This past 12 December, Blossom Première Vision introduced a new Smart Creation conference. This first-ever event focused on eco-responsibility, a theme that now runs through the entire fashion industry. How do consumers perceive sustainable fashion, what progress is being made and what are the applications of the new eco-responsible materials? And finally, how are we to decode this vast field of sustainable fashion, which concerns the entire value chain, from raw materials to finished products?
Gildas Minvielle, Director of the Institut Français de la Mode (IFM), Marina Coutelan, Smart Création Fashion Manager and Pascal Morand, Executive President of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCPF) provided their insights for truly informed sourcing.
Sustainable fashion: a formidable growth driver for brands
Gildas Minvielle brought us up to date regarding the sustainable-fashion survey conducted last September of 5,000 consumers in France, Germany, Italy and the U.S. under the aegis of the IFM Chair – Première Vision.
“Consumers have a real appetite for eco-responsible clothing, so brands have to regard providing this offer as an opportunity,” said Minvielle. Sustainable fashion, a growth driver with strong potential, is good news in a global context of overall slowing consumption. “The French bought fewer clothing items in 2019 mainly for budgetary reasons, but it also due to environmental concerns,” explained the Director of the IFM Observatory.
In 2019, French consumers purchased some 73.2% and 57%, respectively, of organic food products and cosmetics, compared to only 45.8% of “green” apparel. But Minvielle sees this lag as an opportunity: “The potential is enormous, and eco-responsible fashions will become more important.”
Environmental impact is a key factor in consumers’ eco-responsible choices
In answer to the question, “What do you believe defines sustainable fashion?”, 41.6% of French consumers put environmental protection at the top of their list. First and foremost, they mention the use of chemicals.
“We are convinced that this is a recent change, a growing concern, which generates a virtuous circle around the choice of fabric, the cornerstone of sustainable fashion for 28.2% of French consumers. Fabric quality is the second most important factor for consumers. The issue of recycling, which is still emerging, follows. But it is the major issue for the future,” said Minvielle.
Purchasing power is closely linked to sustainable fashion consumption
Some 52% of buyers with incomes of over €60,000 per year have purchased responsible-fashion items in France. Not surprisingly, the highest income earners favour this kind of consumption. Indeed, 46% of the French surveyed, regardless of income, bought at least one sustainable fashion product (including recylced, organic, Made in France and second-hand textiles) on the French market in 2019. In France, the average budget for sustainable fashion purchases is 170 euros, but this figure rises to 386 euros for high-income earners.
Obstacles to buying sustainable fashion are still numerous
This starts with a lack of information. The consumers surveyed perceive a real lack of knowledge about eco-responsibility: 50.4% of the French say they lack the elements to choose the right products. Another difficulty is knowing where to find them – a real hurdle for 39.8% of the French people surveyed. There is still work to be done in terms of the readability of the offer, compounded by a low transparency on the part of brands and the multitude of labels.
Finally, and this is a very positive change, responsible fashion is no longer perceived as “anti-fashion”. Today, consumers are fully aware that fashions can be creative, trendy, attractive and at the same time respectful of the environment and people. Consumers no longer harbour prejudices regarding ‘so-called’ eco-friendly fashion products.
This was comprehensively discussed by Marina Coutelan, The Première Vision Smart Creation Fashion Manager.
Decoding eco-responsible materials
“No alternative is perfect,” said Marina Coutelan, “because all materials generate an impact. What is evolving is the multiplication of new eco-responsible solutions for raw materials soucing, that are inciting new business models.”
The various families of eco-responsible materials
Natural materials, including linen and hemp, as well as organic materials (wool, organic cotton) are product families to prefer, along with artificial materials, such as viscose or cupro, under certain conditions (fibre origin, transformation process). Biopolymers make it possible to obtain materials with performances equivalent to synthetics and are interesting because they are based on renewable resources and can be derived from residues from the agri-food industry. The recycled family – natural or synthetic – also merits special attention, in particular with chemical or mechanical transformation processes (cotton, wool, synthetics, leathers, and pre- and post-consumer recycling). And finally, alternative materials are very promising: waste from one industry becomes the resources of another (banana tree bark, apple remains, pineapple leaf, etc.). Finally, beyond the product families, it is important to consider the entire production process (dyeing, finishing, tanning).
“Recycling, of both natural and synthetic materials, remains the most important topic of the future. It has enormous potential, given that only 15% of the synthetic material produced worldwide is recycled and that 60% of the fabrics used are made of polyester,” noted Coutelan.
Materials with high-added value
Progress is also reflected in the performance features of new and innovative materials: “Today we know how to make recycled and sustainable products with the same performance qualities – wind-proof, zero weight, waterproof, antibacterial, etc. – as traditional products.” Sustainability is now another way of saying innovation and creativity.
In conclusion, Morand pointed to the paradox underlying the fashion-sustainability paradigm: “Sustainable fashion is an oxymoron. Because by its very nature, fashion is here and now. Overcoming this paradox is central to our contemporary world,” he noted. He furthered his discussion by noting the constant trade-offs required by a sustainable fashion strategy, between far-off sourcing options to find the best craftsmanship, conflicting environmental and social priorities, etc. “Sustainable production is complex and cannot encompass all ethical virtues. The truth is relative, the important thing is to know what you are doing. The stakes are different depending on the scope of the players. It is now urgent to understand what we are talking about, to clarify the debate,” he underlined. This explains why the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode is launching a glossary of sustainable development in June. In the meantime, the Federation is working on a guide that will set out a method for brands wishing to embark on a sustainable path.
This will be the major challenge for tomorrow’s fashion.