H&M, Zara and Forever 21 are known for offering cheap, trendy and disposable garments and accessories. It is upon these tenets that they have grown to conquer the retail market and boast positions on lists of the world's largest retailers. But with millennials in charge now, with social consciences and their access to endless amount of information, higher-quality materials and clothing that is meant to be kept for longer is beginning to take center stage.
According to a Euromonitor International survey, in 2015, more than 14 percent of U.S. consumers looked for apparel and accessories made from natural materials in 2016, up from 12.9 percent last year. Millennials looked for “sustainably produced” apparel and accessories than any other age group.
In addition to seeking out more eco-friendly materials, millennials are beginning to distance themselves from endless trend-specific cycle that was made possible by fast fashion retailers, and this could prove deeply problematic for the likes of H&M, Zara and Forever 21.
"But fast-fashion companies are trying to respond," according to Bloomberg. "In 2013, H&M launched a worldwide garment-collecting initiative encouraging consumers to reuse and recycle their clothes. The chain also sells a “conscious collection,” a clothing line created entirely from sustainable materials. Zara launched its first sustainable line, Join Life, in September. The collection consists of simpler designs and clothing made from recycled wool, organic cotton and Tencel -- a fabric that includes regenerated wood."
As for whether this is enough to hep them shed their images of disposability and high turn over, that seems like a stretch for now. Emily Bezzant, head analyst at the fashion-tracking firm Edited, says, “Generally, fast fashion and sustainability are not a match made in heaven. The biggest challenge for retailers will be to make sustainable products affordable and accessible to millennials."
There’s been some progress toward that end. H&M’s Conscious Collection has an affordable median price of $17.99. At Zara’s Join Life line, a basic strappy top cost $9.90 -- the same as their main line, Bezzant said. Lowering prices for sustainable collections would help these businesses stay relevant, as most consumers shop at H&M and Zara because of the cheap price tags.