Market Intelligence Reveals Ethical Fashion as Future Frontrunner 

Fast fashion is on its way out, with ethical fashion making strides as the future frontrunner in our sustainability-minded world. Market intelligence reveals how this conversation is trending and what retailers should watch for in the coming months.

We’ll take a long look at the sustainable fashion industry and emerging trends within it. As well:

  • Sustainability looks good on you – ethical fashion gets trendy
  • A day in the sun for thrift stores
  • Bridging the gap between fast fashion and sustainable fashion

And here are some stats around the whole “repurposing” conversation in general:

  • The EPA estimates that clothing and other textiles make up 5% of landfill waste
  • The ethical fashion market is expected to grow to twice the size of fast fashion by 2029
  • Thrifting is gaining speed, seeing an increase of 10% in second-hand clothing sales


Ethical Fashion for Future Fashionistas

Society is consuming at a faster rate than ever before. All eyes are focused on where things go after we dispose of them, and how they came to be in the first place. And it’s these issues that have placed fast fashion in the spotlight.

We are increasingly disconnected from the people who make our clothing. Ninety-seven percent of it is done overseas by roughly 40 million garment workers who do not share the same rights or protections that westerners do. They are underpaid and overworked. And that’s just one part of the conversation.

The EPA estimates that clothing and other textiles make up 5% of landfill waste – with Americans alone sending over 20 billion pounds of textiles to landfills each year. Lead to the inevitable rise in sustainable and ethical fashion as emerging trends of 2020. Particularly with the events of past year changing consumer behavior purchasing patterns. In fact, sustainable fashion is expected to grow to twice the size of fast fashion by 2029 and the ethical fashion market reached $6.35 billion in 2019. The terms ethical fashion and sustainable fashion are largely interchangeable, with ethical sourced kindly and sustainable using reusable or less damaging materials.

Market intelligence reveals conversations surrounding this double-threat trend, with fashion designers for sustainability and conversation around fast fashion vs ethical fashion taking center stage:


This is what we’re seeing in news and blogs, so let’s dig a little deeper for consumer activity. Sometimes what’s making waves in media is discussed differently by consumers. Understanding this difference helps brands understanding what’s important to these consumers.

For example, in December of 2020 there was a large spike of interest supporting smaller, sustainability-minded artisans:


When you combine this with focus on supporting brands who are ethical in their practices, it boils down to an emphasis on the individual and humanity. Issues of slave labor and carbon footprint impact our lives and consumers seek brands that are showing transparency there. And The Ethical Fashion Initiative is one place they’re watching with interest:


This company partners with everyone from marginalized artisans from the developing world to international fashion houses – and for mutual benefit.

Also on the consumer radar are resale companies, or as they are being referred to lately – online thrift stores. Patagonia, among others, are making waves and progress in this sustainable thrift subsector.

Online Thrift Shops Shaping the Conversation

Thrifting is gaining speed, seeing an increase of 10% in second-hand clothing sales. And it boasts environmental benefits such as cutting carbon emissions per ton of clothing by three percent, and water by four percent.

Seventy percent of consumers agree that addressing climate change is critical, and online thrift stores are coming to the aid of economically conscience consumers looking to support businesses whose beliefs align with their own. And Patagonia Worn Wear sits high on consumers sentiment radar. They take donated used clothing and recraft them into new pieces, adding that artisan touch. And they are presently leading in labor policies which has helped them generate 57% more interest on resale stores like ThredUp.

But it’s Poshmark that is strutting their stuff, capturing the most mentions on social platforms.


Poshmark presently has 22% more active sellers than Etsy. How? Part of Poshmark’s success is its ability to pivot as needed when emerging trends in retail require a quick change, such as the shift to sustainable fashion.

Poshmark does offer personalized curation, but it doesn’t hold inventory like thredUp, allowing it to adapt for example, from promoting athleisure to vintage looks based on consumer demand.

And it doesn’t require any retail expertise from their sellers to join in on the sales, making it desirable for those who have a small amount of clothing in their closet they want to resell:


Though, don’t worry about ThreadUp. In May shoppers spent 2.2 million hours browsing ThredUp which is a 31% increase post-COVID. Resale platforms like this, including Depop, eBay and even luxury resale shops such as Maeven Vintage and Persephone are also sought after stores in the online market.

Both Depop and eBay are desirable because it’s resale, but Maeven and Persephone also offer shipping through Etsy, which offsets 100% of their shipping emissions – making it a double win for sustainable style seekers. What does that mean – ‘offsetting emission’? From Etsy: “It means that for any carbon emissions released into our atmosphere as a result of shipping items on Etsy, we invest in projects that reduce carbon emissions by the same amount.”

Consumer intelligence reveals our forward-thinking fashionistas are feeling nothing but love, happiness and confidence when they shop sustainable. And doing so creates a euphoric feeling as opposed to feelings of guilt created by choosing non-sustainable options.


However, there’s another conversation happening underneath all of this and it’s centered around accessibility for all – and how thrifting fits in.

Is Thrift Shopping Accessible to Everyone?

With resale expected to overtake the traditional thrift and donation segment by 2024, it has people asking how affordable it will be to them.

And this is central to discussion when we look at consumer experience research revealed by consumer intelligence. Much of the conversation in the past year has been about wealthier individuals snapping up affordable eco-fashion, only to resell at a profit, therefore those in lower income brackets can’t afford even second-hand items.


It’s the mentality of excess that is being called into question; You may use sustainable channels but if you’re buying to upsell – how ethical or sustainable are you really?


Brands will want to bridge this gap by addressing it, as it is a source of discontent and a bit of a controversy. Consumer analysis reveals thrifting is seen overall as an affordable option, however those that see it as expensive could hold a lot of sway whether their opinions can be verified or not – and that could dissuade customers from event attempting to buy.


Any negative sentiment left to stew, can potentially damage a brand in the long run, so staying informed by using consumer intelligence to analyze social media will be important. It helps brands to get to the bottom of an issue before it grows and turn things around with a disgruntled consumer.

Is your brand ready to be better informed and see where it can fit into the sustainable conversation? Contact us for information on how consumer and market intelligence can aid you in standing out and up for ethical fashion and sustainability in your industry – and how to best showcase this effort to your target audience.

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