Why is becoming more sustainable important for apparel brands?

Sustainability in fashion is a key focus at both NRF2020 and PI Apparel. But creating a one-off collection from recycled materials or branding oneself as a sustainable brand doesn’t really cut it. Consumers are getting savvier when it comes to authenticity and are willing to put their money on it. So just how can brands up the ante on improving sustainability efforts throughout their organization? Especially in ways that lead to an actual, data-proven reduction in negative environmental effects in the long-run?

First, let’s examine the current environmental impact of the fashion industry:

The following statistics, published by the UNEP and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, give us an idea: 

  • Around 20% of wastewater worldwide comes from fabric dyeing and treatment.
  • Of the total fiber input used for clothing, 87% is incinerated or disposed of in a landfill.
  • The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. At this pace, the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will surge more than 50% by 2030.
Photo by Chauldry Agho on Unsplash

The enormous negative impact that the apparel industry has on the environment is unsustainable, both from a business standpoint as well as from an environmental standpoint. This alone should be a good enough reason for brands to develop better business practices to reduce their impact on the environment. At the same time, it also makes good business sense as apparel shoppers are becoming more aware of the polluting effects of the industry, especially when exacerbated by fast fashion brands and increased consumption.

Improving sustainability is good for business.

According to research done on the retail habits of the next generation of shoppers, a large percentage of Gen Z tends to make purchasing decisions based on ethical choices and brand transparency. According to  “The State of Consumer Spending: Gen Z Shoppers Demand Sustainable Retail,”, a whitepaper report by customer-centric merchandising platform FirstInsight

  • 62% of Generation Z survey participants prefer to buy from sustainable brands, on par with Millennials.
  • The majority of Generation Z (54%) are willing to spend an incremental 10% or more on sustainable products, versus 50% of Millennials, 34% of Generation X, 23% of Baby Boomers and 36% of the Silent Generation.* (citation)
  • Generation Z is also the most willing to pay more for sustainable products (73%) compared to Millennials (68%).

Apparel brands, especially big-name brands, realize the economic importance of incorporating more sustainable fashion practices, be it at the sourcing of raw materials stage or through production, waste management or even through using recycled material for packaging or cutting down on unnecessary packaging. 

So how can apparel brands achieve measurable results? There are a lot of things they can do, but reducing online returns is one of the key areas to focus on, and this is where Bold Metrics comes in—by using machine learning and A.I to help brands understand and unlock the power of their customer body data. Understanding body data and leveraging it to create actionable insights that go beyond size recommendations allows apparel brands to create clothing that customers actually want to wear and clothing that fits them better.

At a foundational level, Bold Metrics can help a brand reduce fit-related returns by 20% or more by connecting customers to clothes that fit according to their individual style, along with a customer’s unique sizing preferences. Being able to give a customer sizing options, as well as accurate best-fit choices in their preferred fit, on a style-by-style basis, reduces returns due to poor fit, inaccurate sizing, and size bracketing (in which a customer buys multiple sizes of a given garment to try on at home because they are unsure of which size would fit best online). 


Image caption: A size 6 shirt might fit a customer best across all garment dimensions but may be a little tight around the stomach area. Some customers might be okay with this, others might want to see how the next size up fits, the Smart Size Chart makes this possible at the touch of a button.

The rise of eCommerce in apparel retail has seen a sharp increase in returns in many causes due to size charts which are often difficult to understand, most people don’t know their own sizes and lax (or generous!) return policies result in customers adopting a ‘buy-now, return-later’ mentality. According to a report by CNBC on the problem of online retail returns, “Average return rates vary by category, but clothing and shoes bought online typically have the highest rates with 30 to 40 percent returned.”

The impact on the environment takes the form of higher carbon footprints and wasted fossil fuels from transporting and processing returns, as well as an ineffective allocation of resources for brands and wasted inventory because the majority of apparel returned ends up not back on shelves, but instead in incinerators or landfills. 


Image caption: An illustrated diagram showing how individual shopper body measurements are combined with personal fit preferences and garment data to give personalized size recommendations.

By slashing returns, brands can reduce the negative impact they have on the environment. Going further, the returns data and customer feedback data can be combined with garment specifications and customer body measurements to generate insights into which products are not selling well due to poor fit. This can be addressed at the design stage, enabling brands to create clothing that better serves customers’ wants and needs instead of apparel that doesn’t sell because it doesn’t fit actual customers. Sizing inventory can also be managed better with these insights, so brands no longer need to over-produce and instead can efficiently channel resources to create the right amount of inventory for each category.

In the long run, this leads to data-backed insights that help a brand optimize its inventory, reduce unnecessary waste from overproduction and cut back on its carbon footprint by reducing customer returns. 

What is Bold Metrics? 

Bold Metrics has been helping some of the world’s largest brands and retailers leverage body data to better serve their customers both in-store and online, as well as supercharge their supply chain and maintain a competitive edge. With proven accuracy and eight years of strong results, Bold Metrics is extremely easy to use—customers just answer 4-5 easy questions, none of which require a measuring tape, and our machine learning algorithms do the rest of the work, accurately predicting a customer’s individual body measurements to a 97% level of accuracy. 

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