Generations Z and Y (aka millennials) constitute an ever-increasing force in the global economy’s spending power. In the U.S., for example, the buying power of Gen Z has already exceeded $500 billion. Millennials account for about a quarter of the global population, and statistics indicate that Gen Y and Z spending power is strong and growing.
Whereas Gen X and baby boomers grew up in a consumerist culture, Generations Y and Z have a pared-down mindset and seek long-lasting, high-quality apparel instead of disposable items. They want to know where their products are made, by whom, and with what materials. Before making a purchase, they consider a product’s ecological footprint and full lifecycle, from design to production and shipping.
For the younger generations, “fast fashion” isn’t quite as appealing, but sustainable, eco-friendly apparel is the latest global fashion trend.
Authenticity and transparency are key
Gen Z and millennials define and evaluate brands on the basis of both product and ethics. They not only expect their favorite brands to represent their beliefs and values, but to be authentic and transparent.
The clothing brand Everlane, founded in 2010, was initially mocked by industry veterans for providing the public with information about its factories, costs and raw materials. However, that transparency earned the brand many fans. Indeed, it’s no longer enough for a corporation to show up once a year for a cause: consumers now want to see evidence of a company’s ongoing commitment and authentic support.
This demand for both corporate responsibility and transparency is certainly technology-driven. Many apps and websites, such as goodonyou.eco and the Ethical Fashion Guide, offer consumers detailed information about a particular brand’s social responsibility and environmental policies. Gen Y and Z are accustomed to sharing their stories on social media, and they expect brands to do the same.
The most ethical companies are widely lauded. People Magazine, for example, publishes an annual ‘50 Companies That Care’list. Conversely, the implications and risks for companies who opt out of being eco-friendly and sustainable are significant. Brands may face boycotts and social media wrath if they are deceptive or inauthentic, or if human rights or environmental violations are revealed by the media or consumers.
Going green is a great way to win a global consumer base
Brands such as Outerknown and Tentree decided to invest in cross-border to expand the audience for their eco-friendly message. Tentree, founded in 2012 in Regina, Canada, aims to become the most environmentally progressive brand on the planet.
The company uses sustainable materials to minimize the ecological footprint of the clothing industry, and plants 10 trees for every item purchased. The company also seeks to partner with socially responsible supply chain partners eager to carry out these initiatives. Due to its strong eco-conscious mission, Tentree quickly built a large social media following worldwide, and the brand saw an influx of international visitors to their website. The brand realized the opportunity to build a strong rapport with their global audience by providing a better onsite experience to help spread their message and get their sustainable products into consumers’ hands around the world.
Outerknown was launched in 2015 by surfers Kelly Slater (eleven-time World Surf League Champion) and John Moore to create sustainable lifestyle clothing for men and women. The brand’s mission to protect natural resources, empower the workers crafting the clothes, and inspire change within the apparel industry resonated with domestic and international consumers.
“We’re surfers who grew up with surf brands, but we grew out of logos. And we want to wear clothing that’s made better and looks better,” said John Moore, Outerknown’s co-founder and designer. The brand also saw it had a dedicated following interested in their mission, and today sees 15% of sales coming from this engaged global audience.
How do your consumers define ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainable’?
Many brands now offer sustainable fashion, but as a global ecommerce vendor, it’s important to ascertain what, exactly, “ethical” fashion means to your international consumers.
Consumers often have different ideas about ethics and sustainability. For example, should sustainable clothing be organic or made of recycled materials? Is the company’s ecological footprint or the wages paid in its supply chain of greater importance to customers? Is it better to eschew real fur and use fake fur (which is sometimes not biodegradable), or to use fur from ethically treated animals?
For some consumers, ethical and sustainable might imply vegan clothing, while for others, the humane treatment of animals might be sufficient.
Gen Y and Z are interested in both ecological and humanitarian causes
Many events and circumstances have spurred Gen Z and millennials to buy eco-conscious brands. And according to Nielsen, 53% of millennials say they prefer purchasing products that are eco-friendly.
Fast fashion brands such as Zara and H&M are becoming more socially responsible in response to this trend. Neither company attended the 2017 Dhaka Apparel Summit in Bangladesh, for example, as a protest against terrible working conditions in that country’s garment industry. H&M, the second largest clothing retailer in the world, has also launched various ecological efforts, such as pledging to use 100% recycled or sustainable materials by 2030.
The sock company Bombas, the eyeglass chain Warby Parker, and the footwear company Toms (all of which sell internationally) have earned brand loyalty among millennials and Gen Z for donating their products to underprivileged people, often with a ‘one purchased, one donated’ business model.
Buy Less and Make it Last
Reports have shown that an impressive 87% of U.S. millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable clothing and many prioritize eco-friendly and ethical brands when making purchase decisions. On a global scale, a 2018 McKinsey study reported that 66% of global millennials are prepared to spend more on sustainable brands.
The British designer Vivienne Westwood’s clothes are out of reach for most people, but her motto: “Buy Less, Choose Well and Make It Last” is being adopted more and more by many consumers.
Ecommerce brands with a socially responsible and eco-friendly message should venture cross-border to attract a global customer base who care deeply about environmental and humanitarian issues, and who are ready to spend a little more for products they can feel good about.
Flow is a global cross border ecommerce platform that serves brands and retailers.