This article originally appeared on texsture.
One of the challenges of sustainable fashion is the wording used to define it. We commonly associate adjectives like “sustainable”, “green”, “eco”, “responsible”, “conscious”, “ethical” with the word “fashion”. The question is: are certain words more popular than others? Or are some others nowadays outdated? How do consumer talk about sustainable fashion? And the industry? Tools to research this quickly online are Google Keywords and Google Trends.
Why should we bother? There is more than one reason.
Firstly, this research allows to understand which words consumers and, more generally, the market, use. For a brand willing to be recognised for its ethical credentials, using the right words is essential to communicate efficiently to stakeholders.
Secondly, getting to know which words are more popular than others enables us to have a better understanding of the different concepts associated with sustainable fashion: “green fashion” recalls environmental credentials whereas “fair trade fashion” stresses that a garment has been made maximising the benefits of the people involved in its production and distribution.
Using Google Trends to compare the most used words to search for “sustainable fashion” between 2004 until today, we can see that:
- “Green fashion” has been the most popular search term since 2004; this trend is forecast to continue this year.
- “Organic fashion” is the second most popular search term, indicating that the association with organic fibres like cotton is very strong.
- “Fair trade fashion’ has never taken off and has therefore remained a niche search. A peak can be observed in 2004 in concomitant with the launch of Fairtrade Cotton certification by Fairtrade Foundation. However, since then, it has decreased its popularity online until today. Talking about Fairtrade Cotton, we know that the industry is finding it difficult to source it. Marks & Spencer, for instance, sold 4.5 million of Fairtrade cotton t-shirts in 2011 (1% of their overall cotton range) but has been unable to increase this figure despite its intentions mainly due to lack of availability.
- “Eco fashion” had its peak in 2008 when the discussion around sustainability in the fashion industry was going mainstream. A clear sign that major fashion brands started taking risks in their supply-chain seriously was the release of corporate responsibility reports.
- Some other terms, like “conscious” or “responsible” fashion, have emerged after 2007. These terms have the objective of giving a more comprehensive definition including both environmental and social issues.
But interestingly, all of these terms show decreasing search intensities since about 2009. It remains to be investigated what the reason behind it is. What can be said with high probability though is that the economic woes of Western economies are likely the (main) root cause of this phenomenon.
In line with the popularity of “organic fashion”, “organic cotton” is still today the most searched for fibre and term. This is not surprising as all major fashion retailers have made a point of buying regularly organic cotton and indicate clearly on tags and label if a garment is made of, or includes, organic cotton. Despite the fact that organic cotton production represents, still today, only 1% of the global cotton production, and only a very small part of a brands’ collections, it has been the protagonist of public facing campaigns, annual reports, and press releases. For other alternative fibres like “organic wool”, “recycled polyester”, it is apparent that they remain niche fibres and a lot needs to be done to engage with the public on their behalf.
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