[Journalism Internship] Consumers lead the way in brands’ journey toward sustainability

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[Journalism Internship] Consumers lead the way in brands’ journey toward sustainability

After Covid-19, the world of promotion has changed. Social media became even more ac- accessible and active. Many people boast about new products they bought and show off all the good things about them on social media, causing consumers to lead and control the market instead of the suppliers, and brands scramble to quickly respond to consumers’ needs and wants.
“Sustainability-conscious consumers.” Linda Kim, a fashion professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) at SUNY Korea in Songdo, Incheon, said that is how people nowadays, especially millennials and Generation Z, have started referring to themselves.  
This brought changes to the brand value of each company.  
Brand value was previously more directly related to the ethical concerns of the consumers. As the popularity of fast fashion brands skyrocketed, people started to become more aware of the growth of fast fashion, which has its own environmental issues. Pictures were shared across social media, and people were giving more attention to the problem.  
These days, new business entities are joining the clothing industry, and some decided to make sustainability their strength by producing sustainable products to appeal to consumers.
One such representative brand that manufactures sustainable products is Freitag, which uses fiber waste to make new products.  
In March, the World Economic Forum (WEF) reported that 75 percent of Gen Zers, born be- tween 1995 and 2010, responded in a survey that they consider the sustainability of products when making a purchase. The study shows a movement toward ethical concerns.  
Brands are responding to the demand for sustainable fashion to avoid potential boycotts. Vicki Kalb, an ESG and sustainability analyst at UBS Global Research, stated that profits of fast fashion retailers could decrease by about 10 to 30 percent within the next five to 10 years due to consumer behavioral changes about sustainability.
Brands are appealing to potential consumers by using alternative materials and conveying messages through their advertisements.
Renowned fashion brands including Nike and Adidas are now making products with recycled material and using renewable energy. H&M, one of the world’s most recognizable fast fashion brands, states “There are no rules in fashion but one: Recycle your clothes” in their advertisements, joining in on the sustainable fashion movement. However, experts argue that consumers must focus on the transparency of brands to accomplish true sustainable fashion.  
According to the Fashion Transparency Index 2021 by Fashion Revolution, only 18 percent of the top 250 fashion brands disclosed their data about absolute energy reduction in the supply chain, even though 79 percent of the brands had policies on energy and the emission of greenhouse gasses.  
The increased power of consumers can put pressure on brands about their transparency. Consumers now have more access to information and can determine the sincerity of brands regarding the sustainability of the whole manufacturing process.
Zara is another popular fast-fashion brand. Zara tries to design and manufacture to meet consumers’ desires and trends every season. When many people noticed the popularity and problems of fast fashion, there was a movement to avoid buying fast fashion, which led to a drop in sales. To recover from this, Zara came up with a new collection, called the Join Life Collection, which uses sustainable processes and raw materials to produce clothes.  
Nike has also been promoting sustainability through campaigns such as Move to Zero, which encapsulates its goal to achieve zero carbon emissions and waste. In another instance, Nike shifted its business mantra from “Make athletes better” to “Make the world better for athletes.”
“Nike hits me differently – whether their styles and designs change over time, they’ve been pretty consistent about being sincere towards us by truly caring for the environment we live in,” said Lee Seung-hwan, a 24-year-old college student.  
Freitag uses upcycling to reduce fiber wastes. The term “upcycling” means transforming waste materials into products with greater quality. Freitag aims to change the industry by making a circular production cycle with 100 percent recycled and recyclable materials such as truck tarps and seatbelts.  
“Consumer behavior is influenced by personal factors such as age, culture, profession, and background rather than media or celebrities,” said Professor Leonard Bess of the FIT. “When consumers start to shop in an ethically conscious way, it forces companies like Zara to accept all personal responsibility and liability for the harms done to people and the environment.”  
Professor Kim said that in the past, the manufacturer was in control of the whole business plan and supply chain because of limited information. Now, the consumer has control over the market due to multi-channels, SNS, and a bigger online presence.  
“We are currently living in a world where consumers control everything.”  

BY KWON YE-NA, LEE JEE-EUN, BHAVI- KA PUNJABI AND KIM JOON-SEO [yena_kwon@fitnyc.edu, jeeeun.lee.1@stonybrook.edu, bhavika_punjabi@fitnyc.edu, joonseo.kim@stonybrook.edu]
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