Will people buy sustainable fashion?

Adriene Hill Sep 13, 2010

Will people buy sustainable fashion?

Adriene Hill Sep 13, 2010


STEVE CHIOTAKIS: It’s fashion week in New York City. Later today Donna Karan and Perry Ellis will introduce new collections. And eco-friendly designers will kick off their own fashion show. So we asked Marketplace’s sustainability reporter Adriene Hill to talk a little bit about fashion that’s better for the environment. Good morning, Adriene.

ADRIENE HILL: Good morning.

CHIOTAKIS: So help me out here. What is sustainable fashion?

HILL: Well it’s a lot of things depending on who’s defining it. Everything from clothes made from organic cotton and natural dyes to clothes made from fair-trade fabric. And the ultimate in environmental friendliness? Vintage or hand-me-downs. Some of it’s really good for the environment and the people who make the clothes. And a lot of it’s just green washing.

CHIOTAKIS: And what’s the market for this type of clothing?

HILL: Well, more and more products and fashion lines calling themselves eco-friendly and sustainable are putting products out there. So designers and producers seem to think the interest is there. Companies are lining up big-name stars like Emma Watson to help push the lines. But the real question is whether or not people are going to buy them.

CHIOTAKIS: And will they?

HILL: That’s tough to say. I talked to an analyst who told me that consumers are interested in eco-friendly and socially-responsible clothing, but they really don’t want to pay much of a premium for them. And that will be tough, considering how cheap the clothes we buy at Target and H&M are. It can be more expensive to make eco-, socially-friendly garments if you’re paying people a fair-trade wage or using cotton that costs more to grow. In other case, retailers might just be jacking up the prices because they think they can away with it. I did find a study that says retail sales of clothing and home products made from organic cotton was up to over $4 billion last year, which is a 35 percent jump from the year prior.

CHIOTAKIS: You know, Adriene, I don’t want to sound totally like a jerk here, but are any of these clothes actually good looking? Do they look like, I don’t know. I think of, like, burlap or something like that, there’s got to be some sort of eco-fashion look.

HILL: With tree bark from all that tree hugging, like clinging on it?

CHIOTAKIS: Yeah, exactly.

HILL: No. Some of them I think are pretty fashionable. It’s not just t-shirt and jeans or burlap. Though the stereotype is a hurdle for the industry. But I’ll let you judge for yourself. I put up a slideshow.

CHIOTAKIS: All right, we’ll go and check it out. Marketplace’s Adriene Hill joining us here in the studio. Adriene, thanks.

HILL: Thanks.

We’re here to help you navigate this changed world and economy.

Our mission at Marketplace is to raise the economic intelligence of the country. It’s a tough task, but it’s never been more important.

In the past year, we’ve seen record unemployment, stimulus bills, and reddit users influencing the stock market. Marketplace helps you understand it all, will fact-based, approachable, and unbiased reporting.

Generous support from listeners and readers is what powers our nonprofit news—and your donation today will help provide this essential service. For just $5/month, you can sustain independent journalism that keeps you and thousands of others informed.