8 Consumer Trends That Affect Fashion Brands

Photo of Jinder Kang

Jinder Kang

Jun 18, 2021 • 12 min read

The average consumer is more conscious about world issues than ever before. Social media provides customers with overwhelming information on a multitude of facets that were previously hidden from the public, such as how fashion brands treat their employees or how sustainable their products are.

Consumers are more empowered to choose products that resonate with their own personal values, making brands more accountable for their business decisions. The fashion brands that can adapt most effectively to an ever-changing environment will be best positioned to maintain a competitive edge over their competitors. Read on 8 consumer trends that affect fashion brands.

Sustainable fashion

The global push towards greater sustainability in fashion has changed the balance between biggest retailers and local brands. Social media is awash with constant calls to boycott brands who aren’t seen as “green enough”, or are typically associated with the practice of ‘fast fashion’. This has also been shown in multiple recent surveys.

A survey conducted by McKinsey & Company determined that consumers radically changed their behaviour during the COVID-19 crisis. This change was in line with sustainability goals, with 61% of respondents reporting they had gone out of their way to buy products in environmentally friendly packaging.

65% of respondents also said they would be buying higher quality clothing that would last longer and a significant 71% said they would be throwing out fashion items less often. This demonstrates the shift towards more sustainable fashion.

In fact, in 2019 the sales of ethical clothing soared to a record high of over £53 million nationally. A feeling of ‘quality over quantity’ has taken hold of the conscientious consumer, and brands such as Patagonia have been reaping the rewards.


Pursuit The Label, a a London-based swimwear brand, fights marine pollution by producing its swimsuits from Econyl. Image source: Pursuit The Label.

Patagonia has made sure to heavily advertise their action against the fast fashion industry, citing their impressive action on reducing their own environmental impact. They have also made sure that a high percentage of the fabric used to make their clothes is from recycled materials. Patagonia has started prompting their shoppers to limit buying new clothes.

This shift pushes fast fashion brands to rethink their strategies and supply chains that have been given bad press for inhumane conditions in factories based in third-world countries.

Purpose driven consumerism

Purpose driven consumerism is defined by brands including a core message or moral stance as part of their brand. For example, brands such as Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty have made a great point of demonstrating their size-inclusion by hiring plus size models and providing plus size clothing.

Purpose-driven consumerism has been on the rise in recent years. 48% of consumers surveyed voiced their issue with brands who do not have a social view they agree with. 42% of respondents also reported walking away from brands in frustration at their response to social issues. This demonstrates the impact of having a brand purpose that aligns with the majority views of your customers.

Unilever has been at the forefront of the ‘brands with purpose movement’. The company’s research found that their sustainable brands grew 50% faster than the rest of their businesses and delivered a staggering 60% of their growth.

Other brands have worked towards inclusion setting trends for the whole market. Nuditone created band-aids for all different colours of skin. This bucked the market trend of light-toned band-aids and opened up their brand to universal praise.

By including a message or specific mission, fashion brands can connect with their customers on a moral level to drive a positive image as well as sales.

Online shopping

The UK alone has seen a huge increase in online shopping, with the national ecommerce market alone being worth around $86.45 billion. The global pandemic has forced brands to shift to a greater online presence, pushing innovation for digital solutions in a world where in-person shopping had all but ceased to exist.

This even includes tech innovations such as the use of AR by furniture stores so customers can visualise what their furniture would look like in their home. The online boom has also forced many mid-tier brands to focus on direct to consumer (D2C) sales, increasing competition within the world of ecommerce.

By now, online shopping is a fundamental staple of fashion retail, with all of the major brands having adapted to the shift in climate.

Greater customisation

Consumers seem to be tired of fitting into the latest style or trend, and many have decided to go their own way to carve out their own unique fashion sense. This has been especially prevalent in the up and coming world of 3D printed and customisable gifts as well as the incorporation of online and digital stylists into luxury brands.

For example, Ralph Lauren has a dedicated personal styler on their website that can recommend products based on recent purchases or stated style preferences. Even more innovative than this, Ralph Lauren has also incorporated smart mirrors into their London and New York stores that contain the same functionality.

With an ever-greater emphasis being placed on the individual, personalisation is sure to become a huge driving force in consumer choices.


An interactive mirror in Ralph Lauren's New York store. Image source: Buinsess Insider.

However, personalization is often difficult for smaller brands to achieve. This is largely because personalization requires a huge amount of data collection and data upkeep. This data is used for everything from recommending products to customers to defining their shopping habits.

All this data must be stored securely, conforming to GDPR and other data laws. This may be something that has to be overcome for smaller brands to realize their own customer personalization.

Increased customer expectations

No matter whether the brand is considered luxury or fast fashion, consumers have cultivated increased expectations from outlets across the board. Innovation behind the scenes to ensure a smoother process from ordering to fulfilment has skyrocketed.

Tech such as RFID to track garments, electronic tags and augmented reality to provide customers with further information and the promise of same-day delivery have all helped to greatly improve customer experience.

An increased customer experience naturally leads to increased customer retention, meaning that the brands giving the best overall experience to their customers are more likely to retain their business, even if their products may not be as high quality or competitively priced as some other outlets.

Unconventional purchase channels

Novelty is the spice of life, and this has never been truer for the fashion industry. The industry has seen a recent fascinating trend towards a method of sale called Live Commerce.

Live commerce essentially fuses together online retail with live streaming, bringing the online shopping experience as close to real life as possible. These online, video-enabled actions are proving a hit with the industry and, with the addition of special events such as influencer streams helping to sell products to an already captive audience, this space is only set to grow far into the future.

The purpose of brick and mortar stores

Brick and mortar stores used to be the default mode of retail and this remained true for hundreds of years. However, with the rise in online shopping providing consumers with an easy way to get their goods, brick and mortar stores have had to undergo a fundamental shift in meaning.

No longer being the go-to place to spend money, brick and mortar stores will slowly shift to become more of a community space. The primary purpose of brick and mortar stores is to now provide an experience of the brand rather than sell items.

Experiential marketing is the secret weapon of the brick and mortar outlet, with a recent survey finding that 74% of event attendees ended the day with a more positive experience about the company. A study from Harris Group also found that 72% of millennials preferred to spend money on experiences rather than material things.


Pradasphere: a collection of Prada's archival objects as well as a shopping space. Image source: Harper's Bazaar.

This altered purpose means that stores no longer need to stock every single colour and size of every item they advertise in their catalogues. They need to instead concentrate on providing a positive brand experience by hosting special events and unique, ever-changing experiences, such as brand story-telling, pop-ups or influencer visits.

Retail hubs

As the pandemic subsides and people begin to return to physical locations to work, footfall in major areas is set to increase. However, it’s likely that this footfall will only take place in specific areas, meaning that retail outlets will have to congregate into retail hubs such as malls and shopping centres rather than being spread out across a long high-street.

Research by Deloitte found key factors that make mall shopping more attractive to consumers. These include the convenience factor, as having lots of retail outlets all in one area decreases the amount of ground people need to cover.

Also mentioned was the role of giving brands spaces to create experience areas, allowing customers to have a more engaging shopping experience. Similar to brick and mortar outlets, malls can provide an experience that online shopping just can’t.

With the right technology to connect to customers such as on-site AR services or pop-up stores, malls are prime places to become a post-pandemic trend.

Customer trends and the future of fashion industry

Although some of these trends may only see widespread adoption in the next few years, early adopters will certainly reap the rewards of staying on top of consumer needs. Fashion brands that listen to consumers almost invariably come out on top, accelerating an eventual shift away from practices such as fast fashion and towards a more sustainable, tech-driven and personalised industry.

Photo of Jinder Kang

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Jinder Kang

Innovation Consultancy Lead at Netguru
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