Kayla Marci

October 20, 2021

The Sustainability EDIT 2021 Industry Report

The EDITED annual report breaks down sustainability in fashion and how retailers are evolving their assortments amid the influx of post-pandemic arrivals.

As we approach the end of 2021, the need for sustainability in fashion is more dire than ever. While many retailers have bolstered their sustainability goals to hit targets by 2030 and onward, greater urgency is required. The UN released the first major climate science report since 2013, detailing a code red for humanity and stressing how countries are running out of time to meet the Paris Agreement target to limit global warming to 1.5-degrees. 

It’s no secret how wasteful and polluting the fashion industry is. From visibly staining African waterways blue to reportedly costing US retailers $50 billion a year from deadstock alone. Sustainability is a multi-pronged issue with several complex factors that are often challenging for consumers to grasp and trust, adding to the growth of greenwashing within the industry. It will take more than a recycled capsule collection to solve the problem as effort from retailers, consumers and government bodies are all required. Retailers also have to navigate the challenge of balancing fulfilling the latest Gen Z trends without flooding the market with unsold goods destined for discount racks and landfills. 

This is where the EDITED Retail Intelligence Platform can help. 

sustainability in fashion

While the pandemic reduced the sheer volume of newness flooding the market at hyper-speed last year, big drops are back in a big way. Retailers are producing more than ever to capitalize on the revenge dressing phenomenon as people are buying for events to make up for lost time over lockdown. 

We know fast fashion businesses are characterized by dropping high amounts of new styles frequently, abandoning the seasonal drop models established by more traditional retailers. Arrivals hit their lowest point last April when the US passed 1 million confirmed cases. However, as vaccinations rolled out and the world regained some normalcy, newness ramped up once more. The number of new styles dropped by fast fashion retailers is poised to outpace pre-pandemic levels. Since the start of the year, arrivals are up 19% YoY and down only 2% vs. 2019. As retailers delivered on the Hot Vax Summer, May to August saw a significant trajectory, with newness up 38% YoY and 7% vs. 2019. 

sustainability in fashion

While fast fashion arrivals are ramping up, products described with sustainable keywords are becoming more commonplace within the industry’s lexicon - in line with shifting priorities and consumer demand.  The use of conscious materials is the primary way retailers indicate an item is sustainable. 

The keyword “recycled” makes up the majority of sustainable products available across the US and UK market as it is incorporated across a breadth of products spanning activewear, swimwear, outdoor apparel and denim. Yet, EDITED records only 34% of products contain 100% recycled materials in the US and 26% in the UK, indicating there is still work to be done. 

sustainability in fashion

Navigating sustainable pricing is one of the most challenging tasks for retailers to achieve as it is shrouded in negative perceptions on both ends of the scale. If sustainable goods are marketed as too affordable then customers suspect greenwashing as they’re unable to fathom how workers could be paid a fair, living wage in decent conditions to produce such a cheap garment. If sustainable prices are too expensive, retailers can risk alienating lower-income consumers' opportunity to buy into conscious products, reaffirming the image that sustainable fashion is for elitists. 

There are mixed findings on whether consumers are willing to pay more for sustainability too. While American Gen Zers may be more inclined to pay for eco-friendly fashion, they haven't yet reached a high earning capacity for businesses to profit from. Drapers also found that while 50% of UK consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable fashion, a greater 76% would purchase it if prices were more affordable.

On average, products with environmental and ethical descriptors are advertised as more expensive across mass market brands in both analyzed regions. Sustainable menswear is advertised 12% above the average price in the US, while womenswear is 4% higher. In the UK, eco menswear is 21% more expensive and womenswear 9% more.

sustainability in fashion

For more insight into sustainable retail in 2021 and beyond, download our free Sustainability EDIT Retail Analysis here.