Sustainable well fashion

Principles over products.

This has become the de facto mantra for an increasing number of consumers worldwide who can best be described as belief-driven buyers. Take a position counter to societal issues, and a brand could find itself on the receiving end of consumer ire. In fact, nearly half of internet users have switched products or services for just this reason–with protecting the environment being a chief concern.

And when former Utah governor Gary Herbert revoked national park status for millions of acres of public land, Patagonia, a brand known for its environmental stewardship, pulled out of Outdoor Retailer, a trade exhibition that draws 50,000 visitors and roughly $45 million in economic impact to Salt Lake City each year. Other brands followed suit, and the show’s owner decided to move all upcoming events from the state, reporting being “in lockstep with the outdoor community” as the reason for finding a new home.

Sustainability is now core to more brands, becoming almost mandatory. Today, textile companies can’t even enter into a conversation with any sustainable clothing brand without that box being checked. Otherwise, the authenticity of their brand’s environmental stance comes into question, and consumers take notice. They believe brands should put their money where their mouth is, which is what Patagonia did by withdrawing from Outdoor Retailer.

Should sustainable fashion include wellness wear?

Although sustainability in the fashion industry will become the new norm, an emergent focus on health and wellness still invites this question: Are we on the precipice of what some would call “well fashion”? (Think athleisure, but with properties that improve or benefit a person’s well-being.)

After all, the mentality surrounding health and wellness is maturing, taking on dimensions other than diet and exercise. People are adopting habits that support proactive, preventive health, with 73 percent of U.S. consumers engaging in wellness activities, be it healthy eating, meditation, or exercise. Part of this is because of the pandemic, but the move toward wellness — at least for a larger segment of the population — began seven or so years ago.

With an expanded focus on personal care, it only stands to reason that wellness and fashion would converge. At Hologenix, we’re encouraging people to expect more from clothing. Now, it can actually support and enhance our bodies’ functions and improve wellness. And for those fighting climate change, ecofriendly fashion could be redefined as clothing that adapts to environmental changes.

As sustainable fashion has grown beyond the ecological integrity of industry business practices to also include societal issues, wellness might just be its next frontier.

Standardizing well-being is the future

Famed marketer Philip Kotler once said, “Every business is a service business.” Try as you might, it’s hard to argue with this rationale. A business is in business to serve a specific customer. Given that people are so attuned to their health and personal care, then, should every business be a health and wellness business, too? Will health and wellness soon be just as much of a mandate as sustainability in the fashion industry?

One indication that this might be true comes from the construction and remodeling industry. Projects have long been able to be LEED-certified, signifying that the building meets certain criteria in regards to sustainability, energy efficiency, and environmental best practices. The new certification is WELL, shifting the focus from buildings themselves to the people inside. The facility must meet certain “wellness” requirements for air, water, light, comfort, mind, fitness, and nourishment.

That’s not to say that the future of the fashion industry is wellness certifications, but sustainable clothing brands will likely move to implement new standards related to wellness (along with their existing environmental, social, and societal practices). Like sustainable fashion, well fashion can offer style and quality–just with additional health benefits.

Besides, people have long purchased products because of what they indicate to others. Designer handbags might be objectively obnoxious at times, but they still fly off the shelves because they serve as a status symbol. The same goes for cars. Whether it’s a Tesla Model 3 or Toyota Prius, the choice of automobile says something about the driver. Even athleisure wear falls within this model. Just because people hit the streets in yoga pants doesn’t mean they’re off to the gym.

Does this also apply to sustainable fashion brands? To some degree, yes. Social signaling is all about trying to portray an image, whether the person believes in environmental initiatives or not. Will the same be true for health and wellness trends in fashion? Probably, but that still doesn’t mean conspicuous consumption will negate the health benefits of wearing such apparel.

The verdict on sustainable fashion companies embracing wellness

If health and wellness trends are the future of consumer sentiment, sustainable fashion companies (or any fashion company, at that) need to listen to the world. You don’t want to be the horse-and-buggy seller when Ford starts rolling out its cars. And as far as current fashion trends go, we’re already seeing performance fabrics becoming more responsive.

Thanks to smart fabrics and interactive textiles, people can now monitor their health or harvest their own energy (both kinetic and heat). While it used to be that companies would treat a fabric to enhance the performance of the fabric itself, additions such as ceramic minerals make it possible for the body to benefit. For instance, some particles can now be woven into textiles to capture body heat and then emit infrared light back into the body to increase blood flow and stimulate cell oxygenation.

Technological advancement has led to many benefits in the world today. It was only a matter of time before the fashion industry would begin embracing many of these same innovations–or, at the very least, use these innovations to improve the performance of textiles. Health and wellness will be a part of this. It’s the natural evolution of fashion and sustainability.

This article originally appeared in Inc. Masters.