Elle US sustainable fashion consumers cover

The three personas of sustainable fashion consumers in 2022

Key takeaways

  • Heuritech’s fashion and data experts identified three sustainably-minded personas to keep an eye on in 2022: slow fashion activities, vintage aficionados, and hybrid adopters.
  • Sustainable fashion consumers engaged most with the #sustainableclothing and #consciousfashion hashtags on Instagram in 2021, according to Heuritech analysis.
  • Understanding the defining elements of sustainable fashion consumer types, as well as what trends they’re drawn to, can help a brand not only retain their audience but attract new customers.

Year on year, it seems that sustainability climbs higher on the priority list for fashion consumers. Fashion Revolution’s 2018 Consumer Survey, for instance, reported that:

59% of respondents aged 16-25 would like to know how their clothes are manufactured; the same survey done again in 2021 reported 69%.

What’s even more poignant than the numbers themselves are the questions in each survey: the 2021 report is markedly more precise in its questions, indicating a heightened awareness by Gen Z and Millennial consumers on the environmental ramifications of the fashion industry. 

With that said, not all consumers have the same standing on the fashion sustainability scale. Some are passionate and exertive, others are well-intentioned but passive. People come from varying backgrounds, with differing values and uneven income levels.

The reasons for consumers’ level of activism are many, and it’s useful for brands to understand these segmentations in order to better satisfy or further capture existing and new customers.

two model dance in large coats for ELLE US
two model dance in large coats for ELLE US

To this end, Heuritech’s data and fashion experts analyzed sustainability-related hashtags as well as around 120 popular fashion accounts on Instagram between February and August of 2021.

This research allowed us to identify the top trends and inspirations among what we’ve identified as the three sustainably-minded personas:

  1. Slow fashion activists
  2. Vintage aficionados
  3. Hybrid adopters 

What are consumers talking about on sustainable fashion social media?

Social media is a powerful vehicle for discourse surrounding sustainability in fashion, from brands’ CSR to clothing styles. Among the hashtags our data experts analyzed in 2021: the most used over the period of February to August were #sustainableclothing and #consciousfashion.

This indicates a general willingness by consumers to seek out apparel that is produced in a conscious way, whether that means environmentally, socially, or ethically. 

Interestingly, one of the least searched hashtags was #sustainablefashionbrand — this could indicate that Gen Zers and Millennials prioritize trends over brands, seeking a particular style rather than a particular name when shopping sustainably. 

Another interesting result from this analysis was the decrease of 41% of the hashtag #depopshop, a popular resell app where consumers can buy and sell secondhand clothing from one another. This signals two main changes in consumer habits:

  1. Consumers are looking to purchase new products from brands that uphold sustainability, rather than secondhand products from their peers, and
  2. The secondhand market is steering more toward platforms like The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective who resell luxury and vintage products from not only consumers, but brands themselves.
model lays face down in luxury bags
Image courtesy of Kourtney Roy

Ultimately, the popularity of these hashtags are a good sign of consumers’ attention on a more environmentally-friendly fashion industry. Let’s now have a look at our three consumer personas to understand their personal values, their requirements from a brand, and their favorite trends. 

Persona 1: Slow fashion activists

The first sustainably-minded consumer persona on our list is what we call a slow fashion activist. This consumer prides themselves on purchasing purely slow fashion products, meaning items that are made in respect to people, animals, and the environment.

Because these products tend to be of better quality and last longer than those of fast fashion, their audience doesn’t focus heavily on being in line with trends as much as other consumer groups.

This persona wants their wardrobe to be timeless and long-lasting, with apparel and accessories that are durable over time and adaptable to different occasions. For this reason, slow fashion activists are also willing to spend more on fewer items in neutral tones and natural fabrics.

This “less is more” mindset shows a focus on fighting against overconsumption and the habits of other consumer groups by actively avoiding fast-fashion brands and wasteful treatment of their clothing. 

These are three trends that are currently popular among slow fashion activists, based on Heuritech’s market insights:

According to Heuritech analysis

Persona 2: Vintage aficionados

The second persona, according to Heuritech experts, is labeled a vintage aficionado. This consumer is a fan of thrifting and can spend hours on secondhand platforms or in physical vintage shops to find the right pieces. This method of shopping is their alternative to fast fashion, because it’s cost-effective and allows them to buy with less guilt. 

Drawing inspiration from old imagery, magazines, films and celebrities from decades past, the vintage aficionado’s style is easily identifiable. Their aesthetic tends to be reminiscent of the 70s, 80s, 90s or Y2K fashion, a nod to fashion as an endless beginning.

It must be noted that this consumer is not outdated, however — their personal style is often regarded as daring, edgy and fashionable.

For instance, the #thrifthauls hashtag on TikTok currently sits at 3 million views, and high-end brands have reissued iconic items in the last several years as a response to this growing consumer base. 

This movement helps explain the spike in prices of certain original items on popular vintage resale platforms like The RealReal and Vestiaire Collective. Here, a growing number of luxury brands are committing to reselling archive products or products from recent collections, as a move toward sustainability and to allow a wider consumer base to access otherwise unaffordable luxury items. 

These three trends are currently popular among vintage aficionados, based on Heuritech’s market insights:

According to Heuritech analysis

Persona 3: Hybrid adopters

Last but not least, a hybrid adopter is a consumer who is strongly driven by trends and is heavily influenced by popular consumer behavior. This group is naturally the largest of the three, drawing inspiration from major fashion shows, popular culture, and social media. 

Discover more ways brands can materialize their commitment to sustainability

Because their sources of inspiration tend to be mainstream, the hybrid adopter follows the most popular fashion trends in any way they can. This consumer can make purchases from slow fashion brands and vintage stores if a major trend is available here, and also as a way to adhere to the growing push for sustainability.

Nonetheless, the hybrid adopter most often makes purchases from fast fashion brands to keep up with popular styles if they cannot find an alternative elsewhere.

The benefit of having a bandwagon mentality in such a large consumer group, though, is that these consumers can be influenced to move to more sustainably-minded groups.

Even if their initial exploration into alternative markets is driven by peer behavior, social media, and popular culture, it can turn into a genuine interest and a growing awareness of their purchasing decisions. 

These three trends are currently popular among hybrid adopters, based on Heuritech’s market insights:

According to Heuritech analysis

Consumer personas in the sustainability sphere

It’s useful for any fashion brand to understand consumer personas as a way to understand people’s needs and desires in order to retain existing customers and attract new ones. And in the sustainability sphere, the defining elements of a persona are unique to the growing environmental movement on behalf of brands and consumers.

Brands looking to make a difference while appealing to their audience can explore the defining elements of our three main personas — slow fashion activists, vintage aficionados, and hybrid adopters — as well as their respective styles according to our trend forecasters. With this analysis, the path to sustainable yet stylish collections becomes much clearer. 

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photo profil de l'auteur, Mélanie Mollard

About the writer: Mélanie Mollard, Fashion Content Writer

Mélanie writes about the fashion industry and its many features through the lens of AI and applied data.

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