One Year After Rana Plaza Collapse Consumer Habits Remain Unchanged

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April 16, 2014

On the anniversary of the tragic collapse of Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza, ethical sourcing in the fashion industry has never been more needed. Nonetheless, despite progress from some retailers, our research shows that shoppers’ awareness remains low overall and their habits largely unchanged.

Over the past two months, BBMG held conversations with 70 people, all members of The Collective, the firm’s proprietary community of Aspirational consumers. Our goal was to see how, if at all, their shopping habits have been affected in the last year.

What we found was fascinating yet not surprising: Despite the major news coverage and industry moves since the collapse, consumers’ shopping habits haven’t shifted in any substantial way.

Raphael Bemporad, our chief strategy officer, notes, “While the tragedy in Bangladesh has inspired a larger conversation about how clothes are made, who makes them and under what conditions, style and price remain the key purchase drivers in the category.”

According to our research, 70% of consumers chose practical purchase drivers (price, design, comfort, fit, etc.) as the only considerations when buying apparel and only 4% acknowledged that safe working conditions for garment workers make it into the consideration set when shopping.

We also found that nearly 50% of these shoppers chose mainstream fast fashion brands as their favorites and 91% had no idea where or by whom their favorite brands’ clothing is sewn. And we found that 36% of respondents acknowledged their favorite brands are probably made by “slave labor,” in sweatshops or by workers overseas who do not receive fair wages.

One need state that emerged from the research: our consumers want more information to help them make better decisions.

Collective member Anthea, 35 and from New York, is looking to the brands she shops to demonstrate total transparency and play an active role in educating consumers. “I don’t hear about what brands are doing to prevent poor labor practices, so it’s not something I think about as a consumer until something bad happens,” she says. “But if it was part of the core of the brand, I might prefer their products over others.”

Bemporad sees a clear moment for leadership. “By communicating how clothes are designed, sourced and manufactured, apparel brands have an opportunity to build trust and deepen relationships with their stakeholders,” he notes. “The data shows that consumers are hungry for information and transparency.”

The good news: Brands like Patagonia, H&M and EILEEN FISHER are already responding to this desire and taking steps to make their sourcing more sustainable and ethical. But it takes more than a handful of companies to shift an industry and promote more sustainable consumption worldwide. If our recent conversations are any indication, consumers are eager for more brands to lead the way.

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