Millennials care about sustainability. Whether it’s in the fashion industry, the food industry or in virtually every other arena of consumption, millennials prefer sustainable, ethically sourced products that make us feel good about paying for them. We’ve been hearing a lot about organic farming and renewable energy, but it’s the fashion industry that could lead the next wave of innovation.
Generational values have forced the hand of long-standing institutions. One recent example of this is Gucci’s decision to stop using fur in all products. Given the cultural cachet that animal rights movements and veganism hold in the modern age, this was a wise move. Previously seen as something luxurious and decadent, fur has come to be associated with cruelty and the wanton killing of animals, especially among younger people.
Companies are learning that in order to keep millennials buying, you have to commit to millennial values. According to a Nielsen study, millennials make up more than half of the population, and will pay more for sustainably sourced products — this represents a major opportunity for any companies who will adapt and cater to the ethics of their consumers to build brand loyalty.
So what’s next?
Here’s what the future holds: Evrnu plans to convert used textiles to new fabric. BIONIC intends to recycle plastic trash from the ocean into new textiles. Companies like Dyecoo are even developing environmentally friendly dyes. These new technologies could alter the fashion industry; it’d be an unremarkable change to the older consumer but not to savvy millennials. Our generation’s dedication to reducing waste and caring for the planet predisposes us to notice when large entities like corporations take steps towards conservation; that awareness has even been said to function as social capital.
Still, all this talk of environmental sustainability leaves out the human element. For years, American Apparel made claims of being “sweatshop-free,” boasting about “relatively high wages, on-site healthcare and even free massages.” However, recent speculation says they’re planning to move out of California to a state with lower wage requirements. Additionally, large portions of the fashion industry (particularly fast fashion retail) essentially function on underpaid sweatshop labor and have done so for years. In many cases, countries with little regulatory oversight produce clothes, and child labor is not uncommon.
As a generation, we not only care about preserving the environment and the well-being of animals, we also believe that workers should be treated fairly. We actually hold strong support for unions across the political spectrum. We need to speak out and demand better labor practices for those who produce the clothes we wear.
Millennials are aware of what brands do. We prefer companies that align with our values, and we vote with our wallets. The future of fashion could be a bright place for companies that use recycled textiles or eco-friendly dye, ensure fair labor practices down the entire supply chain and reach out to consumers to show they genuinely care about the environment and its inhabitants. Or it could be a place where landfills pile up, the water is full of toxins and workers are mistreated.
It’s up to the millennial generation to use their spending influence over companies to advocate for sustainability in all areas of production. Companies can (and hopefully will) do more to support cruelty-free, sustainable fashion. Sure it’s a ploy to appeal to consumers, but millennials will appreciate it nonetheless.
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