Consumers turn against ‘fast fashion’ in lockdown, says new report

By agency reporter
May 26, 2020

A new report from the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) finds that the lockdown has dramatically altered consumer habits and attitudes:

  • The lockdown has forced changes in that way that we buy fashion –35 per cent of women stating that they intend to purchase fewer items of clothing in future, and 28 per cent of us are finding that we are reusing or recycling clothing more than usual. The public want more opportunities for repair and reuse (68 per cent) and less pressure from advertising (62 per cent) and social media (65 per cent) to buy clothing. Fifty-eight per cent of the public report having bought less clothing during the lockdown. 
  • There is a strong appetite for change in the fashion industry after the pandemic. Fewer than one in five (19 per cent) of people believe that the industry should return to business as usual and 50 per cent think that industry should do whatever it takes to become more environmentally sustainable.
  • Consumers haven’t simply raced from shopping on the high street to online – around half have adopted different activities as an explicit alternative to ‘shopping’, such as spending more time with ‘themselves’ (24 per cent), exercise (20 per cent), cooking (20 per cent), and phoning friends/family (18 per cent).
  • Leading the charge towards sustainability are ‘generation Z’, many of whom are planning on making changes to their purchasing habits as a result of the lockdown. Young people between the ages of 18 and 24 (27 per cent) are particularly committed to supporting brands with strong social and environmental policies and 35 per cent of 18-24 year olds intend to buy fewer items of clothing after the lockdown has ended. This group is critical to fashion marketing and for fashion companies to attract new talent to the industry. 

But there are worrying signs we could see a revert to type: 40 per cent say they are looking forward to buying clothes again, and only 34 per cent say that we should be prepared to pay more for clothes. This is in spite of 83 per cent agreeing that clothes should be designed to last longer and be repairable. 

This present a huge problem: the fashion industry accounts for about 10 per cent of global carbon emissions, nearly 20 per cent of wastewater, and uses more energy than both aviation and shipping combined. In the UK, 30 per cent of unwanted clothing ends up in landfill. 

The RSA calls for:

  • The government to invest in sustainable fashion. The RSA calls for the creation of a dedicated green ‘Beyond GDP’ resilience fund to support burgeoning circular economy innovation within clothing and textiles (and other sectors) in order to enable greater regional resilience, to stimulate local demand and create high skilled local employment. This should also ensure that any job and training support programme announced later this year supports growing circular economy jobs within fashion.
  • In addition, government should introduce stronger environmental standards on the industry including an Extended Producer Responsibility Scheme to incentivise waste reduction and improved design for durability and repair, and a reduction in VAT on repair services.
  • The industry itself must take action. There is an incentive for industries to adapt – for instance, sustainability is a key value for their Generation Z target customers as well as new industry intake of talent. Firms should therefore develop circular economy models which ensure that they use safe, sustainable materials, design their garments for durability, and explore reuse and repair services to keep clothing in use for longer. There should also be investment in upskilling marketing, advertising and journalism creatives on the impacts of fashion, in order that they can better inform the public’s choices.
  • Consumers also need to be encouraged to keep up changes in their behaviour. The RSA is launching the poll as part of its Regenerative Futures programme, one of the five Bridges to a better future post-lockdown. Part of this programme involves working with communities to develop interventions which change our relationship with fashion, from new ways of manufacturing to repair services and reuse networks. 

Josie Warden, Associate Director at the RSA says: “The fashion system is a significant contributor of waste, carbon emissions and other pollution, including microfibres in the ocean. It is also an industry riddled with poor labour conditions. Concerns about these impacts are quickly rising up the public agenda and, in a similar way to the backlash we have seen against plastics, this is another issue on which citizens are demanding rapid change. 

“The results of this survey provide cause for optimism. The enforced lifestyle changes have disrupted our purchasing habits and given us space to reflect on what matters. Our impact on the environment and society are clearly important concerns, particularly amongst young people who want to enjoy fashion more responsibly after the lockdown is over.” 

“As with plastics, those businesses who can move quickly will have a competitive edge within the market and attract top talent. The demand for sustainable, long-lasting clothing and services which enable repair and reuse are there, demands that the industry needs to meet.” 

“The UK is rightly proud of its reputation for creativity in fashion but there is much more to be done by both industry and the government to create an industry fit for the future, which delivers both environmental and social benefits. As support packages are developed for industries and employment in the coming months there must be investment to support and grow businesses and jobs which manufacture garments safely and fairly, extend their lifetime, and which support local communities and economies through their activities.” 

* Download Fashion and coronavirus: ensuring a sustainable recovery here

* Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts https://www.thersa.org/

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