In the mid 2000’s, the health and wellness market was growing quickly but still in its fitful youth. The market growth was increasing steadily, but its consistent success came with its own challenges. Back then, the big question was what’s next? Despite its pace of growth, the industry was a fraction of what it is today. Now, natural and organic products are about as mainstream as it gets, and it is a market in perpetual growth. There are remarkable parallels between the natural market back then and the fashion industry right now. Before you scoff, consider this. It wasn’t that long ago that organic and natural foods market had yet to hit mainstream just like eco-fashion has yet to hit the collective conscious. Environmentally aware consumers are no longer a fringe market. They are on the rise and impacting the marketplace with rapid fire, but the industry as a whole has yet to wake to this. Just ask H&M CEO, Karl-Johan Persson, who recently bemoaned consumer shaming of fast-fashion brands. The natural and organic market had its arrogance too, but ignoring the growing consumer consciousness change won’t make sustainable fashion go away. The fashion industry is either going to listen to the customer and embrace sustainable fashion going mainstream or risk losing its vogue. Here are the top lessons the fashion industry can learn from the health and wellness market.
The fashion industry has had plenty of clues that this change is coming. The jig is up. Polluting the planet at an incredible rate to produce clothing in mass is, well... going out of style. Many consumers no longer want to support brands that aren’t stewards of the earth. In fact, 86% of consumers want brands to take a stand on social issues according to a recent Sheldon study. Brands that are slow to react to the increasing consumer awareness, or worse don’t react at all, will soon wish they had. The more the earth experiences climate change, the more consumers are going to vote with their eco-wallets. This means environmental awareness is going to have a massive impact on businesses. Brands that understand the opportunity will flourish. Brands that chose to ignore or remain status quo will put themselves in considerable jeopardy. One needs to look no further than Victoria’s Secret of Gap to see what awaits businesses that lose relevance with today’s consumer.
Another interesting similarity with the health and wellness marketplace is that most brands are fairly dyed-in-the-wool when it comes to using traditional advertising, just like the fashion industry. When I say traditional advertising, I mean print. If print advertising drives your business that is one thing, but the truth is that today’s consumers are seeking customized online and offline experiences that feel-tailor made for them. I’m not sure how magazine ads accomplish a better customer experience, but it’s clear that consumers want a more personalized approach from fashion brands. Think of the number of personalization tactics fashion brands could be using to truly understand the customer, and their growing eco-friendliness. Few brands seem to fully comprehend what’s driving the customer now, and yet, this is on fashion brands because zero-party data (surveys, polls, and other customer opt-in data captures) should be used if for no other reason than customer privacy issues. The fashion market needs to completely embrace ecommerce and focus its efforts on a personalized approach as consumer attitudes and interests lean more and more toward environmental consciousness. Ecommerce needs to be priority number one as customers seek speed, ease and convenience with their shopping experience. That is why smart brands offer in store pick-up to integrate the online and offline, while also providing increased accessibility. Glitchy, clunky websites that are difficult to navigate are a serious no-no. There is also a need for a customer-centric omnichannel approach. While it is true that customers want to interact with your brand from a variety of platforms, they aren’t looking for more brand-speak.
Sustainable No Longer Compromises Style
Let’s be real. The early days of eco-fashion were, how should I put it? Ugly. I remember a few of the early adopter brands. They offered shapeless, drab, “earthy” colored garments that made sustainability clothing feel like penance. The handful of eco-friendly brands that were in the market appealed to virtually no one outside of die-hard environmentalists. Slowly but surely large and niche brands took notice of the obvious opportunity, and stylish, sustainable fashion was born. True eco-fashion is in its infancy and hasn’t even begun in terms of significant growth, but that doesn’t make growth anymore unlikely. The same once applied to the health and wellness market. There was a time, not all that long ago, when natural and organic meant smelly, inconvenient, and generally bad tasting foods. It wasn’t until natural went mainstream that taste, convenience and customer-satisfaction really factored into the equation.
Consumers no longer need sacrifice style for the environment. That is yet another reason that eco-fashion will go mainstream. Brands such as Eileen Fisher, Cotopaxi, and Reformation are showcasing the truth that environmentally-friendly can be gorgeous. These brands listened to their customers, and made beautiful and sustainable fashion a priority. Other brands should follow their lead.
Big Brands Should Watch Out
The truth is that sustainable fashion should be embraced by all brands, but the big brands will likely miss the boat because they tend to move like the Titanic, slow to turn, with a propensity to hit icebergs. This is the reality of large brands. They often appear to have been lulled into a “not losing” mentality versus playing to win. The latter is a critical distinction when it comes to maneuvering the changing and increasing eco-aware customer behaviors. For this reason alone, the smaller and more nimble brands have a leg up. They can adjust more quickly to consumer changes. They can leverage partnerships to control their supply chain, test sustainable fabrics, and create partnerships that expand their collections while large brands are still contemplating what division or executive the decision should reside with.
As sustainable fashion becomes more mainstream, it will be the niche brands that create the demand as well as the allure. The same scenario occurred in the health and wellness market. It was the smaller brands that starting tapping into what customers were saying, and more importantly, demanding. They began to champion innovative ingredients such as alternative sweeteners while the national brands ignored the trend. The large brands simply lacked the foresight and agility. Alas, this will hold true in the fashion industry as well. It will be the little-known brands that will shine because sustainable fashion is the future of fashion.
At the end of the day, it is the inactivity of brands that causes their ultimate demise. This idleness toward expanding and embracing sustainable fashion now will result in them missing the next big opportunity. The fashion industry could learn a lot from the health and wellness industry. The consumer is changing, and those that embrace the change are going to be the brands that lead the industry. The ones that don’t, well, at some point, we won’t even remember their names.