As the UK begins the New Year with another total lockdown, it would be easy to let an overall feeling of gloom settle permanently. This is undoubtedly another difficult period for fashion retailers, brands and manufacturers. But there are glimmers of light from 2020 that have the potential to make a huge difference across 2021 and beyond in terms of sustainability.

Changes in consumer behaviour

It’s clear that one of the key obstacles to addressing fast fashion sustainability with any real lasting impact is changing consumer behaviour. For any real difference to occur, consumers will have to resist the lure of cheap fast fashion and choose more sustainable, but inevitably more expensive options. Previously this has seemed an constant battle. However, the 2020 has seen some interesting shifts in consumer habits in response to COVID 19 shutdowns.

As well as there being a shift in what people are buying (less workwear and more loungewear), there has also been a massive psychological reset. Consumers are now questioning many of their pre-pandemic behaviours, and if this can be distilled into genuine changes in fashion buying, this has may have huge positive changes for real sustainability shifts.

More online influence

Life online has been a huge part of the 2020 pandemic, from Zoom call socialising to increased online shopping. In 2021, and as the pandemic continues, this actually gives brands huge opportunities to market sustainability positively and proactively to consumers already experiencing more and more online. Recent research found that fashion brands using a more imaginative way to discuss ethics and news surrounding sustainability (including hashtags) were able to engage with consumers. This has exciting potential to drive customer sustainability changes in consumer habits and awareness with existing fast fashion key target groups. It’s a huge opportunity for brands to effect real change.

Less willing to accept brand spin on sustainability

As well as the psychological reset regarding purchasing habits, 2020 has seen society as a whole more willing to engage in social and environmental concerns.  As a result, there’s a huge desire for more data and information from brands on how well they’re doing, as well less tolerance for ‘greenwashing’. This is an important shift. With consumers much more willing to hold brands and manufacturers to account, there’s much more chance of lasting, tangible impacts on sustainability rather than things that just look good.

Inequalities have been highlighted

The pandemic has served to highlight inequalities across society, especially in increasing awareness of human rights issues in the fashion supply chain to the general public. Concern over Boohoo factory conditions with regards to COVID 19 is a prime example, and this was met with genuine shock by consumers Whether this translates into lasting changes remains to be seen, but there is a much bigger awareness of human rights issues. It’s this first step that’s essential to putting pressure on brands and manufacturers to make real changes across the supply chain.

To wrap up

It can be easy to begin 2021 feeling despair at the current situation. But, 2020 also saw some genuinely positive changes in behaviours and environmental concerns. The challenge will be to continue to embrace these changes throughout 2021 and beyond, capitalising on them in a tangible way that leads to real change. As always, this is a challenge for brands, manufacturers and consumers.


Textile Consult is a management and training consultancy operating worldwide. We’re currently working with clients to find the best sustainable solutions in the textile industry. Contact us to find out how we can advise your business on sustainable textile solutions.