Redefining Conscious Consumption in The Age of Covid-19

Redefining Conscious Consumption in The Age of Covid-19

Written by Sufiana SharuddinApril 28, 2020

Redefining Conscious Consumption in The Age of Covid-19

In our article ‘What Does Covid-19 Mean for Sustainability’, we explained how Covid-19 has shone a light on sustainability issues that were further amplified by the crisis. Fashion Revolution, an organisation committed to making the fashion industry more transparent, has recently revealed its Fashion Transparency Index 2020

The index ranks the world’s most transparent fashion brands based on information disclosed on their social and environmental policies, as well as supply chain traceability. This year, H&M, C&A and Adidas were the three most transparent brands in the industry – overall, there has been a 3% uplift in brand transparency across the fashion industry from 2019.

The report highlights the growing number of consumers interested in ethical and sustainable issues and how this affects consumer behaviour. Naturally, this has motivated brands to further push their green agendas to gain the favour of more conscious shoppers – especially in a time like now, when brand loyalty matters the most. 

Here are some ways brands are bringing conscious consumption to the forefront of their businesses. 

Full Disclosure 

One of the key considerations in the Index is supply chain accountability. At the core of a  transparent supply chain is the ability to share in-depth information on how products are made.

H&M, which has consistently ranked on the Index since 2017, is one of the most transparent brands in terms of supply chain visibility. The H&M group website has an entire page dedicated to the brand’s sustainability commitments, where it discloses the full list of suppliers and manufacturers it works with. The list currently includes tier-2 suppliers and the group has shared that it will provide information on its dyeing and printing facilities by 2021, making their supply chain accountability even greater. This is an impressive feat for a brand like H&M considering the scale and the complexity of its production. 

The second way brands are tackling supply chain transparency is by going deep into fabric composition and materialisation. A heated topic under scrutiny within the industry is the use of non-biodegradable materials such as synthetic fibres that pollute the environment. This is an especially troubling issue for activewear brands that require polyester for the majority of their products.

Redefining Conscious Consumption in The Age of Covid-19 - Adidas' Parley recycled plastic shoe range
Adidas’ range of sneakers made of recycled ocean waste. Image source: Adidas.com

Well-known activewear brand, Outdoor Voices has successfully found sustainable alternatives to many conventional poly-blend materials, some of which were specifically created for the brand. Adidas is taking a similar approach in replacing nearly 40% of its use of virgin plastic with either recycled materials or a more organic substitute. 

Redefining Conscious Consumption in The Age of Covid-19 - Sell-out performance of Adidas' products made of recycled materials
Sell-out performance of Adidas’ products made of recycled materials. Source: Omnilytics Dashboard

Data has shown that these efforts are paying off. Since 1st March, Omnilytics detected 242 new Adidas SKUs made of recycled plastic with more than 84% of those items selling out at full-price. Top categories include activewear tops, outerwear followed by sneakers. 

Increasing Shelf Life 

In an attempt to reduce wastage, many brands are also taking initiatives to prolong the lifecycles of their products. 

Denim brand, Madewell is offering three sustainable methods for bringing a new life to its products – any Madewell product can be repaired, recycled or even donated to create housing insulation for communities in need. Efforts like this allow products to avoid landfill and move towards a circular lifecycle. 

Another trend on the rise in sustainable fashion is resale. In the past few years, there has been huge headway made in the secondhand market with an increasing number of brands and retailers venturing into ‘re-commerce’. From Depop to Poshmark, there are several major names in this niche that target all segments of the fashion industry.

Redefining Conscious Consumption in The Age of Covid-19 - See You Tomorrow by Nordstrom
See You Tomorrow by Nordstrom’s assortment ranges from accessible brands to designer names. Image source: Sytnordstrom.com


The latest retailer to join the resale bandwagon is Nordstrom. Its new ‘See You Tomorrow’ store is a finely curated collection of returned Nordstorm goods that have been refurbished and cleaned to resell. The website and the physical store were launched at the end of January, just before the virus outbreak in the US. While it’s still too soon to judge the effectiveness of this new business model, it could be a direction that more retailers take in the future due to inventory problems caused by the Covid-19 crisis. 

Fashion on Lease 

Undeniably the crisis’ impact on the economy will create lasting change to consumer behaviours. In a time where fixed assets are being depreciated, owning a designer handbag or an expensive watch is less significant than having cash-on-hand. As reported earlier, the luxury resale market in Hong Kong is booming, as consumers rush to liquidate their luxury goods amid recession concerns. 

Shifting attitudes on product ownership means brands can no longer push constant newness and will have to look at fresh ways to communicate. One of the possibilities is exploring a greater emphasis on rental-based retail models. 

When rental fashion was first introduced nearly 10 years ago, it was met with strong scepticism as consumers doubted the quality and hygiene aspects of the items. However, rental fashion companies have made great advancements since then with various quality control processes in place that reassure consumers. 

One of the early adopters of this trend was Rent The Runway which offers a monthly subscription to receive four new designer items monthly. Other big names in this space include Stitch Fix, Le Tote and Banana Republic’s new venture ‘Style Passport’.

The Business of Fashion summarised, the pros and cons of rental fashion services and how they can be improved, with the general consensus being that while there are some trade-offs to the system, it is a more affordable way to shop. 

What’s Next?

As the market remains volatile due to Covid-19, brands may be struggling to stay committed to these greener, more ethical values, however, this period calls for greater transparency than ever. 

With consumers currently unable to interact with brands in person, having in-depth information on supply chain or sustainable practices play a larger role in the customer journey, conveying the brand’s wider values.

In tough times, consumers are often only loyal to brands that align with their own sentiments . This crisis is a call to action for brands to do so.

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