Momentive study: most Americans want ethical fashion

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Momentive study: most Americans want ethical fashion

Across all age groups, Americans want their clothes to be made without harmful chemicals, made with ethical labor practices, and to be environmentally sustainable

Zoe Padgett

December 9, 2022 | 3 min read

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Key findings:

  • U.S. adults agree that it’s important for their clothes, shoes, and accessories to be made without harmful chemicals (79%), made with ethical labor practices (76%), and that they’re environmentally sustainable (70%)
  • The majority of Gen Z (56%) have purchased from one of the major fast fashion brands in the past 12 months; H&M (33%) and Shein (27%) are their top choices
  • Most consumers make their clothing brand choices based on product reviews (32%), friends (25%), or family (21%), but Gen Z’s clothing brand choices are more heavily influenced by social media (30%) than other generations
  • Half of consumers purchase secondhand clothing at least sometimes (47%); women, lower-income consumers, and younger consumers are more likely to shop secondhand
  • Only 5% of U.S. adults have ever rented clothing from a store or online service, and most of those who used these services rented for a wedding (50%)

Ethical fashion is important to consumers across all age groups

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Environmental sustainability is important to Americans, but there’s still some nuance to consumer behavior, according to a new Momentive poll fielded December 1-6, 2022. While nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults (70%) say it’s important for their clothes, shoes, and accessories to be environmentally sustainable, It’s even more important that clothes are made without harmful chemicals (79%) and made with ethical labor practices (76%). It’s less important that clothes are made in the United States (67%) – however, this varies by age, with younger consumers age 18-34 caring the least (47%), followed by 35-64 year olds (72%), and older consumers ages 65 and up caring the most (81%). Environmental sustainability is important across all age groups, including 71% of 18-34 year olds, 70% of 35-64 year olds, and 69% of those 65 and up. 

Gen Z shops fast fashion more than other generations

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While Gen Z shows interest in sustainability, the majority (56%) have purchased from one of the major fast fashion brands in the past 12 months. H&M is the most popular fast fashion brand among Gen Z (33%), followed closely by new entrant Shein (27%). Forever 21 takes third place at 21%. Gen Z shops fast fashion brands more than other generations; 41% of Millennials, 24% of Gen X, and only 10% of Boomers and 11% of the Silent Generation have purchased from the major fast fashion brands in the past 12 months. 

Online factors influence brand choices, but much shopping still done in-person

Gen Z’s clothing brand choices are more heavily influenced by social media (30%) than other generations; one-quarter of Gen Z’ers (25%) say they  purchase clothing or apparel from new brands based on advertisements seen on social media or from online influencers at least monthly. Most consumers make their clothing brand choices based on product reviews (32%), friends (25%), or family (21%). 

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Across all age groups, about a quarter of consumers prefer to purchase clothing online (23%), while 42% prefer to purchase in-person, and one-third split their purchases equally between online and in-person (33%). Online or in-person, most consumers are shopping at department stores (50%). Due in large part to younger consumers, outlet stores (39%), thrift stores (26%) and direct-from-brand (25%) are the second-, third-, and fourth-place shopping destinations. 

Half of consumers purchase secondhand

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Many consumers are making the choice to purchase secondhand clothing to save money; half of consumers purchase secondhand clothing at least sometimes (47%). Women (55%) are more likely than men (37%) to shop secondhand. It also varies by age; more 18-34 year olds (58%) shop secondhand vs. 35-64 year olds (46%) and those 65 and up (32%). Additionally, those with lower incomes under $50k are more likely to shop secondhand (62%) compared with middle-income consumers making $50-$99k (46%) and high-income consumers making $100k+ (30%). 

Why are consumers shopping secondhand? The majority say cost (65%), followed by the ability to find unique pieces (38%), convenience (25%), and fun (24%). Fewer say they shop secondhand due to the environmental impact (17%), or because they like to change styles frequently (10%).

Rental clothing market has room for expansion

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Rental clothing has expanded in recent years from traditional brick and mortar to online rental services, but still only 5% of U.S. adults have ever rented clothing from a store or online service. Most of those who used these services rented clothing for a wedding (50%), school dance (23%), work event (22%), or party (20%), and most were at least somewhat satisfied with their rental experience (83%).

Read more about our polling methodology here

Click through all the results in the interactive toplines below:

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