French survey shows consumers put health ahead of social, environmental concerns in fashion
For the 44% of French consumers who bought fewer clothes in 2018, for most of them (60%, according to a survey by the French Fashion Institute (IFM)), it has been a forced deconsumption based on budgetary choices, rather than a conscious decision (for 40% of them).
Also, according to the IFM, the current range of sustainable fashion products available on the market isn’t sufficient to meet demand. These were some of the findings revealed during the IFM’s International Perspectives 2019 forum held in Paris on December 6.
Another notable finding was that the downturn in apparel consumption is part of a long-term trend, as the share of fashion purchases within the household consumption budget is falling, from 9.1% of expenditure in 1960 to 3.9% in 2017.
“We have shifted from a drive to accumulate material goods to a quest for hedonistic experiences in the 1990s, to arrive at the current search for identity,” said Thomas Delattre, in charge of economic surveys at the IFM. “[Consumers] haven’t lost their bearings, or their pleasure in fashion; instead, they’re adopting other criteria,” he added.
As 50% of fashion purchases are now made during sale or promotional periods, price “no longer means anything” for 80% of consumers, while 86% of them stated they want transparency about pricing, in terms of materials, production and transport costs. But what is the true impact of ecology and ethics in the choices dictated by this new kind of “satisfied restraint” in fashion purchases?
The main concern for fashion consumers is health, a concern for 40% of respondents, notably regarding the use of chemicals by the fashion industry. Social issues, chiefly the working conditions of textile workers, rank as the second concern, being the main focus for 37% of consumers. Surprisingly, environmental concerns rank only third, with only 23% of respondents making this issue an absolute priority.
In total, 20% of consumers have bought a “responsible” fashion product in 2018. But only 8% of fashion retailers have put sustainable development at the core of their 2019 strategy. “It’s not a question of saying that the level is insufficient. Because this isn’t a core strategic element for brands, for the time being supply is unable to meet demand. And we think it will still be another 10 to 15 years before supply and demand for responsible fashion will be aligned,” said Delattre.
The current scenario favours certain specific commercial models, above all the second-hand clothes market. The IFM estimated that, in 2018, this market was worth €1 billion in sales, thanks to a consumer base which has doubled since 2010.
In 2018, 31% of consumers have reportedly bought second-hand clothes. “We know it’s hard to build an economic model around the second-hand market, and that many players in the new clothes market hesitate to go down this road, fearing it may prejudice their main business,” said Delattre. “But it is a very short-term market, while eco-responsible fashion is a medium-term one, because of the lack of available products,” he added.
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