The Conscious Consumer

  • Date 1st June 2021
  • Author Claire Bragg
The Conscious Consumer
How Major Brands are Supporting the Growing Wave of Conscious Consumerism

Since COVID-19 hit in early 2020, there’s been a marked change in consumer behaviour. Shoppers are not only gravitating online, they’re also showing increasing interest in the environmental and social impacts of their purchases. And it’s not only in fashion, but applicable across most categories and products. More shoppers are being driven towards sustainable and considered brands, and are even willing to forgo buying a brand name in order to purchase environmentally friendly products. So, how are brands responding to this growing wave of conscious consumerism? 

The “woke” consumer cares about the environment but isn’t wanting to stop shopping completely – and I don’t blame them! Instead, they’re looking to shop consciously. They want to make purchase decisions that don’t leave them plagued with guilt when they realise the dress they told themselves they “needed” ends up forgotten (with the tags attached) at the bottom of their wardrobe.

Fashion is an industry with an enormous amount of waste, especially fast fashion. Globally, we consume over 80 billion new pieces of clothing annually – a whopping 400% more than we did 20 years ago. The production of apparel generates 10% of global carbon emissions – making the fashion industry the second largest industrial polluter in the world. Once actually created, garments that end up in landfill can take a long time to break down – over 200 years, in fact. All this means consumers are searching for smart purchases and investing in high-quality, eco-friendly items that will stand the test of time – and won’t end up on the floor.

Increased education and interest from conscious consumers has been growing steadily over the years, particularly with younger shoppers. According to Nielsen, 73% of millennials are willing to spend more on a product that comes from a sustainable or socially conscious brand. 81% of them also expect brands to be talking about sustainability.

In response, brands all over the world – from fast-fashion chains to luxury designers – are adapting their brand image to align with eco-conscious values and capture the all-important younger market. Several brands have signalled their intent to focus on environmentally friendly packaging and source environmentally friendly supply chains this year. Whether they’re upcycling, recycling or reusing materials, apparel brands are finding ways to reduce their environmental impact – and then tell their customers about it, of course. Witness the recent Adidas/AllBirds collaboration for a prime example of this: a shoe with a carbon footprint smaller than a Big Mac.

This year, online luxury fashion retailer Farfetch reported four times the usual traffic year on year to its ‘conscious’ pages. Its re-sale service ‘Second Life’ also grew 527% year on year. Such rapid growth points to the shifting mindset of consumers and their growing prioritisation of environmental and ethical considerations.

In Australia, online retailer The Iconic launched a ‘Considered’ edit in April 2019 consisting of sustainable items, and it’s working to meet sustainability goals by 2025. Currently, almost 500 brands are included in the edit and 39% of customers have purchased items from it. As of May 2020, The Iconic’s shipping packaging is now made of 100% recycled content. The Iconic’s success with sustainable items shows a preference for sustainable fashion is not necessarily limited to luxury shoppers.

Fast-fashion retailer Glassons also launched a sustainable product line this year. Currently, a third of their products are sustainable, while they work towards having a 50% sustainable product line by the end of 2021.

But while the movement towards sustainability is admirable, at the end of the day, even the “greenest” apparel leaves an environmental impact. For instance, if I went and bought three on-trend, sustainable coats from Glassons instead of one higher-priced, but higher-quality coat that lasts longer, is this truly sustainable? When we really scrutinise brands’ attempts to market themselves as sustainable, these values don’t always line up with their unique selling proposition. Glassons’ USP, for instance – affordable, on-trend fast fashion – is a concept which, at its core, isn’t sustainable, as it produces unearthly amounts of waste each year.

Consumers are becoming more aware of these inconsistencies and shopping accordingly. More than 46% of global consumers surveyed by WARC Admap in 2019 said they would be willing to forgo a brand name in order to buy environmentally friendly products. Marketers are reportedly more aware of this – and are saying that conscious consumerism and sustainability (dubbed ‘The Greta Effect’) will influence marketing strategies over the next year.

Yet, as they do, I think brands need to find ways of communicating with consumers without coming across as inauthentic or as simply pandering to consumer’s needs. Sustainability initiatives – and the way they’re presented to consumers – need to be led by a clear, considered strategy. They also need to align with your brand’s values and get to the heart of what has become such a crucial issue.

Brands like Patagonia have long championed the shift to conscious consumerism and the reduction of fashion waste. The brand has been vocal about its commitment to work for environmental change, yet realistic about its ability to change at pace. Patagonia recently announced it would no longer add corporate logos to their garments in an effort to promote the reuse of their clothing. According to the company, using one of its garments for two additional years can reduce that garment’s carbon footprint by 82%.

Patagonia’s refreshingly honest response to environmentalism, as witnessed in its “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign, has had an overwhelmingly positive response. In fact, it was the number 1 brand in the 2021 Axios Harris Poll 100 reputation rankings, and the only fashion brand to make the top 10. Perhaps if more brands adopted such an honest approach to environmentalism, they would also be rewarded with customer loyalty.

How do you think brands should approach sustainability, and who else is doing it well? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Just drop us a line at