Survey: consumers want sustainable clothing

Consumers look to fashion brands for availability and trustworthy information on how to shop sustainably

SAN DIEGO, California – May 26, 2021 – Consumers in the United States want to make more environmentally-friendly choices when it comes to shopping for clothes, but a lack of availability and trustworthy information on what makes clothing more (or less) sustainable has made “sustainable fashion” elusive for many. A new survey of 2,000 teenagers and adults in the U.S. from clean manufacturing leader Genomatica set out to understand consumers’ awareness, perspectives and behaviors around sustainability in fashion, finding that 86% of consumers believe sustainability is a good goal, yet nearly half (48%) don’t know how or where to find sustainable clothes and 42% are confused about what makes clothing sustainable.

Consumers are aware of environmental issues in the fashion industry

  • Nearly 3 in 4 (72%) consumers have heard of environmental sustainability issues in the fashion industry — listing excess consumption, carbon emissions and water pollution from dye processes as issues they’re aware of.
  • Half (51%) believe that Americans’ clothing purchases each year result in substantial greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The pandemic may have helped grow consumer awareness: 38% who are aware of sustainability issues in fashion have only become aware of them over the past year.

Consumers want to make better choices, but they’re confused about what makes clothing sustainable and how or where to find it

  • Half (52%) of consumers believe sustainability is important and they consciously make choices to be more sustainable and 47% want to make more sustainable clothing choices, but they give into what’s more convenient.
  • 55% are interested in purchasing so-called “sustainable clothing,” but 48% don’t know how or where to find sustainable clothes and 42% are confused about what actually makes clothing sustainable.
  • Over a third (34%) say, “If there was a store for sustainable clothes, I’d do all my shopping there,” about the same number (33%) who say availability in chain clothing stores would make them want to purchase sustainable clothing. 31% would even support a “fast fashion tax” on clothing that’s unsustainable.

One respondent said it plainly: “It’s somewhat difficult to make sustainable choices because I’m never really sure what sustainable means, particularly with clothing.” Another said: “It’s kind of hard to make sustainable choices because most companies where I live aren’t making sustainable clothes.”

How clothing is made and what it’s made from are important considerations for consumers

  • 58% of consumers care about the materials that make their clothes and want them to not be harmful to the planet.
  • Nearly half (47%) rank clothing made with renewably-sourced or natural materials as a top sustainability characteristic, with around the same percent (46%) that list production processes with few to no toxic chemicals in their top three.
  • 53% of consumers believe the majority of clothes are made of primarily synthetic material, slightly more than the number of consumers (47%) who realize fossil fuels (crude oil, coal, etc.) are the main building blocks of synthetic clothing.

Other findings from the Genomatica study include:

Consumers are on the lookout for “greenwashing” in the fashion industry, but they still want brands to do the legwork to make sustainable choices easier

  • Nearly 9 in 10 (88%) consumers don’t immediately trust brands that say they’re sustainable and half (51%) believe “greenwashing” is common in the fashion industry.
  • 55% want clothing brands to help them understand how their products are more sustainable than alternatives.
  • Half (50%) say that a sustainability label would help them identify sustainable clothes while shopping, and 38% say clearer information about sustainability features would make them want to purchase sustainable clothing.
  • 44% believe brands are to blame for not prioritizing or providing enough convenient sustainable alternatives.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumer purchasing behaviors around clothing

  • During the pandemic, 44% of consumers say they purchased less clothing compared to before the pandemic, with more women saying so (50%) than men (39%).
  • Nearly 1 in 3 (30%) who purchased more clothing since the start of the pandemic say they used shopping to help them deal with anxiety, depression and loneliness.
  • Half (49%) say the pandemic reduced the pressure they feel to wear a different outfit every day.

“Consumers are demanding more sustainable options and we’re seeing time and time again that it’s information and availability that would help shoppers make the choices they’re seeking. There’s a significant opportunity for fashion and apparel brands to show real leadership and make a substantive impact by providing consumers with the clear information they desire on the sourcing and environmental impact of their products,” said Christophe Schilling, Genomatica’s CEO. “With consumers on the side of sustainability and renewably-sourced options for common apparel materials like nylon becoming available, the choice for brands should become easy.”

About Genomatica

Genomatica is harnessing synthetic biology to remake the world of everyday products and materials through the power of clean manufacturing. The company is developing more sustainable, higher-performance key ingredients for everyday products, using plants and waste rather than fossil fuels or other non-sustainable sources like palm oil. Genomatica has already commercialized products to make better plastics, spandex and cosmetics, and is working on nylon, household cleaners and more. To learn more, visit

Media Contact

For Genomatica: Katherine Grubaugh,, +1.630.485.9214

Survey Methodology: Genomatica conducted this research using an online survey prepared by Method Research and distributed by Dynata among n=2,000 teenagers and adults in the United States. The sample was composed of equally sized generational age groups, and an even gender split between men and women, with a nationally representative geographic spread of respondents. Data was collected from March 31 to April 8, 2021.