Millennials mean well but fall short as eco-fashionistas, says study

Much has been made of millennials’ supposed dedication to sustainable brands but, according to a new study from LIM College, a fashion product’s eco-friendliness may be far from their first consideration when making purchases.

Sustainable brands such as Reformation and Patagonia may be missing the mark when targeting millennials – Instagram: @reformation

The survey, entitled “Shopping Trends Among 18-37 Year-Olds”, found that out of five possible purchase-influencing factors, the fact that a product is eco-friendly and sustainably produced came in last place, with only 34% of respondents claiming to be swayed by this consideration.

Ease of purchase and price/value took joint first place, influencing 95% of those surveyed, followed by uniqueness (92%) and brand name (60%).
The study was conducted by professors Robert Conrad and Dr. Kenneth M. Kambara, and asked 685 students and alumni (aged 18-37) from Manhattan’s LIM College, RMIT University in Australia and the London College of Fashion about their shopping habits.
Bearing in mind its findings concerning purchase influencers, the survey seems to highlight something of a disconnect between how millennials and Gen Z see themselves and how they actually act as consumers. For example, almost 90% of respondents agreed with the statement, “Millennials and Gen Z will help create more sustainably-produced products by convincing businesses and governments to alter existing practices” and the same percentage said that they would drop a brand or product if it was revealed to be unfriendly to the environment.
These figures suggest that the green credentials of a brand and its products are, in fact, important for millennial and Gen Z shoppers and yet these same consumers consistently admitted to prioritizing convenience, price and originality when considering purchases.
For Professor Conrad, the problem lies with a lackluster offering. “While millennials would like to buy eco-friendly fashion, the industry is not providing them with sufficient choices that also meet their most important criteria for making a purchase,” he explained in the report.  
Similarly, Dr. Kambara blamed a “lack of fashionable eco-friendly choices that also meet [millennials’] ease, price/value and uniqueness tests” for the disconnect, stating that “There are only a handful of eco-friendly youth-oriented brands — such as Anek, Everlane, Nudie Jeans, Patagonia, People Tree, Reformation and K.O.I. — and none have the scale or variety of fashion offerings to meet millennials’ requirements”.
“The fashion industry is approaching millennials with what they want to offer, not what the millennials want. To capitalize on millennials’ desires to make eco-fashion purchases offerings must be new and different — unique from what other brands are offering — and truly deliver value. Think Zara with authentic eco-friendly and sustainable product offerings”, he concluded.

 As brands try to adapt to and anticipate the consumption habits of millennials and Gen Z-ers, ethical and eco-friendly products and policies have been touted as sure-fire shortcuts to their wallets. Some specialty sustainable retailers have even gone a step further, introducing initiatives such as Patagonia’s garment recycling program and environmental activism platform in order to engage conscious consumers more fully.
And yet, if LIM College’s new study is anything to go by, brands cannot rely on an eco-friendly image to give them the edge in these markets. They may well be idealistic consumers with a desire to shop ethically, but if retailers can’t offer original eco-friendly products at a good price, millennials are unlikely to be won over.