What Does Lyst’s Year in Fashion 2019 Report Say About Sustainability?

As the new year gets underway, Lyst’s annual report delivers trend findings from the previous 12 months to reveal how shoppers are behaving, and what (or who) is grabbing their attention. So, how does sustainability feature in the 2019 report? Julia O’Driscoll takes a closer look. 

Last week, global fashion search engine Lyst published the Year in Fashion 2019 report, revealing what’s been piquing the interest of 104 million online shoppers in the past 12 months. From breakout brands to the year’s style icons, the findings show that sustainability began to significantly influence the mainstream fashion conversation – in fact, the report identifies both sustainability and inclusivity as the two key movements of 2019. 

But just a few pages on, the report lists 2019’s ‘viral products’ – starting with the fad-worthy fast fashion item of the year, the dress. From July, searches for polka dot dresses rose dramatically as buzz around Zara’s monochrome midi grew louder and louder; mentions for the brand on social media rose by an astonishing 1,392% too.

Does the report indicate that the fashion industry has reached the positive turning point that we’ve been waiting for, or is sustainability simply the latest buzzword to be considered fashionable? Looking into the findings, it seems that could be the question facing the industry itself. So first, a closer look at the data.

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Sustainable fashion champion Meghan Markle was named the most powerful dresser of 2019, as shoppers increasingly searched for items similar to the Duchess of Sussex’s wardrobe. Favouring slower fashion brands like Mayamiko, Veja and William Vintage, Meghan’s ability to influence fashion-followers shouldn’t be underestimated. “You cannot put a price on the brand recognition nor the credibility that the Duchess is able to bestow on a small, socially-orientated enterprise such as ours,” James Bartle, founder of Outland Denim, told us in July last year. While on tour in Australia in 2018, Meghan was spotted wearing a pair of Outland jeans on several occasions, and in 2019 she attended Wimbledon in another pair. The ‘Markle Sparkle’ sprinkled the business with exposure, allowing it to grow exponentially; the brand was able to employ 40 more seamstresses in its Cambodian production house as a tangible result of Meghan’s influential impact, James told us.

As information and awareness around sustainability increases, it’s also promising to see people increasingly hunting out specific low-impact materials. Searches for ECONYL®regenerated nylon were up 102% and Tencel, a material favoured by ethical brands like Birdsong, was up 42%. With shoppers searching for organic cotton and REPREVE® too, it seems that interest is turning towards what’s in our clothes, and where the fibres we introduce into our wardrobes are coming from. It’s perhaps less surprising but still great to see that more people are opting for resale and rental when shopping, with technological developments making it easier to source low-cost luxury pieces from individuals themselves.  

Image: Birdsong

Genderless and gender neutral were key terms that shoppers looked for too, Lyst reports, putting this down to an increased movement towards inclusivity in fashion. But perhaps this is also indicative of a move towards buying more classic, timeless designs, pieces that are versatile and adaptable, and thus more likely to stick around in our wardrobes for years and years to come – #Beyond30wears.

So, the wider picture: how significant are these findings at this moment in time? Searches for ‘sustainability’ tot up an average of 27,000 searches each month (up 75% year on year), but it seems the real issue goes beyond the numbers and search volumes themselves. I’ve picked out the more ‘eco’ highlights of the report, the parts that suggest that consumers are moving towards more ethical, sustainable options when shopping. But given that the viral products and power dressers named in the report include a significant number of fast fashion items and (unofficial) fast fashion ambassadors, there’s certainly still a long way to go.

It’s the buzzword of the moment, but does this new interest in sustainability go deep enough to shape future business models and change shoppers’ long-term habits? The crux of the matter is that sustainability needs to be more than just a trend listed in a trend report; it needs to be the benchmark against which fashion is assessed. Imagine if the ‘viral products’ on next year’s list were all pieces made from low-impact fibres, if the ‘moods’ included DIY upcycling, and the ‘movements’ reflected fairer and more transparent supply chains; would that be a more promising move?

Yesterday, our head of sustainable fashion and textile Charlotte Turner mentioned that in certain circles the terminology has moved beyond sustainability to consider regenerative fashion. If that’s the case, then Lyst’s topline sustainability highlights fall far short of where the conversation needs to be moving, particularly against a landscape of relentless consumer demand.

The industry is undoubtedly experiencing a significant shake up and change in attitudes at the start of this year, so how can we as individuals continue the momentum throughout the year? Be sure to check our sustainability gamechangers column for monthly updates from Brooke Roberts-Islam on technologies, innovations and developments that are helping to shape the future of fashion. As more and more people begin to slow down their shopping habits, get ready to chat about why you’re wearing the same dress for three days in a row and celebrate the stories behind you and your peers existing wardrobes. And, of course, be critical when reading highlights and headlines that make sustainability claims; they may be accurate, but be sure to do your own due diligence before buying into clickbait.

Find out how to start dressing ethically with this simple guide.

What’s the problem with ‘sustainable fashion’? Charlotte Turner investigates.

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