posted by
Jordan Breslauer on 9/23/19 8:16 AM

Sustainability isn't just a buzzword—these days it's big business even for apparel brands. Consumers are looking to fill their closets with eco-friendly options, which means fashion brands need to think green...even if marigold is "in" this season.


The Growth of Sustainability in Fashion

Consumers are increasingly talking about fashion in terms of its environmental impact. Of the top 10 fastest-growing benefits and concerns in fashion, more than half are related to the environment:

Top 10 Fastest Growing Benefits & Concerns in Apparel/Fashion

What are fashion consumers seeking out and worrying about? Our data shows that the environment is top of mind.
Data Source: Social Standards Trend Analysis – Global, 4-mo rolling average May-Aug 2018–May-Aug 2019


In fact, social media conversations mentioning "save the planet" and "plastic free" have more than doubled since 2018. Those topics are growing quickly, but in terms of sheer volume of mentions, "sustainable" clearly comes out on top:


YoY Conversation Growth of environmental topics in Apparel/Fashion

Consumer conversations about environmental topics are up across the board in relation to Apparel/Fashion, but certain topics are dominating the discussion.
Data Source: Social Standards Trend Analysis – Global, 4-mo rolling average May-Aug 2018–May-Aug 2019


This data underscores what apparel and fashion brands already know: consumers are increasingly concerned about how their wardrobe impacts the environment. What's more, they're especially interested in limiting waste, whether by avoiding plastic or by purchasing from retailers who have committed to zero-waste manufacturing.


The Eco-Conscious Consumer

Consumer interest in environmentally friendly fashion is up, but not all consumer segments are buying into the trend. For example, while women significantly over-index (76th percentile) with environmental topics, men under-index (23rd percentile).

Why focus on percentiles? Let's use age as an illustration. It's common knowledge that 71% of global Instagram users are under the age of 35. If we only used raw volume to evaluate consumer interest in environmentalism, it’s likely Millennials and Gen Z would necessarily talk the most about eco-conscious fashion on social media simply because there are so many of them.

By normalizing the data via percentiles, we get a more nuanced view of what’s going on. While the 34-and-under set is responsible for over 80% of global conversations about eco-conscious fashion, that only puts them in the 45th percentile, making them more or less average in terms of their interest level.

So which age group is pushing for an environmentally friendly wardrobe? Take a look:

3 - Age

Eco-conscious topics in Apparel/Fashion skew toward 35-44 year-olds.
Data Source: Social Standards Consumer Analytics – Global, 3-mo rolling average Jun-Aug 2018–Jun-Aug 2019


A percentile view makes clear that sustainable apparel skews strongly toward 35-44 year olds, consumers who have likely abandoned trendy fast fashion in favor of more functional and work-appropriate staples. Along with marketing to this consumer segment based on environmental concerns, emphasizing quality (including durability) rather than fashionableness may convince these consumers to buy.

Our data around income supports the notion that the consumers who are most interested in eco-conscious fashion are older and therefore more established in their careers (or at least their salaries):

4 - Income

Eco-conscious styles are most likely to resonate with middle-income consumers, but lower and higher income consumers are also interested in this trend.
Data Source: Social Standards Consumer Analytics – Global, 3-mo rolling average Jun-Aug 2018–Jun-Aug 2019


Eco-friendly fashion skews toward middle income consumers, making them a clear target audience for brands looking to market sustainable options. But that’s not to say other groups are uninterested. Rather, sustainable fashion has a more or less average skew among higher and lower income consumers, suggesting that while it may not motivate those consumer groups, they aren’t likely to be turned off by environmental messaging.


Top brands among sustainable consumers

So, which brands are winning for their sustainable ways? To find out, we looked to see which brands consumers talk about most alongside environmental topics.

Apparel brands most associated with environmental topics

Environmental topics appear regularly in consumer conversations about these brands (penetration) and are strongly associated with them (percentile). 
Data Source: Social Standards Consumer Analytics – Global, Aug 2019


In the data above, the raw penetration tells us how much consumer conversation about the brand is dedicated to environmental topics. All of these brands are regularly talked about in terms of environmental issues, with almost 15% of social media conversations about Rothy’s including mentions of environmental topics.

The percentile measure gives us still more insight by offering a sense of how strongly a specific brand is associated with environmental topics compared to other Apparel/Fashion brands. It’s no surprise to see Rothy’s leading the pack, but even with a lower penetration of environmental topics, Reformation is still strongly aligned with the trend.

Even more importantly, this data tells us that if sustainable fashion continues to be on-trend, these brands are poised for success. They’re already known for their eco-friendly offerings, which makes sense given their efforts at positioning themselves as leaders in sustainability.



Put simply: Sustainability is in fashion. Although this trend is led by 35-44 year old middle income women, it has broad appeal across age and income brackets. And while consumers already strongly identify a few apparel brands as environmental leaders, there’s plenty of room for competitors to stake a claim to the space.

Topics: social data, consumer analytics, trends, apparel/fashion

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