Profile of who is into clothes upcycling
Hello! It is my pleasure to discuss the demographics of individuals interested in clothes upcycling. A Google search for “clothes upcycling” returned nearly a million (995,000) results, and experts are calling the trend “the newest wave of sustainable fashion” and terming it “eco-fashion”. These articles include a huge number featuring do-it-yourself home projects for turning your own old clothes into newly-designed clothing. For this query, we’ll begin with some basics of the clothing upcycling market as a whole, then focus more specifically on the demographics you have requested.
A great article by Triple Pundit talks about how much of your clothing ends up in the waste stream and how upcycling can reduce this impact on our natural world. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, since billions of new garments are created every year – using mountains of textiles – around 6% of the total municipal solid waste generated in the US is from your old clothes! This equates to every American throwing away an average of 60 pounds of used clothing each year! Women are the largest consumers in the fashion industry, translating to there being seven times more women’s clothing being thrown away than men’s.
Alternate options (besides upcycling) include donating your clothes to charity thrift stores. Unfortunately, only about 20% - 30% of these items are actually re-sold. The remainder of the clothing is deemed “unsell-able” and is shipped to developing countries, which are becoming inundated with old and often unwearable textiles. This option still focuses on the waste-type economy (use and discard instead of mending, sharing), which is not ideal. Instead, upcycling focuses on reducing two types of waste:
• Pre-consumer waste, in the form of fabric pieces leftover from production work, and
• Post-consumer waste, such as turning an old jacket into a skirt.
Since EcoFashionTalk reports that the mainstream fashion industry discards an average of 15% of their unused production materials, think of the amount of waste upcycling will reduce!
Triple Pundit reports just what my quick Google search showed – the world of upcycling is exploding! A few notable companies and events in the upcycling market include:
• Zass Design – Jewelry is made from overlooked materials
• Little Grey Line – Men old work shirts are turned into girls’ dresses
• Project Repat – Quilts created out of old t-shirts
• From Somewhere – Post-industrial waste textiles (from high-end Italian mills) are turned into clothing (London)
• Junky Styling – Secondhand suits are turned into women’s clothing
• Asiatica – Post-consumer kimonos are created from upcycled western clothing
• Reformation – Sustainable and vintage fabrics are turned into women’s fashion
• Patagonia’s Common Threads – Turning leftovers into new clothing
• American Apparel’s Creative Reuse Line – Turning leftovers into new clothing
• Urban Outfitter’s Urban Renewal Line – Thrift store items are turned into one-of-a-kind designs
• Designer Stella McCartney – Textile recycling program (London)
• Goodwill’s William Good – Uses laser cutting to apply appliques on upcycled clothing
• Redress Raleigh’s Annual Spring Eco-Fashion Show – Features innovate eco-fashion designers
Some of the most interesting trends in the expanding eco-fashion and upcycling industry include the following:
• Digital printing onto reclaimed fabric
• Sonic equipment used to reshape or embellish polyester
• Electro-luminescent paste used in overprinting to give new function to secondhand substrates
• Laser technology used to resurface or apply decoration effects
Gail Jeanne Myers’ Whitepaper on the Acceptance of Upcycled Clothes by Female Consumers (Aged 25 to 65), published in April 2014, reports that upcycling previously-owned clothing or creating new garments from unused textiles is the way for the fashion industry to become more eco-friendly and contribute to a sustainable society. Additionally, the report discusses that working toward a somewhat planned obsolescence of old clothing can work to stimulate the American economy, just as it did during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Her report also cites some of the issues and trends related to the industry:
• Consumers feel guiltier about throwing away expensive items, while cheaper clothes are very easily thrown away. In our current culture, people will work hard to recycle things like plastic bags, but think nothing of throwing away old clothing.
• There has been a 67% increase in the amount of clothing donated to charity thrift stores since 2001 (though remember – only about 20% - 30% of these items are re-homed).
• Consumers are not very aware of the environment impact created by the fashion industry or by the processes involved in cotton production or the creation of man-made fibers, like Rayon.
• The fashion industry has changed its market push tactics to evolve rapidly with the ever-changing marketplace that is fast fashion – and are now producing new designs (and articles of clothing) much more often and much faster than in previous history.
• Research shows that just over 30% of fashion consumers want the refashioned nature of upcycled clothes to be obvious, while 70% would prefer they be the same as “regular clothes”.
• 27% of people surveyed by Lee and Sevier in 2008 indicated that they would pay more for ethically-produced clothing. In this awakening world eight years after that survey was conducted, that figure is sure to be significantly higher.
Also according to Myers’ research, current market studies show conflicting information about the demographics of the eco-fashion market, though since we mentioned that seven times more items are created for women than men, we can logically assume that the largest market share is dominated by women. Some studies indicate that the younger consumers make up the majority of the market because they are more open to the general idea of recycling. While other research indicates that more mature women who understand the concept of recycling take up the larger market share.
Myers’ research identifies four types of consumers for fashion products: Those who never recycle and are concerned most about the brand and latest styles, and then those that are termed “economy recyclers” who are motivated by price and value, while considering themselves fashion followers. The third category is the “charity recycler”, which indicates a woman who is concerned about durability and quality, who donates to help others, and also considers herself to be fashion-conscious. The fourth category is the “environmental recycler” who reuses and/or donates out of concern for the planet and our environment. These consumers are keenly attuned to prices and appreciate good customer service from their fashion vendors.
With regard to price-points, research showed that more mature women were willing to pay higher prices for more eco-friendly products, especially if they were in the “married with children” category. While Millennials, who are generally the most civic-minded and socially-conscious generation yet, are somewhat programmed to buy into eco-fashion, studies showed that women over the age of 50 were more focused on the environmental impacts of fashion – and more likely to be consumers of this type of product.
Other research indicated that age and education level made a difference in consumers who made more eco-friendly purchases. Women with higher education levels are more environmentally-friendly and engaged with Earth-saving causes, and are more willing to put their knowledge into practice – providing they are also being made comfortable, saving time, and saving money. The “greenest women” (or those who are most likely to purchase eco-fashion) are those who are better educated older females who are liberally-oriented and who make higher incomes. Another report shows that white-collar, well-educated females are most likely to purchase eco-fashion products. Additionally, studies indicate that green purchasing behaviors can also be based on the consumer’s economic, personal, and social well-being (read: a happier customer is a shopp-ier customer).
Additionally, other research indicates that Baby Boomer females tend to shop more frequently in higher-end department stores, while Millennials most often shop at discount retailers. For Generation X women, chain stores were where the most frequently shopped for clothing.
One additional item of note: According to Nielsen, 55% of global online consumers (in 60 surveyed countries) indicated that they would pay higher prices for products (and services) produced by companies who are socially- and environmentally-positive in their impacts. The regions with the highest propensity for this type of spending is the Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and Middle East/Africa regions. Since 52% of survey respondents indicated that their purchasing decisions were based on a products packaging (and/or marketing) in noting that the item was made with a social conscience. The report also details a year-over-year analysis that indicates slight increases in the sales of products that used either sustainably-noted packaging and/or marketing pushes. Nielsen indicates that Millennials are the most responsive to sustainability actions by brands. They also indicate that, in these global regions, Millennials are four times more likely than Gen Xers and twelve times more likely than Baby Boomers to be influenced by a company’s sustainability actions.
The Natural Marketing Institute ranks LOHAS (levels of health and sustainability) in consumers into five categories which form a bell curve with those most concerned about environmental sustainability on one end and those least concerned on the other (the percentages for those are close to the same). However, the information they’ve collected on this market (which would apply to the eco-fashion industry) is scattered and varied. For each type of consumer they’ve identified, there are wide ranges in education, living situations, and income. So, with all the varying data out there, identifying the specific type of consumer for this market seems like a nearly-impossible task.
However, all research points to the following as the ideal demographic profile of a consumer of eco-fashion (and potentially upcycled clothing):
• Female (age does not seem to be too discerning of a factor)
• More educated
• Exhibits higher than average levels of social consciousness or concern for the environment
• Is practical, including with fashion spending habits and buying choices
• May display higher-than-average concern for personal health and wellness (and choose more “natural products”)
Thank you again for your question, and I hope this gives you what you need. Please Ask Wonder again for any other questions you may have!