Sustainable fashion: first quarter 2021 snapshot

The last 12 months have radically reshaped the fashion industry, but sustainability remains one of the sector’s favorite buzzwords — and one of its most intractable challenges.

Key takeaways

• Sustainable fashion has been less of a focus for Zara in the first quarter of 2021 compared with 2020. However, both H&M and Mango have increased their share of sustainable fashion collections.

• Sustainable dresses are less hot this quarter than blouses and shirts. Sustainable denim, on the other hand, is gaining popularity.

 Sustainable fashion does not necessarily mean expensive fashion —  especially at Zara and C&A. 

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Are there more Sustainable Fashion articles this year than in 2020? 

Among mass-market top brands, only the Spanish names —  Zara and Mango — have increased their number of new arrivals in the first quarter of 2021 compared with 2020. H&MUniqlo, and C&A went in the opposite direction, and decreased their level of new-ins compared with 2020 by 30%, on average. 

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However, we observe that brands that had a high share of sustainable articles in their collections in 2020 — like Zara and C&A — significantly decreased their sustainability share in favor of the regular collections this year.

In contrast, companies for which the sustainable collection in the first quarter of 2020 accounted for a smaller portion of new arrivals noticeably increased their share within their new arrivals of 2021. 

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It’s essential to highlight that this analysis is based on the retailers’ “sustainable collections,” — the ones they label as sustainable fashion, such as JOIN LIFE, Conscious, Committed, Sustainable Choice, and Wear the Change. 

In the case of the global number-one retailer, Uniqlo, the brand doesn’t have one specific label dedicated to its sustainable collection. Still, it invests a lot in its materials, supply chain, and processes directly — recycling clothing, for one.  Is this part of the Japanese brand’s strategy to stand out from its peers? 


What’s hot among Sustainable-Fashion new arrivals? 

As usual, we find lots of t-shirts, as this is the most-represented category in general within sustainable-fashion collections. 

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Denim is gaining in popularity — especially at Mango, with its brand-new sustainable denim collection. Also, as we are still in the winter season, knitwear and outdoor articles are popular. 

In contrast, dresses, which are the number-one category for women, account for 3% of the new arrivals on average, while blouses and trousers are gaining assortment shares. This is most likely due to the effects of the pandemic — working from home is still the new norm.


Does Sustainable Fashion automatically mean higher price points? 

One would expect that better fabrics — especially more sustainable ones — would lead to higher price points.  But at Zara and C&A, we’re seeing the opposite. Though these sustainable collections comprise less fashion-oriented articles, the offers still primarily include basics that can be worn all year long — thus lowering the price compared with the regular collection, which included trendy articles made of materials that are not necessarily sustainable. 

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As a relatively new player in the sustainable-fashion game, Mango’s sustainable collection shows that sustainability can work with its regular target price, without appearing too expensive or cheaper than its usual price strategy. Only H&M offers a sustainable-fashion collection at a higher price than its regular collection.


Sustainable Fashion is here to stay —but there’s still work to be done

The sustainability issue includes many different challenges, such as resale, supply-chain optimization, and sourcing, to name a few. Still, what consumers see first are the new collections. In this area of hyper-consumption, it’s essential to demonstrate that sustainable fashion collections do not necessarily mean un-trendy nor too expensive. 

Find out more about how to optimize your collections. Get in touch to speak to one of our fashion specialists today. 

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