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Life Advice

Sustainability VS Cost

By Liz Dillon

Without doubt two major themes emerging during the COVID pandemic have been the increased activity in E-Commerce and online shopping as well as the increased demands from consumers for sustainable products. However, whilst sustainability seems very important to a significant portion of people, recent research shows there is less commitment to actually paying for it, especially when it comes to fashion.

The “Biggest Bargain Hunters Study” (in an article by Retail Times) found that Britain’s fast fashion spending habits had increased over the last year during the global pandemic with 98% of shoppers more likely to purchase from cheaper unsustainable retailers rather than find better, more sustainable second-hand clothing elsewhere. It was also found that in order to do so they were twice a likely to buy new clothing via “buy now pay later apps”.

Whilst the increase in E-Commerce activity as a sector is a very welcome in our economy, especially as it plays some part in balancing the negative impact for other industries like hospitality, the rising trend of Fast Fashion in the UK is a prevalent issue. The rise in UK trend-based clothing, sold at discounted price has risen to the point that UK buys more clothes per person than in any other European country. With approximately 300,000 tones being destroyed each year.

Such activity is despite the best efforts of social media platforms and advertising campaigns encouraging shopping with independent retails (especially during our National Lockdowns) and in spite of the fact that many of the same consumers have embraced sustainability in other areas of their lives.

Why are consumers acting in such contradictory ways?

On reflection, could it be as simple as affordability? Research shows increase activity on “buy now pay later” apps, like Klarna, Clearpay & Zilch with data showing that Brits are 53% more likely to search for products under £5 than for things £10+. Geographically the North West was found to be the most price sensitive. Cashback opportunities and simple online discounts and price comparisons were all very high on consumer agendas. The impact of the global pandemic has most certainly had a financial impact on many household incomes in the past year and such activity evidence of its impact.

Over time, we can hope that the financial impact of the pandemic will ease, allowing consumers the flexibility to reflect on their spending, reverting their mindset to more sustainability friendly products. In the meantime, it is great to see that some retailers are seriously considering the cost implication of sustainability. Brands like H&M are just one -  “It’s really been H&M’s mission to make sustainable fashion accessible and affordable for everyone,” says Giorgina Waltier, H&M’s sustainability manager in the UK. 

The more affordable and accessible companies can make sustainable fashion the greater the speed in which we can convert our spending habits and have a thought, wider than just cost, to what we are buying. I for one will most certainly be giving greater through to what I am putting in my virtual shopping basket before checking out.