How do we engage the uninterested?

A good portion of the sustainable fashion movement is dedicated to educating consumers on making better buying choices. But, what can be done when a consumer is already educated and still doesn’t change their shopping habits? As it turns out, this is a real concern, especially when looking at topics vital for the progress of sustainable fashion, such as circularity.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that fashion contributes to the climate crisis, some consumers don’t care.

  • There is a group of consumers that know fashion is unsustainable, believe something should be done about it, but don’t want make an effort to change.

  • They are the ones that know fast fashion is causing an overflow of waste but still buy from Boohoo and ASOS because they have cheap, trendy clothing.

  • These uninterested consumers know that faux fur can be just as damaging and unethical as real fur but make excuses to defend why they still wear it.

  • It’s not a lack of education or general awareness stopping them from changing their shopping habits. Campaigns like Pay Up and Who Made My Clothes won’t make them question the supply chain behind their latest purchases. It is a lack of willingness to change that keeps this group of consumers from shopping more sustainability, even if they have the means to.

  • Of course, consumers who don’t have access to sustainable fashion or can’t afford it are discluded from this group of uninterested consumers.

“Bringing the threat closer to home” could help drive consumers to change.

  • It is easy to ignore social and environmental sustainability when it seems your community doesn’t need to invest in them.

  • But, the fashion industry is different from other industries in that it affects everyone around the world in some way.

  • Insufficient labor rights might seem confined to countries like Bangladesh and China, but in 2020 both Leicester, England and Los Angeles, U.S., were used as examples of unethical fashion manufacturing.

  • And excessive fashion production is not just causing a waste build-up in African countries, but due to COVID-19 and a disruption of the supply chain, warehouses in developed countries are also filled to the brim with used clothing that has nowhere to go.

  • The consequences of the unsustainable fashion industry are now at the front door for the consumers who have ignored the crisis in the past. Many experts hope that it will be a wake-up call, finally driving change among the previously uninterested.

Being “preached to” or “called out” can turn some consumers away, but it can also force change when done correctly.

  • It is a fine line between turning off consumers and engaging them in the sustainable fashion movement. That fine line is where inspiration lives.

  • Fashion is an industry that survives thanks to inspiration. Creativity, trends, and beauty keep consumers coming back for more each season.

  • That same inspiration can be used to engage the uninterested.

  • As influencers, media companies, and brands promote sustainability through creativity, trends, and beauty, consumers will naturally choose to change their habits because they have been inspired to do so by people or companies they admire.

  • In addition to that inspiration, some preaching may also need to coexist to inform consumers of the reasoning behind shopping changes.

  • Calling out can also be useful to hold others accountable. But, again, that accountability should go hand-in-hand with inspiration.

  • A combination of preaching and living what is preached can be an excellent way to appeal to a wide range of consumers.

While consumers are only a small part of the transition to sustainability, it is essential to get them engaged.

  • Brands indeed hold most of the responsibility for creating accessible, sustainable clothing, but some initiatives like circularity can't be executed to their fullest extent without consumers' involvement.

  • Right now, short term tactics like discounts and coupons are being used to entice consumers to engage.

  • Eventually, those tactics will become financially unsustainable.

  • Long term strategies like "bringing the threat closer to home" and "preach/inspire" need to be implemented, as well, to ensure that consumers stay engaged.

The Bottom Line:

People and companies in power need to reach out to the group of consumers already educated about sustainable fashion but not yet buying into it. Without engaging those consumers, change will be slow and capped.

Keep Reading:

Why people aren’t motivated to address climate change (Harvard Business Review)

How to talk about sustainable fashion without being preachy (Remake)

Clothes mountains build up as recycling breaks down (Reuters)

*The Green and Blue Journal is committed to inspiring change with the new section Shopping Guides: Making sustainable fashion fun and exciting*