Eco Fashion Still Waiting to Go Mainstream

Discussion
Jan 26, 2010
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Let’s call it a case of “deja vu all over
again.” We’re reading a story
on how designers admit that eco-friendly fashions were not all that stylish in
the past, but all that has changed and consumers can now wear green and look
good in the process.

Well, as it turns out, we have read this story before (something
strikingly similar to it anyway) and even discussed it going back a few years
on RetailWire.
Today, however, is a new day and some retailers and designers are more convinced
than ever that clothes made with organic fibers, etc. are ready to make the leap
to chic if not quite cheap.

“Four years ago, there was very little in
the mainstream,” Zem Joaquin, founder of ecofabulous.com, told the San
Francisco
Chronicle. “Now
there are clothing stores devoted solely to environmentally conscious
designs like Eco Citizen … and eco-couture being sold at Barneys
New York. Pact showed a beautiful example of organic underwear on the
runway. It used to be hard to find, and when you did, it was saggy
and unattractive."

“When it comes to buying green or price, the
general public will more likely choose the cheaper item on anything,
whether it’s fashion or tomatoes,” Joslin Van Arsdale,
founder of Eco Citizen, a boutique devoted to eco-friendly clothing, told
the Chronicle.

“A key to advancing the movement is to educate people
and make them realize that piece of $5 T-shirt comes with an invisible cost,
a human cost,” said Ms.
Van Arsdale. “The main thing these designers are doing differently is educating
people about doing fashion that isn’t just price-based. It can be all three
together – people, planet, profit.”

Discussion
Questions: When do you think mainstream consumers will be ready to buy eco-friendly
fashions? What do designers and retailers need to do to overcome consumer
reluctance to purchase?

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22 Comments on "Eco Fashion Still Waiting to Go Mainstream"


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Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
11 years 3 months ago

Once again the fashion (and retail) industry have forgotten what people want. They want to pay the going rate for things that look and work like they always have. Regardless of whether it’s cars or clothes, the superficial factors always win out.

On a side note, it has been shown in many cases that the carbon footprint for many “eco” products is actually greater than for regular products. So does that make some eco products nothing more than just another marketing gimmick?

Dick Seesel
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

Eco-friendly fashions have every chance of being successful sooner rather than later if they focus on style and value (not necessarily opening price) instead of using “green” as the driving force. There is plenty of opportunity for organic cotton and natural fibers like bamboo in the marketplace, but mainstream consumers seem unwilling to pay an excessive premium for them.

To tie back to yesterday’s discussion about Macy’s (and its “open call” for new vendors and designers), this would be an ideal opportunity to get a midtier retailer in partnership with a “green” supplier committed to put trend and value first.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

I partly agree with Mark. If the products and services are fairly priced and also stylish, they will sell. Otherwise, not so much.

But eco-friendly should MEAN a low carbon footprint.

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
11 years 3 months ago

I agree with Marc. People are concerned far more with the economy today. They have little desire to pay a few extra dollars for eco-friendly clothes. This is especially true now that more and more often we are seeing people debunking global warming.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

I’m not so worried about the mainstream just yet. Eco-friendly hasn’t been clearly defined among the affinity groups. Can non-vegan still be called eco-friendly? Are imported goods or those that travel more than a few miles automatically unfriendly? Depends on who you ask.

The best attempts at revisiting eco-friendly fashion will address this through tagging and education. Those operating in a specialty store environment or pure-play onliners such as Nau (which closed its stores and moved to online exclusively; cleverly marketed as “Nau off the grid”) can write their own narratives; mass retailers and department stores will have a more difficult time with this for the short to mid term. As for the long term, Walmart’s multi-phased Sustainability Index initiative was met with some scoffing last year. Giving customers complete visibility into product origin and ecological impact? What the…They saw this coming.

Sandy Miller
Guest
Sandy Miller
11 years 3 months ago

As the economy improves, “the real thing” will overcome the burden of low cost in many locations.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

The eco fashions need to be priced more competitively. Either that or the marketers need to find a way to convince buyers to overpay, the way Nike has convinced low income youths to overpay for shoes. Marketers also need to ask themselves if their products were Wal-Mart priced, or even free, would consumers want them? When was the last time we saw a famous athlete promoting and wearing eco fashions on TV?

It could be that most Americans simply don’t know they exist. The only time I’ve seen eco friendly clothes are in Whole Foods or in small boutiques in art district areas. I never see them them stacked high in Wal-Mart or Kohl’s selling at huge discounts.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

Part of this issue relates to the difficulty of identifying and communicating the total carbon footprint and/or energy usage for producing goods. Consumers will become more demanding for this information.

The other part of the issue is being able to gauge which consumers are committed to the issues and willing to go out of their way to purchase these garments and under what conditions. That is not a static market and not necessarily a pervasive attitude across all people interested in sustainability issues.

Tom McGoldrick
Guest
Tom McGoldrick
11 years 3 months ago

As with so many things in life the tie goes to the incumbent. With the exception of early adopters, most people won’t try something new unless it is clearly better. While there is a niche market for eco fashion, mainstream consumers don’t buy primarily for eco reasons. “Just as good as” won’t drive many people to your product. Tell me why the eco fashions are better for me, not for the world.

Jay Middleton
Guest
Jay Middleton
11 years 3 months ago

I find it interesting that there is no mention of the outdoor retail industry where companies like REI, Prana, and Marmot (just to name a few) have been making “eco-friendly” clothing for years and in many cases, at very affordable prices.

Just like organic foods, once Wal-Mart enters the eco-friendly fashion game, we will see a price drop across the board.

Topper Hull
Guest
Topper Hull
11 years 3 months ago
Working for an eco-friendly clothing company now for 3 years, I see the the consumer still does not care about the eco movement, they want trendy clothes at a great price. Just look at the clothing market today, still dominated by conventional cotton and polyester. We face this challenge daily with many consumers. We also have an interesting challenge that others do not have, as we work to educate consumers about eco-friendly clothing, we have the super vegan/eco warrior that challenges either the store build-out or the carbon footprint of the product to the consumer that does not know the difference between organic cotton and conventional cotton, nor do they care. For eco-friendly clothing to make it, we must embrace product and just make it and be able to say, “Great fit? Great looking? Oh by the way, it’s organic” and be happy with the fact that your company is doing the right thing. Our company is now offering a green label and a black label in order to retain our goal of offering eco… Read more »
Stacey Silliman
Guest
Stacey Silliman
11 years 3 months ago

I’m a fashionista–a young professional woman who does wear organic fashion from Loomstate and Edun. I am willing to pay more for the product and for organic t-shirts and sweaters than for clothing made in China regardless if it’s purchased at Target or Nordstrom. There’s nothing like an organic t-shirt–it lasts forever and feels like second skin.

While it’s not mainstream in most parts of the USA, through word of mouth and social networking, I’m slowly convincing friends and relatives to try it and they are loving it. Eco-fashion could very easily be a successful business model in four to six years from now provided that the marketing teams behind the brands know how to promote their product.

Marge Laney
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

I think it already has gone mainstream, but does it really matter? H&M recently got caught selling clothes labeled “certified-organic cotton” even though they may actually be tainted with genetically modified cotton from India. This ubiquitous chain is a favorite among the fashion-forward eco-aware youth. Let’s see if they suffer any reduction in sales due to this supply chain misstep. Personally, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

People wear style, not political statements.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

“It used to be hard to find, and when you did, it was saggy and unattractive.”

But isn’t that the whole idea? Isn’t much–or most–of “going green” performing a public act of penance to show everyone just how committed you are (and presumably shame them into similar behavior)? And I find it hard to reconcile the concept with the reality that much of consumer culture is geared toward getting people to buy things they don’t really need, like an overpriced outfit they may wear once-a-year for a few years and then discard…nothing says green like not using the resources in the first place.

Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

I think the same philosophy will apply here that finally applied to the auto industry: the “green” stuff will sell if you make it look cool. The Prius changed the game, what will the equivalent be for the fashion industry???

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
11 years 3 months ago

I’ve never, ever seen an ad for eco-friendly fashions, but if you know where I can buy an eco-friendly Kansas University Jayhawk T-Shirt, let me know. Or Yankees. Either one.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
11 years 3 months ago

Eco-friendly clothing now has a better shot to succeed than ever. Eco-friendly no longer means ugly, uncomfortable and unaffordable. I am currently working with a client that is launching an eco-friendly line of clothing and the research they have done shows that the market is ready for clothing that is eco-friendly, comfortable, fashionable and price competitive. Major designers have started to advertise their eco-friendly lines and they are using well known celebrities to promote their efforts.

With so much focus on the environment, and people becoming far more aware of what they buy and the impact it has on the planet, I think the timing is very good.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
11 years 3 months ago

When there is no price difference between eco-fashions and fashions that aren’t as politically correct, then they will be in a position to compete on styling, fabric and quality. Then, if they’re fashion-right, they’ll earn their share. Until then, eco-fashions will remain a small niche business.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
11 years 3 months ago

Whatever it’s made from, if the apparel isn’t readily available and in tune with the buyer’s fashion tastes, then it’ll remain on the rack. So along with more green education, two things that would greatly help eco-apparel find its way into the closets of more mainstream consumers are: more eco-apparel options stocked in local stores so consumers can actually touch the fabric and learn that it’s far from itchy burlap, and eco-apparel designs that resonate with consumers’ lifestyles across demographics.

In addition, it would greatly help to have a gauge to define “mainstream acceptance.” Is it when eco-apparel surpasses a certain percentage of the average consumer’s closet? Is it a certain percentage of sales at the local JCPenney or a percentage of manufacturer sales? We in the industry need to remember that eco-apparel isn’t Twitter or the iPod, i.e., eco-fashion isn’t going to take the overnight path to mainstream acceptance. Slow and steady growth isn’t always a bad thing.

Devangshu Dutta
Guest
Devangshu Dutta
11 years 3 months ago

It’s not an either/or choice between styling and eco-friendly. To sell, eco-friendly merchandise absolutely MUST be comparable to or better than eco-unfriendly merchandise, both in style and quality.

Pricing is another story–while most consumers will not willingly pay higher prices for eco-friendly merchandise, that may change as the cost of being eco-unfriendly goes up through awareness and legislation.

There was a time when safety belts in cars were optional at an extra cost. No one would argue against paying the extra price for safety today.

Perhaps many of us would rather trash the planet cheaply because we may not feel the heat within our lifetimes. That is no reason that others, who feel more responsible, will allow that to happen indefinitely.

One way or the other, eco-friendly merchandise will compare in price, too.

Some of the parity will come from reducing the cost of eco-friendly stuff, but the bulk will probably happen because the cost of being eco-unfriendly will go up.

Stella Bray
Guest
Stella Bray
11 years 3 months ago
I find it so amusing, the term “eco-friendly.” Let’s get real folks; this USED to be the norm. I am 48 years old. When I was a child there were still remnants of fully natural fibers even though the man-made fibers had ensconced themselves. I shall speak first to fibers and fabrics as my background is softlines. Oh there were issues. Man-made was still trying to figure out how to make a soft, hand like natural fibers…anyone remember polyester double knit? It was fondly referred to as bullet proof. Did that stop it from selling? No; why? Because it was cheap, not cost effective, not moderately priced, it was cheap. I grew up working in the sewing factories when they were still here state side and in the South. The man-made fabrics were easier to run through a production line. But natural fibers tailor better. They make exquisite garments and home decor, yet they take a skilled professional to construct them. With man-made, you can train almost anyone quickly to sew these fibers. Man-made also… Read more »
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