Sustainable collections: How big brands approach eco-friendly fashion
Whether it is by using more sustainable materials, better manufacturing conditions in factories, or a reduction of CO2 emissions, mass market fast-fashion brands are stepping up their initiatives to limit their environmental impact and have taken the plunge for several seasons now, offering ranges that they certify as eco-friendly.
Each major brand in the sector has launched a dedicated line (Join Life, Committed, Conscious etc.) which it now offers, in addition to its classic collection. What role do these supposedly greener collections play in the wider offerings from brands including H&M, Mango, Uniqlo and C&A? Analyst Retviews by Lectra, which specialises in comparing various brands, has this year released the second edition of its study devoted to eco-friendly collections, which we explore below.
The first observation made by Lectra’s CSR director, Elie Khayath, is that, “the global coronavirus pandemic has absolutely not relegated sustainability to the background, quite the contrary.”
However, not all brands have been the same in their response. In the first quarter of 2021, Mango increased the amount of sustainable items in its total offering to 9% compared to 1% in the first quarter of 2020 and H&M increased its from 10% to 23% in the same time period. On the contrary, the amount of sustainable made clothing as part of the brand’s full production significantly fell at Zara, from 30% to 6%, and at C&A, from 23% to 3%.
Retviews conducted a direct comparison between apparel giants H&M and Zara in its report. It found that, out of its total product selection, Swedish brand H&M offers 23%, made up of sustainable fashion (products which contain at least 50% recycled materials) while its rival, Spanish brand Zara, offers only 6%.
On the other hand, the average price of items labelled more eco-friendly is more or less the same at both brands, priced at €28.10 ($33.40) at H&M and €28.60 at Zara, while the brand’s average price for an item of clothing is €26.10 at H&M and €36.10 at Zara.
Within brands’ more sustainable ranges, the study highlighted a strong increase of t-shirts in 2021, as well as jeans and trousers. Retviews notes, however, “the absence of dresses at the top of new releases this year, whereas they normally constitute the most important category. This development could be explained in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Distributors appear to have focused more on product categories which are less dependant on trends. Could this be a way of playing it safe?”
In terms of the composition of the garments themselves, it appears surprisingly that in both brands’ classic and sustainable collections, the balance of sustainable materials and non-sustainable materials (derived from petroleum) is quite similar. Brands had an average of 49% natural fibres in their classic collections and an average of 53% in their sustainable collections.
The amount of information provided on e-commerce stores also varies depending on the brand. “Product descriptions rarely specify whether the polymers used in production are virgin or recycled. This data could therefore be biased,” said the survey.
On the topic of price, the brands’ positioning also varies. The average price of a sustainable article of clothing from Mango is the same as that of a piece from its classic collection (€39) while it is cheaper at H&M. On the other hand, the most common price for clothing from the sustainable lines of brands C&A, Uniqlo, and Zara is higher than for pieces their main lines.
The subject of sales and discounts on sustainable clothing lines is a dilemma for distributors. The survey shows that, on average, brands discount their sustainable clothing lines to a lesser degree than their classic lines with average discounts at 34% for eco-friendly garments compared to 45% for main line products. However, this is not the case for C&A, for example, which offers discounts of 62% on its sustainable clothing compared to 50% discounts on its classic lines and for Mango, which offers 49% discounts on sustainable options compared to 24% discounts on other items.
Retviews states that, “there are many reasons why retailers offer discounts. They could be discounting items which have performed poorly, with low stock turnover, but also on items which, due to their excellent performance, have sold out to the extent that the brand can no longer offer the full range of sizes (in the absence of a restock).”
For the survey’s methodology, the e-commerce stores of brands H&M, Zara, Mango, Uniqlo, C&A, OVS, & Other Stories, COS, Bershka, Pull&Bear, Celio, and Osyho were analysed in France, the UK, Spain, and Germany.
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