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Pulse of the fashion industry 2019 report published by the Global Fashion Agenda and Sustainable Apparel Coalition in partnership with Boston Consulting Group showed that more than 50% of consumers plan to switch brands in the future if another brand acts more environmentally.

The report also showed the fashion industry is still far from sustainable. The findings demonstrate that fashion companies are not implementing sustainable solutions fast enough to counterbalance the negative environmental and social impacts of the rapidly growing fashion industry. If the Pulse Score stays on its current trajectory, the gap between industry output and the Pulse Score will widen. As a result, if the industry does not implement changes at a faster rate, it will not be able to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals1 or meet the Paris Agreement2.

Today’s consumers are taking note of fashion brands’ sustainability focus as well. The Pulse report showed shoppers are increasingly interested in fashion brands’ eco-friendly efforts, with 75% of consumers indicating they view sustainability as either extremely or very important to them.

Pulse score

The 2019 Pulse Score increased +4pt from last year, compared to +6pt in 2018. This means that measurable progress decreased by 1/3. Companies in the first quartile slowed in their trajectory this year due to increased challenges in scaling up proven measures into deeper tiers of their supply chains, in inventing and scaling transformative technologies and in achieving tangible results from collaborative initiatives. This result needs to be viewed with nuance since players at this level already have high scores, historically, have made strong progress, and their on-going work does not necessarily immediately translate into Pulse Score gains.

The report said that in the second quartile, progress slowed. Nevertheless, efforts are visible: companies report that they are dedicated to sustainability, and they are investing in supplier relationships, supply chain traceability, an improved material mix and changes to their business model towards circularity. Yet, they face additional challenges, as the required resources, capabilities, funding and advanced technologies in the aforementioned areas are not yet fully established.

Players in the third performance quartile saw the largest year-on-year improvements which were mainly driven by small mid-price and medium-entry-price players by adopting sustainable strategy development and governance, by setting targets in energy, chemicals and water savings, and by aligning association affiliations.

Consumer sentiment:

  • 1. 75% of consumers surveyed view sustainability as extremely or very important.
  • Mentions of sustainability in social media increased a third faster than overall social media growth between 2015 and 2019.
  • Consumers mostly acquire information about sustainability issues through an online search (35%), social media (31%) and non-digital print media (29%).
  • The strongest triggers for conscious behaviour concerning sustainability are climate change efforts (50%), natural disasters (49%).
  • More than a third of consumer’s report they have already switched from their preferred brand to another because it credibly stands for positive environmental and/or social practices.
  • More than 50% of consumers plan to switch brands in the future if another brand acts more environmentally and socially friendly than their preferred one.
  • However, consumer considerations of sustainable practices are not yet powerful enough to be the most important driver of purchasing behaviour.

The fashion industry must overcome its roadblocks to achieve more substantial improvements that lead to a systemic change. Solving the challenges of scaling and innovating disruptive technologies is a necessity for future progress.