Sustainability Is The New Black

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, October 25, 2019

This season, we’ve seen a number of retailers and brands offering new, sustainable ways to enjoy fall fashions -- making the act of completing your perfect look good for your wallet and the planet. Of course sustainability isn’t a new trend per se, but we’re seeing it take shape in an entirely different way across the retail industry.

Companies like Express, American Eagle, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Nike and Urban Outfitters all launched subscription or rental services for their clothes/products, seemingly taking a page out of successful business platforms like Stitch Fix and Rent the Runway (currently the largest drycleaner globally!!) who offer clothes through personalized boxes or rent-to-own basis.

A recent survey by ratings and review platform Clutch found that more than half of online shoppers (54%) are members of subscription box services.  Luxury consignment platform The Real Real is also growing, with reported earnings projecting its revenue will jump 51% to $71 million versus a year ago.



The trend of subscription boxes and rentals is more than just about busy consumers who are on the go and don’t want to invest in updating their wardrobe every season. It also pinpoints a shift in the retail industry as more companies are looking to become environmentally stable.

According to eMarketer, for luxury marketers, all circular business models are profitable on a per-garment basis, with rental being the most notable (61%), followed by resale (39%) and subscription rental (30%).

On top of that, consumers are clearly more focused on reducing the amount of waste they create. Brands like J.Crew and H+M are making it easier with their garment recycling programs to help create a sustainable fashion future. And companies like TerraCycle are making sustainability more accessible with their Loop offering, which combats single-use waste. Brands are quickly trying to get involved in the initial pilot and many are attracted to the old “milkman model” of having products delivered to your doors and empties taken to be washed, refilled and brought back. L’Oreal has also made strides to offer more recyclable packaging and containers.

We’ll still see a bit of a paradox when it comes to Gen Z -- one of the most environmentally-conscious demographics -- as they struggle with their commitment to the environment and the attractiveness of what’s new and now. Despite all this, they know they can get better deals on fashions that are also good for the environment. Forever 21’s recent store closings are one clear example of the fact that producing inexpensive clothing at scale while operating expensive retail locations cannot compete with nimble, digital businesses and their social/influencer marketing efforts.

Only time will tell if the industry’s youngest consumers are encouraging this move to a more sustainable model, but they will demand that brands be authentic and not just create purpose marketing for the sake of saving face.

Amidst all of these changes, brands are still looking for ways to acquire customers, better understand them and keep them. Consumers don’t need more choices--they just need simpler solutions that save time and money. Adding sustainability on top of convenience and relevancy is one way for brands to quickly attract new customers.

But marketers also need to have a true, authentic connection with consumers and they need to pay attention to the things that matter, like investing in the right materials that are also good for the environment (i.e. metal straws, bento box packaging, etc.). More importantly, they must have leaders in place who are focused on saving the planet and humanity versus driven by shareholder value at any cost.

One thing is for certain: when you think about the future of your brand, you'd better make sure it’s end-to-end purpose-based: built to be better for the planet, better for you and better for humanity. 

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