Is there really a market for ethical fashion? This is a question that was asked by a potential (now current) customer. At the time, I did a quick research and found some numbers related to ethical consumerism which were enough to show her that it is worth entering into this market.
But the question stayed with me. I wanted to go further, and find out if there was a more detailed and precise market research on ethical fashion like I’ve seen for other industries.
I thought I could just do some googling and find a Gartner paper on the ethical fashion market. But that was not the case. It seems the market is still in its early days, so there is very little research about it.
In one way, this is not surprising. Highly visionary entrepreneurs are usually ahead of the market. People like Elon Musk don’t just create new products, they invent whole new industries by having a vision that is decades into the future. They aim to make an impact throughout generations to come, not just in a few years time.
Now, I’m not saying that I am as visionary as Musk (though after reading his biography I found that we have a lot in common in the ways we think), but I do believe everyone who is in the ethical fashion market currently is somewhat of a visionary. We may not be inventing an industry, but we are at its forefront. We are trail blazers.
Lack of Standards
To add to that problem, there is also the fact that very few of the keywords currently used in our industry (“ethical”, “sustainable”, etc) are standardized.
Except for the certifications (like USDA Organic, FairTrade Certified, etc) there is really no consensus in the industry of what “fair” or “sustainable” means. These words mean different things to different people, different companies and even different countries. For example, if a factory in China is labour-law-compliant, it does not mean that their employees are treated the same way as employees from a factory in Germany who is also labour-law-compliant.
Besides the potential for greenwashing and socialwashing, this lack of standardization also creates a difficulty in data collection. From our previous example, do you count the Chinese factory as “fair”? or only the German one?
What Do We Know?
Having said that, there is a lot research around this industry scattered over different terms and different websites.
I recently found out that there is a catch-all term called LOHAS: Lifestyles Of Health And Sustainability. It applies to people who are into healthy eating, healthy living, ethical fashion, etc. And apparently, 1 on 4 Americans fit that term, bringing a US$ 290 Billion in spending power to the market. Another study by Euromonitor says that 65% of global consumers “try to have a positive impact on the environment through everyday actions“.
Another research that I’ve been quoting for years on social media says (in the 2018 version) that 86% of consumers trust brands that are more transparent, and 54% are willing to pay more for a product that is more transparent. Even though this research is for the food industry, I would expect the numbers to be similar, because of the LOHAS factor: if you are into healthy eating, you are probably into ethical fashion as well. Health and sustainability are part of a lifestyle, not just a dietary choice.
Getting more into fashion itself, this study says that the eco-fibers market (which is mostly bought by ethical fashion brands) is projected to reach US$ 74.65 Billion by 2020.
There is a another more recent study that says that the ethical clothing market has grown by 19.9% in 2018, and that 63% of young consumers (aged 18-34) will avoid buying products that have a negative impact on the environment.
Finally, when it comes to the US, an article from Inc. explains that “eco-apparel is a $5 Billion market in the US, and has grown 300% in a decade“.
Small Brands and Artisans
Small businesses have a big edge, because their supply chains are much smaller. It’s much easier to trace and keep track of transparency when you only have a handful of fabric suppliers and a couple of factories making your clothes.
Also, a trend that has been growing (and will only get stronger in 2019) is realism on social media. Consumers are growing more and more weary of the neutrality of Instagram influencers with the perfect shots (which usually can only be achieved with professional photographers). They are going back to trusting their offline friends and family, with their not-so-perfect images. This type of marketing channel is much easier for small businesses to access. It goes along with all the other guerilla marketing strategies that small brands already do to survive.
So, there we have it. The market is big and keeps growing every year. Visionaries who enter early in this market will have the advantage of experience and consumer loyalty. Small businesses have a much more level playing field than in “traditional” fashion.
I hope this is enough to convince any business (brands and retailers) to get into this market. If not, I would love to hear your input on what is missing. What would it take for your store or brand to be more ethical? Please leave a comment below.
Are you interested in getting into the ethical fashion market? Are you already in it but want to grow your sales without hiring a sales person? Are you looking for new ethical products for your store or distributorship?