3 Reasons Why Fast Fashion Is Still Winning Over Sustainable Brands

Over the last few years, sustainable fashion has really become a mainstream dimension of the fashion business. As a result many fashion brands’ strategies have changed evolved.

Finding a middle ground between the habits and behaviors of fashion customers, while prioritizing the environment is a challenge many businesses are undertaking. 

Despite having made great progress in this cause, old habits die hard.

This is why in this post we’re going to look at 3 reasons why sustainable fashion brands are facing harsh challenges when it comes to winning over the hearts and pockets of customers. 

Starting from the most obvious, fast fashion is inexpensive. Let’s start from there in the next section of our post.

Fast Fashion Wins Because it’s Cheap

The first unfair advantage of fast fashion brands, and maybe their biggest weapon to win customers over, is their cheap prices.

The Big Advantages of Impulse Buying

By studying decision processes customers experience when making a purchase, we’ve noticed that customers are overridden by a strong emotional drive when accessing unexpected opportunities.

This is because the thrill of taking advantage of a sale or discount bypasses our logical brain, and pushes us to buy without thinking twice. This is a well-known phenomenon that has pushed fashion brands towards developing immersive retail experiences designed to help us detach from reality and fully take advantage of the aspirational nature of fashion products.

If you’d like to read more about the strategies brands take on in order to build towards emotional purchases, we’ve got you covered in this article.

Why Sustainable Fashion is More Expensive

On the other have sustainable brands are more expensive. This is because in order to safeguard the environment so much needs to be done in terms of designing, producing, and distributing your products.

This extra effort accounts for an extra cost that is paid by the end customer.

If we look at the way in which we can segment our audience to identify potential consumers, we are quick to realize that the target market for expensive yet sustainable products is still small, even if it is rapidly expanding.

This is also aligned with what is foreseen by sustainable customer segmentation that shows us how only LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) customers would spend more money for a sustainable product, whereas for the other categories of sustainability-oriented customers the decision would rather depend on the impact of products on their personal health. 

According to our analysis, if you’re engaging your customer by giving them too much to think about, chances are you are lowering your conversion rates. Unfortunately this is what sustainable companies may run the risk of doing.

In order to really deliver on sustainability, brands need to build conversations that can really build a strong connection to their customer, so that their decision to buy sustainable clothing has been made much sooner than when they are entering the store. 

In order to achieve this goal, sustainable brands need to develop persuasive and effective marketing strategies. This is what we’re going to discuss in our next paragraph.

Sustainable brands have marketing challenges

Fashion marketing is a unique dimension of marketing. Whether we’re fashion victims or completely disengaged with fashion trends we can all acknowledge how complex fashion products are. 

Fashion products serve multiple consumer needs which can be ranked in functional, social, and emotional. And in order to effectively market sustainable products, sustainability needs to connect with one (or more) of these three customer needs. Let’s look into them in more detail:

  • Functional needs. These needs are simply connected to the practical use customer make of our products and services. In the context of fashion, these products are usually mass-market products that are usually quite inexpensive and provide us with the most basic functional benefit of clothing, which is sheltering us from the weather and cold. As these needs are commodified, many brands try to increase their profit margins by providing something more enticing such as social benefits.
  • Social needs. In this context, fashion brands fulfill a very important role, as fashion products gain value in the customer’s eyes. Customers often – if not always – use fashion products as social currency, usually for one of two reasons. To either fit in, or show belonging to a particular group, or to stand out or make ourselves get noticed. Social needs are associated with middle-tier brands such as bridge brands, and diffusion lines, which benefit either from the trickle-down value or from strong trendy communications. But what about the top of the fashion pyramid? What kind of value do luxury products bring to the market? Let’s see in the next paragraph.
  • Emotional needs. These needs are satisfied from products that have such a strong reputation and heritage, that the simple fact of owning them, makes us feel proud and part of the brand’s legend. These needs are usually satisfied by luxury brands that are exclusive and aspirational, as the fact of owning these products is a strong social signal. Because of this emotional drive, these products need to be aspirational and exclusive, if they become too accessible they may completely lose their aura of prestige. This is why brand managers in luxury should always avoid brand dilution.

As opposed to traditional fashion brands that can more easily tap into the aspirational value and social currency of fashion products, sustainable brands may need to go an extra mile and really approach marketing more creatively. 

Cause-Related Marketing

This is why a new division of marketing has been created to develop communication strategies focused on bridging business and social\environmental goals: these strategies are part of what we call cause-related marketing.

This approach to marketing and communication revolves around an innovative idea, that social and environmental problems can be addressed and solved by private organizations.

Not only that, private companies who solve environmental and social problems can be very profitable.

However, when it comes to the development of this strategy, sustainable fashion brands have what we call a first-mover disadvantage.

According to this idea, businesses that approach customers with a cause or a message of environmental or social relevance, will have to invest in educating and informing the public as opposed to simply getting them to buy a product. 

This informational\educational approach may render campaigns unprofitable, due to excessive customer acquisition costs.

If you are interested in reading more about how to run a cause marketing campaign, here’s an article that is perfect to get you started.

But why are customer acquisition costs so high? Well because what you are trying to do is not simply sell a product but actually get your customer to change his\her habit.

This is what we’re going to discuss in the next section of our post.

Because it’s not about changing products it’s about changing habits – and that’s hard. 

As a third hurdle for fast fashion companies to overcome we have habit formation. If we think about this, we can see how the purpose of a fashion brand is not to simply influence behavior once, but to help customers break out of a habit and getting them to buy green as a new normal. 

Ads Don’t Work

In this sense, some of the communication strategies that are involved in your marketing plan can be ineffective. Ads only last for as long as you pay for them, and even then their likelihood to show up in your customer’s journey is slim.  Your brand needs to build an online presence that can stand the test of time.

Social Media Helps But It’s Challenging

Social media can be a good form of influence on your customers as social media platforms are designed to expand the reach of your communication strategy. At the same time, social media is also a bit of a slippery slope as influencers have now become influenced by businesses who are treating shared space on social media as a new advertising platform. 

Owned Media and Blogging Helps

A more helpful approach could be the one offered by owned media strategies where a brand develops long-tailed content designed to connect the product or service to the specific issues that your customer is experiencing.  If you’d like to read up more about this, this article can get you started.

There are some issues with this approach too, as chances of ranking can change based on the authority of your brand’s voice, and also, it may take up time to see results due to the time necessary for search engines to rank your content. 

Great, now that we’ve covered all relevant areas, let’s draw some conclusions.


There you have it. In this post, we’ve listed some of the most relevant challenges that make it hard for sustainable fashion businesses to compete against fast fashion brands.

First, fast fashion companies are able to go to market with prices that would be unaffordable for a sustainable brand. This puts sustainable firms at a disadvantage due to the fact that pricing is one of the most relevant factors in a customer’s decision to buy. 

Second, in order to overcome pricing issues, sustainable fashion firms need to develop complex and expensive cause-marketing campaigns that help customers connect with the need of supporting sustainable fashion.

Third, we need to take into account that in order to impact the industry, we cannot limit our efforts on one-time purchases. On the contrary, we are required to impact customers’ behavior and their shopping patterns, so that buying sustainable clothing becomes the norm and not the exception. 

We hope you found our post useful and interesting! Remember that at 440 Industries you can access a wealth of resources on fashion sustainability and marketing.  Don’t hesitate to explore our blog!

If you’re looking for an opportunity to deepen your understanding and knowledge of the practices of sustainable fashion, don’t hesitate to take a look at our course “The Sustainable Fashion Industry“. Our short and to-the-point, online class covers a wide range of topics spanning from sustainable business models to strategies to lower your carbon footprint. Here’s a link to the course, if you use the discount code BLOG20 at checkout you can access a 20% discount. Enjoy!

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3 Reasons Why Fast Fashion Is Still Winning Over Sustainable Brands In this post, we're looking at the marketing challenged faced by sustainable companies when they compete head-to-head with fast fashion players.
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