Are consumers done with fast fashion?

Editor's note: This article originally appeared at BSR Insight as part of a series on the tragedy in Bangladesh.

In the wake of the recent calamity in Bangladesh, approximately 1.1 million people signed on to a campaign run by the advocacy group Avaaz pressuring retailers to invest in worker safety. Soon afterward, H&M, one brand targeted by the campaign, decided to sign a landmark fire and building safety accord. More than 40 global companies also have signed the accord, and activists are continuing to push the brands that have been reluctant to sign it.

The recent participation in these campaigns seems to indicate a shift in how consumers are thinking about the origins of their clothes, but when they actually enter the dressing room, will a company's social and environmental track record determine their choice of jeans?

On the one hand, studies point to a rising consumer consciousness. The public relations firm Cone Communications released findings in late May that nine out of 10 consumers say they would boycott companies that are being irresponsible, and more than half of consumers in 10 countries say they have refused to buy a product in the past year because of perceived poor corporate behavior. A study earlier this year found that a majority of consumers across six markets (Brazil, China, Germany, India, the U.K. and the United States) are seeking to reconcile their desire for shopping and style with their sense of responsibility for the environment and society.

These reports identify a rising new mainstream: style and social status-seeking "Aspirationals" who represent hundreds of millions of consumers and the largest consumer segment in Brazil, China and India. More than any other segment, Aspirationals care about style (65 percent) and social status (52 percent), and they equate shopping with happiness (70 percent). Yet they are also among the most likely to believe that we need to "consume a lot less to improve the environment for future generations" (73 percent) and feel "a sense of responsibility to society" (73 percent).

This survey echoes another report published by WRAP U.K. on sustainable fashion consumption. It points to an emerging class of consumers who are eager to change certain consumption habits for the better and are asking for guidance and support in doing so. For example, a majority of surveyed consumers were interested in buying better quality, more durable clothing, but many were unsure how to recognize a well-made garment. Quality does not necessarily mean the product was produced with the highest labor or environmental standards, but this could be a counter-trend to resource-intensive, throw-away fast fashion.

Shopper image by Kzenon via Shutterstock.

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