At the close of last year, discussion of sustainability in fashion revolved around the circular economy, sustainable sourcing at scale, and a better integration of sustainable values into brand DNA.

As progress was spoken of in terms of decades rather than years, couched in terms of ‘ongoing commitment,’ we were oblivious to the impending havoc that the coronavirus was to wreak upon the world. Talks of sustainability would be put on the backburner as brands and retailers reeled from store closures, job losses and for some, bankruptcy.

But those savvy enough to continue taking the temperature of their consumers will have re-emerged with sustainability as a primary focus of their post-pandemic recovery.

Whilst it has only been with us for a matter of months, two thirds of European consumers consider climate change to be more important since the start of the pandemic according to a recent McKinsey study.

Pre-pandemic, we were following a growing wave of radical anti-consumption in a trend we call ‘Eco Rebel,’ characterised by a reverence for nature meets an activist mentality.

Led by Gen Z, who use their unrivalled connectivity to radiate their influence outward, Eco Rebels care deeply for environmental issues, value resourcefulness, prefer shopping locally, or creatively repurposing and upcycling. They are particularly disdainful of the bloated volumes of product peddled by the fashion industry, and reject the relentless pursuit of newness.

These values have been adopted by mainstream consumers at an impressive rate, expedited by a near global lockdown that has seen pollution levels declining, an increased interest in the collective good, and an acknowledgment of the impact of individual action. And these values will inevitably be reflected in spending habits.

Less extreme than the Eco Rebels, the mainstream post-pandemic consumer could be identified as an Eco Advocate, defined by the conscious consumption of less but better. This is a consumer making gradual, well-informed choices that support a belief system of individual action.

Critically for brands and retailers, they will be looking for eco alternatives to existing products and services – so the goal is not to create a new category of sustainable assortments, but to seamlessly integrate sustainability across the value chain.

Hyperaware of ‘greenwashing,’ promotional noise doesn’t sit well with the Eco Advocate, and only serves to highlight potential sustainability gaps in the rest of the business.

Instead, brands offering opportunities to partake in positive action initiatives, and services mitigating overconsumption, such as in-store repair and recycle, clothing rental, and resale will be exciting new avenues for the Eco Advocate.

Less but better is the new bedrock of the fashion and lifestyle industries at a time that is ripe for reshaping a course for sustainability.


This article was first published in WeAr magazine