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Fashion in the news: is “ethical consumer” an oxymoron?

By Marjorie van Elven


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Every week, FashionUnited selects the most interesting reads about the fashion industry published across US and international news outlets. Here’s what you may have missed:

Is there such a thing as “ethical consumerism”?

We hear it time and again: young consumers are increasingly taking social and environmental issues into account when shopping. In a recent survey conducted in Europe, 1 in 3 consumers said brands should be more transparent about what they are doing to fight climate change and global poverty. In another study by the Changing Markets Foundation, published last month, 51 percent of Americans said they would be put off from buying products from brands which do not provide workers a fair living wage. Even more surveyors (57 percent) said they’d be willing to pay more for clothes only to guarantee everyone across the supply earns a decent living.

However, were 51 percent of Americans actually boycotting brands on that basis, the fashion industry would certainly be moving a lot faster to change its ways. Clearly, they are not. Not only because talk is cheap (who would want to look bad by telling a researcher they don’t care about poverty and the environment?) but mainly because shopping ethically is easier said than done, as beautifully pointed out by Maya Singer on Vogue Magazine this week.

Those interested in “protesting with their wallets” encounter a plethora of obstacles and tricky decisions. “Do I buy one brand’s shoe made entirely from sea garbage, but in a sweatshop in Southeast Asia? Or do I buy from a brand with no environmental commitments, that produces in a unionized factory here in the USA? What if the brand that produces domestically is led by a CEO with #MeToo complaints? Another hypothetical: let’s say I’ve discovered the ethically perfect running shoe. It costs $800, there’s a six-month waiting list to get a pair, they come in one color, which is crap brown, and oh, by the way, I have to buy without trying them on”, writes Singer. At the end of the day, no matter how ethical shoppers would like to be, they are looking for products which serve a given purpose for a price they can afford. Ethics will always come after practicality in price. But Singer believes there is still hope. Click on the link above to read her article in full and find out why.

The environmental cost of free returns

When a piece of clothing bought online doesn’t fit or the color looks different than the one on screen, many consumers think it’s only fair for the shop to cover the return costs. After all, they can’t see the product in person before committing to the purchase. That is why free shipping and free returns are two excellent strategies to increase sales and consumer loyalty. However, a recent survey revealed 40 percent of all online purchases are returned, as many consumers buy several sizes of the same product just to see which one fits. Some even buy clothes with the specific aim to take a picture for Instagram and then return them!

This week, Fast Company highlighted that free returns have a high environmental impact, as they generate more transportation of goods back and forth, which means increased greenhouse emissions. Read the article in full here.

Would more women in fashion power positions mean more female customers?

A recent study pointed out that women are far less likely to be promoted in the fashion industry. Only 40 percent of womenswear fashion brands are designed by women and only 14 percent of the 50 major fashion brands are run by women. Forbes contributor Pamela Danziger asks: what would happen if womenswear companies would bring more women into leadership and decision-making positions? Several studies point out such a change would bring extremely positive results. Read it here.

Data analytics are reshaping the fashion industry

Vogue’s new business-focused platform, Vogue Business, has published an interesting piece about the use of data in fashion retail. How can it help brands to increase sales? What are its pros, cons and limitations? As a bonus, the publication lists 6 useful trend-tracking tools.

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Picture: Pixabay

Data Analytics
Ethical Consumer
Fashion in the news
Gender equality