By Elizabeth Grace Coyne

Consumers are shopping with a newfound appreciation for better made and long-lasting garments.

The recent cost-of-living crisis has created a new consumer climate where discretionary spending has decreased, and people are forced to find innovative, multifunctional, and frugal ways to shop. According to Time, labor shortages and surging consumer demands are the leading causes of the high cost-of-living post-pandemic. Additionally, pressures presented by geopolitical events (like the war in Ukraine) and climate-associated disruption in supply chains, such as delayed and expensive merchandise, have forced retailers to compete for consumer attention in ways beyond low prices. 

In 2022, many post-pandemic sales were driven by the average consumer’s desire to “go back to normal,” spending disposable income on activities that were newly safe to participate in, such as travel and events. In 2023, spending has shifted into a more practical lane, with consumers spending money on comfortable, office-appropriate, and highly functional clothing. Understanding what consumers need amid new shopping behaviors will allow fashion retailers to shift the focus of their merchandise accordingly.

One way fashion brands have been supplying consumers with more cost-effective clothing has been through temperature-controlled garments. These garments, like those from LifeLabs, are designed to regulate one’s temperature through technological and innovative textile features. According to LifeLabs’ website, the brand’s cooling collection, “CoolLife,” is “the first infrared-transparent fabric that releases your body heat to cool your temperature three degrees fahrenheit more than comparable fabrics.” LifeLab also has a “WarmLife” collection designed to reflect body heat and keep the wearer warm. Temperature-regulated garments decrease consumers’ need to expensively adjust the temperature in their homes. It also makes layering less necessary, meaning fewer winter garments must be purchased. 

Another way fashion brands have been offering cost-conscious opinions to consumers is through workwear. As fear surrounding job security rises, consumers are looking for more practical, cost-effective, and versatile workwear that is fashion-forward and professional. Neu Nomads is a Brooklyn-based sustainable women’s fashion brand. It’s female-owned and operated and works to make high-quality affordable, sustainable garments. As versatility is of high value for many consumers, Neu Nomads garments feature design elements such as drawstrings, ruched details, and zip-on panels that allow the wearer to alter the garment with each wear. Neu Nomads practice what they refer to as slow fashion values. “Our designs are wardrobe staples — they’ll never go out of style and, while they’re fashionable, they aren’t trendy. Our design ethos is that we create your favorite pieces that wash perfectly and that you come back to over and over again. They can be worn for all occasions and look great whether you’re in a boardroom or heading to the beach.” Fashion Marketing Consultant for Neu Nomads, Gimena Garmendia tells Mission.

As consumers try to save on fuel, they are inclined to participate in more walking, cycling, and means of public transportation. With the influx of consumers needing casual clothing, many fashion retailers are developing functional and weather-proof garments and accessories. Retailers have included sun-shielding technology and waterproofing capabilities in their clothing to align them more with modern consumer needs. Japanese brand Uniqlo has participated in this movement with its UV Protection Collection. This collection offers a variety of garments, including t-shirts, leggings, hoodies, and cardigans that feature protection ratings from UPF 15 to 50+.

Additionally, many brands that offer clothing of this type are sustainable, such as the Finnish brand Spinnova. According to Spinnova’s website, the brand is “made of wood or waste. Saving more CO2 emissions than emitting.”

Finally, many consumers want to save energy and money by laundering their clothing less. This practice saves on water and electricity and allows the wearer to hold onto their clothing for longer as there is less wear and tear. Fashion retailers like the Dutch brand LABFRESH have developed a sweat-blocking, odor-repellent, and stain-repellent textile. According to LABFRESH’s website, the brand applies the “tech on 100% cotton to preserve the natural feeling and breathability.” The garments are also “engineered to look and feel as great as a “traditional” untreated cotton garment” for a soft and comfortable feel. “The durability of a fabric is actually defined as the number of washing cycles it can last until the fibers break down. This is the reason why many of us wait as long as possible before putting a beloved new fashion piece into the laundry machine. So by washing less, your clothing looks hot for more years, saving you electricity, water, time, and the need to buy more apparel,” LABFRESH co-founder Kasper Brandi Petersen tells Mission.

With the recent cost-of-living crisis creating a sense of dread for consumers with little disposable income and fast fashion continuing to harm the planet, it’s up to retailers to continue to find innovative solutions, so customers need to buy less. Implementing multifunctional design elements will allow the modern-day consumer to satisfy their needs with fewer high-quality garments.

Image courtesy of Unspalsh

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