Do we want to know more: statistics on sustainable fashion 2021

Girl looking at landscape thinking

Do we want to know more: statistics on sustainable fashion 2021

In the summer of 2021 when Good Maker Tales was still under construction, I started to wonder what other people’s perspectives were on sustainable fashion.

Asking questions and gathering statistics on people’s opinions about sustainable fashion would help me know what to write about and what to talk to brands about. That was the reasoning. I hadn’t anticipated that a fair proportion of views would be contrary to sustainable fashion trends in the wider market. But that was what made it interesting, who said people were predictable?

Gathering perspectives

This survey questioned 183 people about what they were interested in and how much they already knew about ethical and sustainable fashion. It split that down into people, planet and animals, the three areas heavily affected by the fashion industry.

I was also interested to find out what people’s current shopping habits were and how much they loved fashion. Did this affect their views?

Who answered?

My sample of 183 people was split down into 75% women and 25% men with one abstention and a split of all age groups. The two largest were 42% aged 40-49 and 21% aged 50-59 and a smaller proportion of those 17 and below and 60 and over. 

They were a well-qualified bunch with 85% university educated and a good chunk, 49%, working full time. The second largest group, 30%, were self-employed. 53% lived in Europe followed by 36% in the UK, 6% in North Amercia and 4% in Asia.

So here is the first caveat. We are all aware that more than 25% of the population is male, and university education, depending on where you are in the world, can range from 7-57%. Geographically also, the survey is heavily weighted towards Europe and the UK. 

That taken into account, what statistics on sustainable fashion did we find?

Key Findings

  1. 7% knew a great deal about sustainable fashion, 100% of these were women
  2. Those that knew more tended to be younger
  3. Respondents who buy clothes at least once a month are slightly younger and more interested in the environmental side
  4. Those who buy only when necessary are more interested in the human side of production
  5. 42% of people surveyed were very interested to know more about ethical and sustainable fashion
  6. Those that rate fashion as very important have a higher tendency to answer “not interested” to questions
  7. The most important topic to people overall was ensuring that child labour was never used in the supply chain, followed closely by modern slavery
  8. Regarding the planet, the three most interesting things to people were
    1. Toxic chemical use leading to water pollution
    2. How brands are reducing their energy use/carbon footprint, and
    3. Actions they are taking to reduce deforestation
  9. “Are their products vegan” received the second highest number of “not interested to know more” responses at 41% of people
  10. However only 18% gave the same response to “Are their products PeTA approved”
  11. 45% of respondents were not interested to know if brands offered clothing rental, the highest scoring question for “not interested to know more”
  12. 24% were not interested to know if brands offered their clothing second-hand
  13. 26% were not interested to know if brands contributed to charities nor 24% how energy efficient their offices were
  14. Some topics that were not rated as highly as others were how brands reduce waste from landfill and whether they made sure workers have the right to form a union
  15. People would particularly like to know more about the sustainability credentials of Inditex, H&M and Primark

in more detail: People’s take on ethical and sustainable fashion

Those in the know

Survey result graph showing statistics on sustainable fashion
Capture do you know much about sustainable fashion key

While only 12 people (7%) said they knew a great deal about ethical and sustainable fashion, 100% of those were women. And of those that knew a lot (18), nearly 90% were women. Surprisingly though, in the two groups a slightly higher proportion than in the overall sample bought clothes at least once a month. Perhaps this is due to the high proportion of females, or perhaps these well-informed people don’t necessarily see the solution to the fashion crisis as buying less often.

more on Buying habits

Shopping bags indicating shopping habits for sustainably conscious
Photo by freestocks on Unsplash
Survey result how often do you buy new clothes statistics
How often do you buy key
Capture how often do you buy key 2

At least once a month

Those who buy clothes at least once a month are a bit younger overall, especially the up to 17s and 18-29 age group, and consist more of females. They also seem to be a bit more interested in the environmental side of things and much more interested in fashion. This makes sense when they buy more regularly.

Only when necessary/try to buy second-hand

Those who only buy clothes when absolutely necessary are more likely to be self-employed. Could this be financially motivated? Or, as they may be more likely to work from home, could they be less concerned about needing new clothes for the office? Personally, I feel much less need to buy new clothes since I’ve been working from home.

Those who buy only when necessary are also more generally interested in the human side of the production, and freedom of association (the right to form a union). They’re also a bit more interested in second-hand shopping and where raw materials come from. Maybe those thinking about the real effect on people of their shopping decisions are more likely to think twice before buying. 

Could thinking about another human being be a more powerful dissuader to buy than the environment, which our statistics show interests those who buy more often?

interest in knowing more

Statistic on sustainable fashion showing if people want to know more
Key do you want to know more

42% of the audience were “very interested” to know more about ethical and sustainable fashion. They were mostly female, buying clothes at least once a month, or more likely once every few months, aged 30-59, from Europe or the UK, with a university degree, full time or self-employed, giving a bit of importance to fashion.

What does this tell us? Caveat number two: it’s true that the survey is skewed towards these sorts of people. Are these “middle class” traits more likely to make someone answer a survey of this nature?

The sustainable fashion industry is criticised for being only accessible to the middle classes. Do these numbers back that up? Maybe, maybe not. See more about buying second-hand and rental below.

It’s true that ethical and sustainable fashion; using sustainable materials and practices and paying your workers a living wage, costs more than fast fashion. However luckily, with growing interest in the market and economies of scale, brands are starting to challenge that notion. Just look at Yes Friends, selling their ethical and sustainable t-shirt for £7.99 if you need more proof. Or our round up of 22 affordable ethical brands.

What about the fashionistas?

Statistic on sustainable fashion showing how important is fashion to you survey result graph
How important is fashion to you survey result key

Those that rate fashion as very important in their lives are unsurprisingly predominantly female and they fall in the 18-29 and 40-49 age groups.

This group is a bit less enthusiastic to know about most topics in that they have a higher tendency to answer “not interested” to questions. Perhaps they love fashion too much to want to know the murky details of what goes on behind the scenes. 

Fashionista

I sympathise with this set, you want to be fashionable, and it’s inconvenient to know the less than glamourous truth. After all, shouldn’t we be able to trust that fashion brands are doing their upmost to be sustainable and ethical on our behalf, and that our governments are enforcing it?

Does age matter?

My personal answer to this question is always no, but interest in certain topics tended to go up with age, although went down, for example, on vegan products.

Interestingly we found the reverse statistics regarding knowing more about sustainable fashion – the older the person, the less they tended to know about it. Is that because we’re set in our ways and don’t want to change, or is it because younger age groups naturally talk about sustainability and the environment more?

And those that don’t know much about sustainable fashion yet?

One of my favourite things about the results was seeing that those who knew nothing at all were generally “quite interested” to know more. Comments included:

“Never really thought about sustainable fashion, before this survey. Although, was familiar with corporate social responsibility.”
“Some really interesting questions I actually never thought I’d be interested but now very keen to learn more!”
“So glad that you’re starting this company – such a wonderful idea! I think most people would be very interested in knowing more about the brands they typically buy from. Being more educated about the brands I usually shop may change how and which brands I choose to shop in the future. Thank you!”
“Most people do not realise the damaging impact fashion brands have. Last year I decided to boycott shops like Zara, H&M etc. It’s a great initiative- best of luck with it.”

What are people most interested in?

I deliberately organised the survey into three main sections: “people”, “planet” and “animals”. It makes more sense to me to think about it this way, and I wanted to know if perspectives on sustainable fashion would change dependent on the sub sector.

Overall, among the three categories, there wasn’t a marked difference in the statistics. But there were definitely some issues that people found more interesting.

People: child labour and modern slavery

zeyn-afuang-9xp0AWvlGC4-unsplash (2)
Photo by Zeyn Afuang on Unsplash

Do they make sure that child labour is never used in their supply chain?

What actions are they taking against modern slavery?

Child labour survey result graph showing statistics
Actions against modern slavery in supply chain graph key
Statistics showing if people want to know what actions brands are taking against modern slavery
Actions against modern slavery in supply chain graph key

The thing people were most interested to know more about was that a brand never used child labour in their supply chain. 84% were very interested to know more, followed closely by what actions they are taking against modern slavery. 

And rightly so, we don’t expect these things to happen in the 21st centuary but they do. I cover this more in my articles Why is Sustainable and Ethical Fashion Important and Help End Child Labour: 22 Brands Committed to Child Labour Free Clothing. But, in summary, a staggering 152 million children are estimated to be in child labour by the ILO, and an estimated 77% of UK retailers think there could be a chance of modern slavery in their supply chains at some point. 

We are justified in our need to know what the brands we buy from are doing to make sure that these breaches of human rights just don’t happen. Ever.

Planet: less toxins, carbon & deforestation

Picture of tree canopy to represent statistics on sustainable fashion re the planet and deforestation
Photo by Felix Mittermeier from Pexels

What statistics on sustainable fashion did we find when it comes to our planet? 

What are they doing about toxic chemical use that leads to water pollution?

What are they doing to reduce their energy use/carbon footprint?

What actions are they taking to reduce deforestation?

Survey graph to show statistics on sustainable fashion toxic chemical use leading to water pollution
General key
Graph to show statistics on sustainable fashion actions to reduce energy use carbon footprint
General key
Graph showing statistics about how many people want to know actions brands are taking to reduce deforestation
General key

Toxic chemical use leading to water pollution was the number one most interesting point with 80% very interested to know more. This was followed by 74% of respondents very interested to know what brands were doing to reduce energy use/carbon footprint and what they’re doing to reduce deforestation (73%).

The tanning process to create leather using chromium is just one area of the fashion industry that has a huge and incredibly dirty impact on the world’s waterways. No wonder it’s been banned in Europe and the US, meaning we have to source chromium tanned leather (the most common) from third world countries. It goes without saying that these toxic chemicals also affect workers, including children as young as 10, in hideous ways. And us, the end user. So it’s right that we are interested.

For more on water pollution caused by the fashion industry, see our article here.

On carbon, the fashion industry creates 10% of the world’s overall carbon footprint, more than maritime shipping and international flights combined. So we are justified in our demands from the fashion industry to know more here too. For more on this and deforestation from the leather industry and clothing threads such as rayon and viscose, see here

Animals: why veganism puts people off

Dog answering question representing animals in perspectives on sustainable fashion survey
Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash

The animals section was a very interesting section for me. I’m not a vegan but I find the rise of vegan fashion so welcome the more I read about animal treatment in the fashion industry.

However, the word vegan is still off-putting to many. “Are their products vegan” received the second highest number of “not interested to know more” responses at 41% of people. 

Graph showing statistics about responses to are their products vegan sustainable fashion
General key

You take out the word vegan however and only 18% gave the same response to “Are their products PeTA approved” meaning there has been no testing on animals anywhere in the supply chain. And reassuringly, 96% of people were either very interested or quite interested to know if a brand was against animal cruelty. 

To find out how to help stop animal cruelty in the fashion industry, see our article here.

Are their products PeTA approved?

Are they against animal cruelty?

Statistics on sustainable fashion: Graph with answers to question are their products PeTA approved
General key
Graph with statistics on sustainable fashion answers to are brands against animal cruelty
General key

The vegan aversion is interesting when you consider that 40% more people took up a vegan diet in the UK in 2020. 95% of British shoppers meanwhile were found to want more “vegan verified fashion” on their high streets, with 35% looking for vegan leather options.

Perspectives, however, on this aspect of sustainable fashion are obviously divided! Read more about vegan fashion, vegan shoe brands and plant-based leather alternatives here.

What are the least interesting points?

Clothing rental and second-hand

We’ve recently written articles on clothing rental in the form of clothing subscription boxes and on buying preloved clothing online, including brands selling their products second-hand. Clothing subscription is a growing market. In fact, in 2020 clothing subscription services made up nearly a quarter of all subscription box services in the UK. 

UK charity WRAP calculated that extending the active life of a piece of clothing by just 9 months would reduce its carbon, water and waste footprint by 20-30%. Clothing rental extends the life and use of clothing and satisfies people’s desire for newness at the same time, so it’s a win win for the environment too.

What’s more, the number of brands getting in on the act of renting out in addition to selling their clothes is growing. LK Bennett recently launched their LK Borrowed service. The likes of ASOS, French Connection, Whistles, Ghost, Hobbs, Reiss, Marks & Spencer and even Zara can now be rented through rental platforms such as Hire Street, Girl Meets Dress and My Wardrobe HQ.

But the respondents to this survey weren’t generally interested in finding out if brands rented their clothes, it was the highest scoring question for “not interested to know more” at 45%. Likewise, 24% didnt want to know about whether brands sold their clothes second-hand, even though this is a new and growing market, expected to grow a whopping 11 times faster than traditional retail by 2025.

As one respondent said: 

I’m not sure if people it’s very interested in rental clothes than in how are they made.

Do they offer clothing rental?

Do they sell any second-hand clothes?

Graph with statistics on sustainable fashion answers to do brands offer clothing rental
General key
Graph with statistics on sustainable fashion showing answers to do brands offer second hand clothes
General key

Arguably, it’s a very new concept for high street brands to be offering their products for anything other than for sale. And the market for these services is often those with less money or those very interested in not buying new in order to be sustainable. But that is a small and growing group; see #nonewclothes. 

It could also be said that selling second-hand or renting clothes doesn’t immediately spring to mind when you think about sustainability or ethics in the fashion industry. But it absolutely is, and we will not be able to ignore these sectors in the coming years.

Things that could be seen as “greenwashing”

Do they contribute to charities?

Are you interested to know more about how energy efficient their offices are?

Graph with statistics on sustainable fashion showing how interested people are to know if brands contribute to charities
General key
Graph with statistics about sustainable fashion showing how interested people were to know if brands' offices were energy efficient
General key

Finally, and in my opinion not surprisingly, 26% were not interested to know if brands contributed to charities nor 24% how energy efficient their offices were.

Whilst these are nice to haves, why would we want to know that a brand contributes some of its money to a charity for say teenagers in Africa when they are not paying a living wage to their workers in Bangladesh?

Equally, while they might have carbon neutral offices, if their power guzzling factories are not, why would we care?

People are getting wiser to greenwashing, and we are the better for it! For further proof, see these comments below:

Would love to know more about how clothing is produced sustainably and not just marketing PR which is inaccurate.
I’m always sceptical about the value of a certificate/ seal of approval. How can the consumer really believe that their supply chain is as ethical and sustainable as they claim it to be?
I am tired of big brands advertising the fact they use organic cotton, yet they use slave labour in their factories. And surely more to a ‘sustainable’ t-shirt than organic cotton?!?
I would love to be able to easily choose clothes and brands based on all this information, reliably…thanks and good luck!

What else?

Some really important ethical and sustainable issues were not rated as highly as other items, and my guess is that this stems from a lack of knowledge and public information rather than a lack of caring. These included what actions brands are taking to reduce textile waste and whether they ensure that workers have the right to Collective Bargaining and Freedom of Association (the right to form a union). 

How do they reduce waste from landfill?

Do they make sure that workers have the right to Collective Bargaining and Freedom of Association (the ability to form a union)?

Graph showing statistics on sustainable fashion if people are interested to know how brands reduce waste from landfill
General key
survey result graph showing statistics about whether people want to know if brands make sure workers have the right to collective bargaining and freedom of association
General key

It’s estimated that every year the world creates a staggering 92 million tonnes of textile waste which is expected to increase to 134 million tonnes by 2030. Textile waste is a huge problem. Landfills in third world countries are overflowing. 

See our article on the UK clothing waste crisis for more stats, and those on recycled clothing companies and deadstock fabric for more info on some of the great initiatives out there to tackle these problems.

In addition, the right for a worker to be able to form or join a union may not seem like a pressing issue. But it means the difference between being able to challenge and change the conditions they work in, or having no voice, like those who lost their lives in the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013. Organisations such as the Awaj Foundation are campaigning hard to give workers the right to speak up.

Which brands are the most interesting?

Red question mark on mirror
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Lastly, I asked people which fashion brands, if any, they’d like to know more about. Three names cropped up repeatedly: Inditex (Zara, Bershka, Massimo Dutti etc.), H&M and Primark. 

Others on the list included big names such as Levi’s, Kiabi, C&A, River Island, Mango, Uniqlo, New Look, Pretty Little Thing and Forever 21. More known for their sustainability credentials Ecoalf and MUD Jeans were also on the list.

I would be delighted to chat to these brands. Click here if you have particular questions you’d like to pose to any of them.

Final comments

The results of this survey, as I’ve already said, come with a number of caveats. But what has been the most inspiring has been people’s interest in the Good Maker Tales project, and more importantly what it stands for. It shows that people do care about sustainable fashion, and want to know more. 

I also received some great suggestions and comments, including those below:

I would be more interested in a focus on people/workers and ethical production, rather than sustainable fabrics or vegan products. A lot of the focus seems to be on sustainable materials but not the people who make garments.
Should shopping centre landlords offer clothing recycling as a central facility?

Yes please! A lot of people just don’t know where to recycle their clothes.

Would retailers/clothing brands be interested in doing clothes swap schemes. If customers could swap items in their wardrobe that they don’t want to wear anymore then it would reduce the waste and clothes remaining unworn in wardrobes. Retailers offering discounts on new clothes in exchange for a piece of new clothing.

Some brands do now let you bring unwanted clothes back and some of those give you a discount on new. These include the H&M group who give a “thank you voucher” for your next purchase, Levi’s (so far only in the US) and Marks & Spencer (if you take their clothes to Oxfam you get a £5 M&S voucher).

Very important topic and should be more front and centre of how space is let and to whom. Good on you for doing this.
A few random comments 1) For me, natural fibres (cotton etc) are very important. There’s been a lot of discussion recently about firms like Uniqlo using cotton that is produced in forced labour camps. This concerns me a lot. 2) I’m Australian, and I think it’s important you do a little more research re. mulesing. If it’s performed properly, it can help prevent a lot of pain in the future. Flystrike is not a pleasant disease. Mulesing receives a lot of negative press, but I don’t think people understand the alternative. I think the campaign should be about BETTER mulesing by qualified people, not about stopping it altogether. 3) I think it’s important to consider the cost of ethically produced clothes. I don’t buy a lot of clothes, but if I have the choice of buying a 3€ T-shirt from Primark or a 100€ ethically produced one, I’m unfortunately going to buy the former because I simply don’t have the extra money.

Thanks for the comments on mulesing. Re t-shirts, see the £7.99 ethically and sustainably produed t-shirt from Yes Friends, sustainable fashion is getting a lot more affordable!

I would like to know more about recycled fabrics that are redied and sold in shades to producers . How long does that new recycled fabric last for for example. I only know of one such company in Italy making recycled fabric rolls from donated old clothing that they source all over Europe . Are there others? Are they willing to share the process with say Africa ? Africa reuse and recycle clothes more than any content in the world. We get clothing from Oxfam that is actually sold by the bag in places like Ghana . And then lands up in shops all over Ghana where the clothes are sold on. Ghana also has an amazing fabric industry but I could see the recycled respun fabric factories providing jobs for so many and bringing some much need international currency to many African nations if they were to learn how the whole process works.
I am particularly interested in the development and utilization of non-toxic colorants that require less water. I am also interested in their waste reduction strategies.
Good to see that people are striving to educate audience around sustainability. Good luck.
Great survey, currently studying the Scottish sustainable fashion industry as part of my thesis.
You’re taking on a big job here!! I wish you the best of luck!
I’d like to see customers being encouraged to learn and adopt the same standards!!
I like the idea of recycling, minimal waste and ethical treatment of foreign youngsters labour. I am not completely against the child labour because for some families, that saves them from starvation but treating them equally well and pay them reasonably is important.
Excellent initiative, please ask as many questions as you can! All of these topics interconnect and we need to put pressure from all sides, non-stop. One thing you haven’t mentioned is investment or their interest in truly novel materials like mushroom based (or other) leather alternatives to get them from start-up to market, to change the need for leather at all. eg modern meadow, zoa etc. redesigning materials from the very start to eliminate animal suffering and land and water waste at the root.. Mushroom based packaging, and so on. This I think is an amazing area. More than anything else though, to reduce consumption. Where they have a conflict of interest so will be very difficult for them to really get on board, especially fast fashion. High end stuff maybe different.
All organisations should aim to be B certified corporations.

Thank you!

These are inspiring comments and I am truly grateful to those who took the time to write them, plus to everyone who took the time to fill in the survey. 

I hope that, whilst flawed in some aspects, the survey results have shown some enlightening statistics on sustainable and ethical fashion, and show a fundamental consumer interest. Now we must keep asking questions, voting with our feet and spreading the message.

Please contact me if you would like a copy of the full results.

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