Offering organic cotton, recycled polyester or other sustainably sourced garments is a great way to appeal to the growing contingent of environmentally aware consumers.
Compared to conventional cotton, organic has less chemical output in harvesting and manufacture, thus keeping the environment cleaner, and it allows for healthier work environments for agricultural workers. This is why apparel suppliers like econscious (asi/51656) in Petaluma, CA, believe it’s important. Organic cotton helps to reduce global warming, says Kriya Stevens, brand manager at econscious. “Organic farming pulls carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as much as three times the rate of conventional farming practices,” Stevens says. “Organic farming also releases less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere because it does not use chemical fertilizers and herbicides.”
The men’s zip hoody (EC5650) and women’s zip hoody (EC4501) from econscious are made of organic cotton and recycled polyester.
Recycled polyester is also a popular option for environmentally conscious shoppers. Recycled polyester is made of PET, a material found in water bottles, giving them a reason not to end up in a landfill. On top of that, it requires less energy to manufacture compared to typical polyester manufacture.
Other apparel makers have a different take on recycling. The Renewal Workshop, in Cascade Locks, OR, diverts discarded clothing from landfills, repairing or repurposing it for resale. The company, which raised more than $57,000 on Indiegogo last year, calls its products “renewed apparel.”
Who is looking to spend the money on sustainable apparel? Often, though not always, it’s younger buyers, says Mark Trotzuk, president and CEO of Boardroom Custom Clothing (asi/40705), a Canadian supplier with a focus on environmentally friendly apparel. According to the 2016 ASI Ad Impressions Study, 58% of those 18 to 21 say they view an advertiser more favorably when they receive an environmentally friendly promotional product. Only 38% of 45- to 54-year-olds surveyed felt the same way.
Lifestyle and outdoor brands, nonprofits and environmental organizations, travel, and even breweries and vineyards are among the markets that may have an interest in eco-friendly apparel, says Stevens of econscious. The common thread among companies that choose eco-friendly products above others is their commitment to ethical sourcing, Trotzuk says. “About 10% of the distributors that we work with have clients that specifically want sustainable products,” he adds. “These are people who are in positions where they can choose to make a difference, and they do every time.”
Nicole Bassett, co-founder of the Renewal Workshop, agrees that the target demographic is the “values-based or conscious” consumer. “These people are very aware of their spending habits and how they want their money to go toward companies that are doing good for the world.”
Organic and recycled apparel typically comes with a higher price tag because of how long it takes to be sustainable when such practices are still unpopular. Distributors and decorators must focus on upselling and highlighting the added value of such pieces. “Lead with the eco-friendly aspects of the products,” Trotzuk advises. Make sure clients also see the high quality of the apparel and understand how it will meet their specific needs. “Once a client understands that the products are comparable in quality and price, they will go with the sustainable product every time, as they inherently know that it is the right thing to do,” he adds.
Stevens recommends pointing out the longevity of well-made sustainable apparel that the end user will want to wear again and again. “[It’s] beneficial in terms of brand exposure and enhanced sustainability,” she says. “Longer life cycles equal a good use of resources.” For buyers interested in going deeper, econscious will share educational material about the environmental benefits of organic cotton or why it uses post-industrial cotton, Stevens adds.
More and more consumers are willing to “vote for responsible products with their wallets,” Stevens says. “Buyers are more educated than ever before, and increasingly see the benefit in associating what is arguably their most valuable asset, their brand, with environmentally responsible goods. In this age of instant everything — buying products that last takes on a deeper importance to the savvy buyer looking to differentiate themselves in a highly competitive market.”