• Discovery

‘Green’ is the New Black – Whitepaper

  • author
  • Natasha Kingdon
  • 11th January 2022
  • 19 min read

Social commentary on the fashion trend that won’t go out of style – slow, sustainable and ethical.

Fashion is in, fashion is out, and it turns, that green is actually becoming the new black. VERJ, the behavioural science unit of LAB Group, delve into the fabric that makes up the fashion industry. VERJ helps companies can navigate this new and growing green space and communicate authentically with conscious consumers.

The global ethical fashion market is estimated to hit $15.2 billion by 2030 (ResearchAndMarkets, 2020). The industry is on a meteoric rate of predicted growth, in line with climate awareness elsewhere. Yet despite such exponential growth, there is a lack of clarity surrounding the nuances of sustainable fashion, and consumer demand is yet to be deciphered. 

VERJ performed Comparative Linguistic Analysis (CLA) on millions of online conversations, analysing language, phraseology, grammar and tonality. We identified rich insight into the behaviours and trends emerging in the sustainable fashion space and help inform any forward-thinking and ethical marketing strategies.

Brands across the globe must take action to dive into the psychology and sentiment behind sustainable fashion; they must step up and face politically charged environmental topics head on. 

Fashion is inherently always changing. People want to stay up to date with the latest trends and fit in with their social identity. Problematically, sustainable fashion has connotations with infrequent purchases and ‘slowness’. What if there was a focus on new trends, but from sustainably made clothes to meet this need?

The intention of these insights are not on how to evade the ‘greenwashing’ label, but help companies better understand unmet customer needs, trends and market opportunities. 

What is sustainable fashion?What is fast fashion?
Sustainable fashion refers to any fashion garments or accessories that are produced or made or accessed in both an ecological and socially responsible way. It offers a more holistic approach, combining both a responsibility to the planet as well as responsibility for fellow humans. Fast fashion includes cheap and trendy clothes that are produced rapidly in large quantities with no consideration to ethical or environmental impact.

If sustainable fashion was labelled as the long term trend, fast fashion would be seen as the Tik Tok trend that is popular for a few hours or days, before it moves to the next one. 

Impact of fashion

Whilst comprising a huge part of our worldwide economy (estimated at over $2.5 trillion) the fashion sector is also responsible for up to 10% of the world’s carbon emissions (UNEP, 2018), and if the industry continues on its current trajectory, it could account to over a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions by 2050 (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017). 

So how do people talk about fast fashion and sustainable fashion differently?

Fast fashion is cheap and trendy, whilst sustainable fashion refers to any fashion garments or accessories that are produced, made or accessed in both an ecological and socially responsible way. But how are consumers and the industry discussing the terms and the brands associated with them differently?

Emotions differ for fast and slow fashion. 

There were noticeable tonality differences of emotion when people discussed fast fashion and when they discussed sustainable fashion. This disparity in emotional content displays a real shift towards a more sustainable mindset – and is worth bearing in mind.

The reputation and profitability of a company may just depend on it.

Fast FashionSustainable Fashion
When people discussed fast fashion, the emotion was far more negatively charged  – ‘dislike’ was 3.1x more likely to come up, ‘sad’ was 1.6x more likely to come up, ‘discontent’ was 2.6x more likely to arise and even ‘violent or angry’ was 1.6x more likely to be seen. On the other hand, slow, ethical and sustainable fashion were more evocative of positive emotions; ‘like’ came up 1.8x more and ‘happiness and contentment’ were 2.8x more likely to feature.

This emotive reaction is further fuelled with backlash around companies and influencers not being truthful or fulfilling true ecological / social responsibility. The term ‘transparency’ was 4x more likely to be mentioned in sustainable fashion discourse; ‘greenwashing’ likewise was 3.3x more likely to be referenced when compared to fast fashion. Being open and committed to the long-haul shift towards sustainable practices will be key pillars for success for any brand navigating the sustainable clothing market. 

The influence of influencers

Unsurprisingly social media has a huge impact on our fashion choices. ‘Instagram’ is a substantial player in the fashion industry, featuring  2.2x times more in ethical, sustainable and slow fashion commentary. The terms ‘bloggers’ and ‘influencers’ were 20.8x and 2x more likely respectively to appear in slow fashion conversations; their popularity is growing as people look to social media to help them make choices and learn about sustainable fashion. 

This presents a strong opportunity for brands to promote their green efforts via social channels that can nudge the majority toward sustainable fashion.

Brands on the playing field

Companies across the market spectrum – from fast to sustainable, and low price to luxury and everything in between – have different conversations surrounding their brand, what they stand for and what people are leaning towards. Over the last 90 days (September – November 2021), conversations have been monitored to understand what is trending and what themes are present in different parts of the marketplace. 

I Saw It First

At the lower end of the price point for brands like ‘I Saw It First’, we see keywords referring to popular TV shows such as ‘Love Island’ (who they sponsor) as well as key influencers such as ‘Lucinda Strafford’ and ‘Millie Court’. Such pop-culture reference amplifies the brand’s reach. It makes sure they are hitting the fanbase that will ultimately fuel the fast fashion brand’s success. They are predominantly featured across news articles surrounding the stars of Love Island. This makes the brand far more relevant than just a ‘fashion piece’ – instead, it is deemed a lifestyle brand. 

Boohoo

As a household brand, Boohoo targets price points at the lower end of the market. Yet this is starting to gain the attention of those pushing for more sustainable fashion. In the last three months, top news surrounding Boohoo is the list of their 1100 factories around the world. Price is still an important consideration though as when discussing Boohoo, Black Friday appears frequently too.

Louis Vuitton

At the other end of the price spectrum, lies designer brands such as Louis Vuitton. Here themes sit at a more holistic level – looking at the ‘impact’ of fashion. They even touch upon more serious topics such as ‘excessive consumption’, ‘extinction rebellion’, ‘peace protester’ and ‘climate activists’. The lens moving out further than just pop culture demonstrates a wider link between fashion and themes of responsibility. But seemingly only when price is of no importance. At the higher end of the market, such conversations link greater social implications and consequences of a capitalist market. 

Patagonia

Likewise, Patagonia, a luxury brand known for its sustainability ethos and values, is also referenced with regards to much loftier and more holistic themes such as ‘climate change’, ‘greenhouse gas emissions’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘textile waste’. Conversations around Patagonia also reference the ‘demand for eco’. However this ties back to the accessibility of price, with fast fashion being more affordable for the masses. Themes of sustainability remain just out of reach with more luxury brands. 

What are the emerging trends?

As like every other evolving industry, knowing and understanding the emerging trends can transform and elevate a company’s product and marketing strategy. Knowing what is propelling the fashion industry forward, gives you the opportunity to build your brand ethos and build your business accordingly. So what are the emerging trends of the fashion industry?

Education within a greater community

Despite more physical disconnection than ever before, online spaces have formed a different form of community. As individuals look to bloggers and influencers for ‘education’ (4.1x more likely to be discussed in slow fashion conversations) those with large online presences wield more power. This desire for education within the sustainable fashion space suggests an enlightenment of consumers. They are looking for evidence and seeking deep understanding – ‘researched’ is 8.9x more likely to be discussed in slow fashion conversations. 

Our research highlights the astronomical growth of the ‘consultant’ (103.9x more likely to be used in sustainable fashion conversations) in the sustainable fashion industry is highlighted. The desire for the expert opinion of a consultant demonstrates the growing awareness and desire for education as sustainable and ethical clothing comes to the forefront of our society. This increase in global conversation around the climate crisis has led to a shift in the consumer conscience which now aligns with a higher environmental awareness.

Companies can easily respond through offering more transparency surrounding their processes. They can also actively improve their processes and communication surrounding these to their customers. Brands can use this to their advantage by being transparent and open about their processes. They can invite consumers on the journey with them and build partnerships with influencers or bloggers for their strategy.

Critical to build into marketing strategies is avoidance of vague and generic greenwashing terms. Consumers want to be ‘knowledgeable’ (17.3x more likely to be mentioned in sustainable fashion) and do not respond well to non-standardised ‘green’ words. The consumer mindset is shifting from mindless consumption to mindful consumption with awareness. Again, transparency and communicating properly in marketing strategies is key to resonating with customers. 

People ask for ‘tips’ (4.1x) and ‘suggestions’ (3.2x) on sustainable fashion and even the word ’community’ is 4.7x more likely to come up in sustainable fashion compared to fast fashion. Brands can use this to communicate authentically; giving tangible suggestions, advice and top tips for consumers to reduce their waste and be more eco-friendly with their fashion choices. By building conscious communities surrounding their brands, companies offer consumers more than just a quick clothes fix.

Technology and the expanding rental market 

Education, and the sustainable fashion industry translates into a world of opportunity for tech companies across the globe. The fast fashion industry has relied on big data and big tech to help monopolise markets. Dynamically responding to consumer demand, with e-commerce transactional technology, has contributed to the fast fashion problem. ‘See now, buy now’ product transactions across social channels may prompt a sense of FOMO that encourages people to ‘join the rest’ without properly considering their purchase. Ease of transaction dwarfs genuine consideration.  

Yet the same forces of tech can be utilised within the sustainable fashion space. Tech as a topic is 5.7x more likely to feature in sustainable fashion conversations. ‘Blockchain’ is on the rise in its own right, but is also 13.8x more likely to be discussed in relation to sustainable fashion. The reference to this technology demonstrates the potential opportunity for technology to help. There are a lot of questions surrounding the use of such technology and it is becoming more of a topic of interest, with the word ‘technology’ coming up 3.3x more in sustainable fashion.

‘Digital’ is mentioned 2.9x more in sustainable fashion, and ‘platform’ is mentioned 2.8x more.

new digital and virtual experiences are emerging in response to the growing demand for #sustainablefashion brands need the right #marketing tool to increase transparency between customers and sustainable fashion. may we suggest one? #QRCodes

Digital platform trends lend themselves to less conventional fashion industry expansion – such as fulfilling the appetite for rental clothes. Sustainable fashion conversations were 4.9x more likely to mention the word ‘renting’ and 3.7x more likely to mention ‘rental’. This seems to be the case when the brand is designer or luxury – suggesting a rental clothing company for one-off events might be popular. Such a platform would enable the bypassing of the price inaccessibility previously discussed.

Brands would do well to integrate technology and digital platforms into their strategies and communications to help the industry thrive. Data no longer can be ignored; evidence-based insights will ensure you resonate.

What is changing over time?

Trends, as we know from the fashion industry, can be fickle. Knowing what and how themes are changing over time, helps solidify emerging trends as long-lasting change. So what exactly has changed over the last year for both fast and sustainable fashion?

The importance of the pledge

Conversations surrounding sustainable fashion show a rise in conversation surrounding commitments. There was a significant increase in the word ‘pledge’. People desire pledges from companies that show true dedication to the environment and to consumer desires.

Brands would do well to think about their climate and social justice strategy and targets; aligning their profiteering with promoting social good. 

The term ‘voices’, 12.1x more likely to arise in conversations surrounding fast fashion, emphasises consumer conscience. This is becoming a topic which can’t be ignored. ’Justice’ and ‘indigenous’ voices are on the agenda of campaigns and activists, mentioned 3x and 4.2x respectively more in sustainable fashion conversations when compared to fast fashion.

They need to make sure their voice is amplifying the correct ethically minded message, or supporting the growing voices in these arenas. If not carefully considered, the consequences could be dire.

The growth of identity

Consumer conscience also touches upon many other significant and powerful themes. There was a statistically significant increase in the word ‘feminist’ in the last 6 months. This growth in the term shows a social and politically charged slant underlying the industry. 

People want more than just fashion, they are evolving their awareness of the holistic and interlinked nature of fashion with other areas of their life. This shows how identity and authenticity is crucial for companies looking to charge ahead in this space.

Such a holistic look at fashion can be tied to growing themes of ‘hyper consciousness’ in other spaces, such as minimalism, eating cleaner and being more mindful. We can see such ties when choosing foods to eat, interior designs and the travel choices we make. Seen in posts (see right), ‘sustainability is sexy’ and different industries and brands are merging.

The shift towards a slower pace

The industry has moved towards the word ‘slow’, being mentioned 1.2x more in the last 6 months than before. Brands and companies should consider this a rejection of the ‘fast’ industry; a trend we’ve seen as a result of lockdowns and the global pandemic. There is an acceptance and movement towards a slower, more holistic approach to consider what should be valued. 

The hare and the tortoise

As in the infamous fable, it was the tortoise that won the race in the end, slow and steady. We can only hope such an outcome is reflected in fast and slow fashion, for the sake of the planet. Sustainable fashion, conscious of climate and social justice must be the ultimate winner of the fashion race.

How can you play your part in supporting the fashion industry’s transition to a more sustainable chunk of the economy?

  • Be open and transparent about processes
  • Make the pledge – and mean it
  • Avoid the greenwash
  • Understand fashion is not just clothing anymore – it is a lifestyle and an identity 
  • Harness technology and insights to help power you
  • Educate and inform customers
If you are interested in learning more about how LAB Group can help you on your path to a more sustainable future, then get in touch at hello@lab.co.uk.

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