Consumers are the lifeblood of every company. They are the one thing all businesses have in common. Companies constantly seek to satisfy the needs of their consumers in offering their goods and services. This is because the rate at which consumers purchase a good or service plays a big role in influencing the rate at which a company grows. The fashion industry is no stranger to this consumer-driven feature. Fashion companies and houses offer designs that they feel would amaze their consumers and employ all sorts of mechanisms to market the products. Traditionally, this model was unaffected by sustainability, but in light of increasing sustainability concerns, there has been a massive shift in how fashion companies market and offer their products. In recent times, the majority of consumers have shown increased buying interest in sustainable brands and are even willing to pay more for the product. It is however crucial to note that although sustainability is an important consideration, other factors that have historically influenced consumer choices still play an expedient role in their purchasing behaviour. This paper will explore three of these historical factors- trends, age and income, to determine how they affect consumers demand for fashion pieces with a focus on their impact on sustainability in the fashion industry.
Sustainability has become a leading concern in the fashion industry due to new customer orientation, forcing fashion brands to produce goods services based on customer needs. Fashion brands realise that having a firm understanding of existing and new consumer behaviour is essential in planning and programming their marketing system as a brand will continue to survive only if it supplies consumer wants and needs. Consumers now expect transparency more and more across the entire value chain; they want to have more information about both the source of goods and the quality of materials used. Brands are equally responding to these challenges which have arisen from the demand side by trying to be more transparent, in many cases specifying the cost of materials, the cost of labour, transport, duties, and so on.
Factors such as age, income and trends have been influencing fashion offerings as far back as the 1900s. They have always shaped consumer purchasing behaviour and fashion brands are now studying these factors and how they interlace with sustainability, which is relatively new. The nature of the relationship between these factors and their impact on sustainability are examined below.
Fashion trends are ever-changing and describe what is considered most fashionable by those with cultural status and fashion influencers at a particular period in time. With time, certain topics, in particular, technology and sustainability have influenced what shapes a trend in the fashion industry.
“A fashion trend occurs when a large population emulate the fashion clothing styles worn by fashion influencers”
Fashion influencers appear across various sectors of society. From models to musicians to bloggers and even political figures. For example, the plum ensemble Michelle Obama wore for the Biden inauguration in 2021 was sold out minutes after she set her foot on the carpet. Hence, it became a trend even though it had a relatively short life span compared to other fashion trends. This is a clear example of how a person with status can affect and even create fashion trends. From a general overview of the developing trends, affecting the fashion industry, one of the major drivers for long-lasting competitiveness is sustainability. From the 1950s till the 1990s trends were driven by popularity and sustainability was barely a concern. People rather than following a single trend aimed to dress in a way that expressed their individual personalities. However, at the start of the 21st century, sustainability became a new and
important driver in consumers’ purchasing decisions. Issues such as global population growth, climate change, land and water scarcity have intensified in recent years and sustainability pressures related both to product and production processes became more relevant in the fashion industry.
From the examination of the evolution of trends, it is apparent that aside from taking cues from decades past and reworking them to fit within modern tastes, sustainability has now affected how consumers purchase clothing pieces and what brands they buy from. For example, the Ellen McArthur Foundation created the “Circular Fibers Initiative”, which has been the beginning of sensibilization to the circular economy for textiles.” Their initiative promotes a transition from the traditional production system to renewable energy sources. As trend forecasting is now a profession; high-profile designers, writers and photographers rely on these tastemakers to predict the next popular style. These trend forecasters now have sustainability orientations and therefore rely on those orientations in making their decisions regarding trends that should be considered acceptable. Today, individuality and societal issues are influencing trends, hence, the fashion industry has been and continues to be a reflection of society and current events.
Age is another factor that influences how fashion houses introduce trends. The fashion industry caters to both the young and old generations simultaneously and this has resulted in the need for diversity in business strategies and marketing approaches to satisfy the needs of retired consumers and millennial ones.
“With the evolution of society and fashion, age is considered as one of the important demographic variables which can have a deep influence on the purchase pattern on an individual.”
Researchers have studied, analysed, and identified buying behaviour that affects many consumer behaviours individually or collectively. These studies have shown that the ages of consumers have a significant impact on their behaviour because their age generally evidences what products they would be interested in purchasing. Generally, a person cannot consume the same product from the age of 20 to 60, in every stage. Hence, with age, the motive of purchase, the decisions to buy the products, and the consumers purchase option changes. Therefore, age significantly influences a consumer’s purchasing behaviour in the fashion industry.
Concerning sustainability and from the consumer behaviour’s point of view, the younger generations are paying growing attention to issues of sustainability. It has been established that Millennials and Generation-Z are influencing the perception of the fashion world because of the attention they pay to issues revolving around sustainability. The fashion industry is a major area of focus for these age groups. This confirms that the relevance of sustainability issues in the fashion industry is driving the demand of the younger generations most especially.
IncomeIncome is a major influencer and determinant of purchasing decisions because it affects what fashion pieces people can afford and how many pieces they can afford. For example, an individual with an income of $10, 000 will have purchasing limitations not peculiar to an individual with an income of $100,000. The income decides the purchasing power of an individual and thus, the more the income, the more the expenditure on other items and vice-versa. This theory applies to sustainability in the fashion industry. Due to the high cost of sustainable clothes, high earners can
afford to buy these pieces in variety. Hence, it is critical to consider these factors in consumer behaviour, as they greatly influence how people respond to marketing messages and make purchasing decisions.
“If the economic situation of a consumer is not good or stable it will affect his purchase power, in fact if the consumers or the economy of a nation is suffering a loss it defiantly affects the consumer’s purchase or spending decisions.”
Clothes made with sustainability in mind are generally more expensive than regular mass-produced clothing because of the expenses involved in using raw materials. This is a deterrent for lower-income earning consumers interested in purchasing sustainable clothes. However, buying recycled clothes, the ease of resale of clothes and the new business models of borrowing fashion pieces is now making it easier for low income earning consumers to adapt to sustainable fashion. The shift in consumer perception had also triggered fashion brands to start considering the possibility of upcycling their processes and products.
Sustainability is arguably the biggest concern in the fashion industry today and fashion brands are beginning to respond to consumer demands by employing a plethora of sustainable mechanisms throughout their entire production process. While sustainability is a relatively new phenomenon affecting consumer demand, other factors that have traditionally affected consumer purchasing behaviour, are still key considerations fashion brands take note of when creating products or services. From research, it has been discovered that these traditional factors, in particular, trends, age and income are important but have been coloured with sustainability orientations. In this foreground, it is evident that sustainability has cemented itself among other factors that fashion brands must consider in providing goods and services to consumers.
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Sinmisoluwa Adesanya is a highly driven final year law student at the University of Lagos. She is passionate about fashion law and corporate and commercial law which has led to internships in Tier-1 firms at local and international levels including Banwo&Ighodalo, Olaniwun Ajayi, Omaplex Law Firm, Latham & Watkins, and training at Goldman Sachs among others.
Her impressive leadership, legal research, and critical thinking skills have allowed her to serve as Director to two legal editorial boards, an ambassador to Microsoft, and WomenTech Network while functioning in other roles. She currently works as a researcher at the Council for International African Fashion Education and her goal is to educate undergraduates on various aspects of fashion law. In her leisure, she reads, takes courses, and travels.