Delving into the realm of sustainable fashion can feel a lot like time traveling to the Wild West – pivotal change appears within reach, but no one seems to know the rules, or whom to trust.
And that’s a challenge for so-called “conscious consumers” who care as much for what goes on their bodies as what goes inside. If you’re genuinely concerned about people and the planet, and the impact of the products you consume, you might be this breed of shopper — whose emergence is largely due to the vast, sweeping changes that characterized most of 2020, and which resulted in a catalyzing and prolific transformation for global fashion.
To shop consciously means to first think about consumption itself, says Tricia Carey, who’s the Director of Global Business Development for Apparel, at Lenzing Fibers. “It can be overwhelming for consumers to sort through information and know where to begin to lower environmental impact and support socially responsible companies. It all starts with conscious consumption.”
It could be argued that the very foundation of conscious consumerism, at least in part, is an undying need for transparency – and at a time when we’re all sifting through thousands of sustainable brands in an oversaturated market, truth in fashion has never been sexier.
The yearning for transparency is primed for a rapidly rising and readied market: In a Global Consumer Perception Survey on Sustainability in Apparel and Home Textiles, conducted by Lenzing Fibers earlier this year, over 9,000 shoppers were polled worldwide (image-conscious shoppers, that is, who value sustainability-related products, actions, and practices) to assess their demand for greater transparency and sustainability.
The data suggest that conscious consumerism is having more than a moment.
According to the survey, over 80 percent of respondents said they are “extremely/very interested” in sustainable fashion, while 86 percent said that the use of sustainable, raw materials equated to a more sustainable lifestyle. Half of the respondents said they would be more likely to purchase a product described as “eco-friendly” or “natural,” with over 60 percent citing recyclability and biodegradability as major influences in product selection.
In tackling this topic, it’s important to consider that consciousness, in all its forms, begins with awareness. That means it’s likely that anyone seeking sustainable apparel is actively – and regularly – educating themselves about sustainability. The survey revealed that reading product labels is cool again.
For clothing, specifically, the shift includes a desire to learn more about production processes (76 percent of those polled); reading hangtags for greater context about a product (88 percent); and paying a premium (an average of 40 percent more) for sustainable products – and, the numbers are almost identical in the bedding and home textiles category, adopting a more sustainable lifestyle has great appeal all across the board.
But the interest in sustainability goes a bit deeper beneath the surface: 83 percent of shoppers are curious about ingredient use; 82 percent want to know more about production processes and the origin and sourcing of raw materials; and 81 percent are interested in companies’ sustainable practices.
That’s where material science comes in – and TENCEL™ branded fibers, which Lenzing says “touch every part” of shoppers’ lives, can be found in denim, footwear, casual wear, activewear, ready to wear, intimates, functional wear, outdoor wear and bedding.
Carey says that “Lenzing, the producer of TENCEL™ branded fibers, uses sustainably sourced natural raw material wood and environmentally responsible processes to reduce our environmental footprint.”
TENCEL™ branded fibers offer shoppers a slew of sought-after premium features, such as details regarding botanic origin, sustainable production, gentle, long-lasting softness, enhanced breathability, color retention and biodegradability.
Typically touted for their natural comfort and soft hand, Lenzing’s TENCEL™ branded lyocell fibers are easily blended with an impressive range of textile fibers, such as cotton, polyester, nylon, wool and silk. Its highly flexible TENCEL™ branded modal fibers enhance textiles when blended with other fibers to significantly improve softness and the comfort of fabrics.
And part of consciously consuming is about supporting the environment itself. Lenzing entered a new frontier when it recently announced the introduction of the first TENCEL™ Lyocell and Modal fibers to the market, following wider corporate commitments made by Lenzing in 2019 to propel sustainability initiatives and goals forward. Lenzing says it followed the strict guidelines of The CarbonNeutral® Protocol, a global framework for carbon neutrality, to calculate and offset the emissions associated with the fibers’ production, manufacturing and distribution.
The new developments are part of a longer-term “true carbon zero” campaign focused on “achieving carbon-zero in the long run.” Lenzing says its guidance by approved industry Science Based Targets helped facilitate the firm’s transition to its carbon-zero journey, explaining that it will “deploy four key levers that cover energy efficiency, reduction of fossil fuel use, integration of pulp and fiber production facilities and ongoing investment in new technologies to reduce carbon emissions.”
If these expected outcomes sound ambitious, they are. Lenzing’s goals include reducing carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030 while becoming net carbon-zero by 2050, “as the brand actively reduces the product’s carbon footprint engages industry partners and offsets unavoidable carbon emissions.”
Florian Heubrandner, Vice President of Global Business Management Textiles at Lenzing, says that the transition will help increase awareness of greenwashing and other pitfalls that could stem from growing pains.
“This is a new step forward for Lenzing’s overall corporate goal, enabling us to assist supply chain partners and motivate textile brands in reassessing carbon emissions in their production lines,” Heubrandner explains. “Looking forward, we will continue to diversify our product portfolio following stringent internal guidelines that help to avoid greenwashing and involves consumers in the carbon-neutral discussion.”
Meanwhile, Carey emphasized the importance of organizations and initiatives that support sustainability, such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which businesses and brands use as a yardstick for success when taking critical steps toward becoming sustainable and combatting climate change.
“We use the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a framework for our approach to people and the planet,” Carey says. “Through collaborations with industry stakeholders, we use our global network for impactful change.”
Robert van de Kerkhof, Chief Commercial Officer at Lenzing Group, also stressed the significance of brands’ relationships to like-minded organizations whose shared goal is to bring sustainability back to basics. “In parallel, we will continue to work with different partners, from brands and designers to NGOs, to build a more effective ecosystem that strives to achieve the common goal of carbon neutrality. While we continue to support our partners in their journey towards carbon-neutral, we encourage everyone to join our ‘true carbon zero’ movement.”
Spending and Values
Back to basics also means realigning spending and values. The enduring lifestyle changes from the coronavirus pandemic led to profound changes in spending, particularly in outdoor wear and denim. “The pandemic pause has allowed for a reflection concerning the planet and people,” Carey says. “We see how interconnected we are as global citizens raising questions about our consumption priorities, as well as where and how products are made.”
And in tandem with vagaries in product wants and needs, Carey says the COVID-19 pandemic has, in many ways, positively influenced our mindsets.
“Fashion represents the mood of the times. Now lifestyles are altered with remote work, less travel, and limited events,” she adds. “There is a fundamental consumer shift in which comfort and ease are of greatest significance. Active and outdoor styles, with multifunctional knits, combined with casualwear and relaxed denim, is key to shoppers today.”
Gary Lenett, founder at denim brand DUER, says TENCEL™ branded fibers were a natural choice for his brand wanting to invest in sustainable materials. “When I was looking into fabrics to use for our product, I wanted to ensure we were using materials that were technical, durable and eco-friendly.”
“TENCEL™ Lyocell fibers is plant-derived and developed through a closed-loop production process – meaning the water used is recycled with fewer chemicals are required. For me, the selection process for materials relies on finding the perfect blend that will produce garments that will last forever, which in combination with our future-looking initiatives, decreases our environmental impact. We create pants that are made with sustainable materials but are meant to be worn sustainably – you only need one pair to wear again and again.”
And Jordan Nodarse, Creative Director at Boyish Denim, a sustainable denim brand based in Los Angeles, told WWD, TENCEL™ Lyocell and REFIBRA™ Technology is an essential fiber in Boyish jeans, tee’s, and sweatshirts. The circular manufacturing cycle of TENCEL™ utilizing 99.5 percent of the water and chemicals in the pulp processing is very impressive along with the eucalyptus trees only needing one-fifth the amount of land usage in comparison to other thirsty crops like cotton.”
“This sort of passion for efficiency, circularity, and sustainability is what drives Boyish to continue to blend these fibers into almost every product we produce,” Nodarse added.
In Brands We Trust
In the current environment, trust is playing a more significant role in the new consumer mindset. And confidence in a brand’s sustainability is comprised of three key elements, according to Lenzing’s survey: raw material use, environmental impact (both at 87 percent), and whether the product was produced sustainably (86 percent), all of which can be conveyed to shoppers through transparency.
But trustworthiness as a prerequisite for loyalty shouldn’t come as a surprise. Lenzing’s survey respondents said commitments to using sustainable raw materials; transparency in raw materials; products passing quality control; the use of recycled materials; and transparency in production processes, in that order, are the top five features that define a trustworthy brand – which speaks volumes about where the market is headed.
“With the increase in digital shopping and social media marketing, there is more opportunity to communicate about the environmental and social aspects of apparel. Shoppers use their wallet to voice concerns and are demanding to know more about the products they purchase,” Carey says.
Lenzing’s TENCEL™ branded fibers touch a wide array of brand categories through its partnerships with retail brands and supply chain partners you’ve heard of – Amour Vert, Aritzia, H&M, Levi’s, Madewell, Mara Hoffman, Marine Layer, Patagonia, Reformation and The North Face, to name only a few – making its product a clear-cut force in the sustainability market and a resource for shoppers wanting to shift into conscious consumerism – or a more sustainable way of life.
The first step in becoming a conscious consumer is familiarizing yourself with verified, trusted brands, while supporting TENCEL™ branded fibers on social media with the #MakeItFeelRight and #FeelsSoRight campaigns — which are both focused on positive change.
Where to Buy
It’s also important to peruse verified, sustainable brands directly at the source: Fashion and lifestyle brands using TENCEL™ branded fibers can be accessed through the company’s online platform, which features an extensive selection of sustainable brands for shoppers.
TENCEL™ branded fibers continue to expand via partnerships with the brands consumers know and trust. Check out the company’s ‘Where to Buy’ page as new brands are added every week. Carey also says the TENCEL™ brand is “woven into the stories these brands tell as a quality and responsible ingredient.”
And for conscious consumers wanting a bit of guidance, Carey says to consider each moment of the shopping process from product inception to disposal. “Invest in the best available quality, ask questions, and read labels. Consider not only what products are made of, but also what happens when you no longer want to use. Products like TENCEL™ branded fibers are natural in origin from a renewable raw material, are comfortable, soft – and are biodegradable or compostable.”