What we learned about the Gen X consumer and their attitude to sustainable fashion and beauty

Jun 28, 2022 |4 min read
Sustainable fashion and beauty

During their internship at 2CV, Laura Whitlock and Neesha Nhika conducted research to explore the sustainable fashion and beauty industry and how it affects purchasing decisions. Here they share their learnings.


Sustainable branding has become the ‘new normal’

In the last five years, the Economist Intelligence Unit found that the popularity of internet searches for sustainable goods around the world increased by a shocking 71%. For industries such as fashion and beauty, sustainable developments and the demand for more ‘ethical’ methods has become ‘the new normal’. Here, Millennials and Gen Zers are leading the charge and becoming the target of many campaigns.

A report from OC&C found Gen X are the biggest drivers of sustainable shopping, but how important do they view sustainability to be, and how much do they consider it when making purchases?

Looking at three groups - Gen Z (18-23), Millennials (24-39), Gen X (40-55) - we conducted interviews to investigate the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of individuals from each of these generations towards sustainable fashion and beauty. The results fed into the design of an online survey comprising 100 individuals from each group. This mixed-method approach allowed us to gain a broader idea of the drivers behind brand choice, understand each age group’s perceived barriers to purchasing sustainable fashion and beauty products, as well as the potential implications this may have on brands and businesses.

Our findings revealed that although Gen Xers displayed less interest in the sustainable fashion and beauty industry, they had high levels of awareness of the topic and reported having made many other changes to their behaviour in the interest of sustainable living. Interestingly, many Gen Xers described the desire to become more sustainable in day-to-day life, yet also acknowledged that it was not currently holding much influence on their fashion or beauty purchasing decisions. We believe this disparity presents a key opportunity for brands to turn their attention to the Gen X consumer, and work out how they can best appeal to this well-established and valuable market.


Gen X believe brands and businesses hold the key to a sustainable future

When asked who in society they believed to be most responsible for the push towards a more sustainable future, Gen Z and Millennials mostly viewed sustainability in these industries to be a government’s responsibility, while Gen X believed it is companies who must make this change. As such, brand responsibility is incredibly important among Gen Xers who strongly believe that brands must lead the way in making real sustainable changes. The ways in which we believe brands can convince Gen Xers of the impact they are making are outlined below.


Capturing Gen Xers attention via social media – the medium is the message

“My friend told me about this really good eco-friendly deodorant brand, I went and looked it up and found it on Facebook and Instagram. I loved their page and now I’m hooked!” - Gen X (40-55), Female

The above quote comes from a Gen X participant who had recently switched to a more sustainable deodorant brand. This encapsulates the willingness of this generation to make sustainable changes, as well as the power of trusted recommendations.

Along with word-of-mouth, Gen Xers of all age groups were more likely to prefer products advertised over Facebook than other types of social media. Although they may initially receive information by word-of-mouth, social media is often key to re-confirming and providing a final push on purchasing decisions. Picking the right channels to market your brand can mean that you cover a broader range of potential consumers – especially older consumers. Brands must use this desire and find appropriate mediums to spread their message.


Building trust with totally transparent outputs

The Gen Xers we surveyed reported difficulty navigating the sustainable brand environment, with 47% agreeing that they find it hard to know which brands are truly sustainable. This was a larger percentage than those from both younger generations. Gen Xers confusion was also accompanied by feelings of distrust, with many of those interviewed bringing up suspicions of ‘greenwashing’ - that is, that many brands market themselves to be more sustainable than they really are.

But how do you gain and build trust? We believe this is done from the bottom up through transparency. Brands and businesses must clearly state exactly how and why their products are sustainable to build consumer confidence.


Navigating a balance between price and quality

Of all generations interviewed in our study, it was apparent that Gen Xers were particularly conscious of the cost of the items they buy. As such, they were the most likely of all age groups surveyed to state that they were unwilling to spend more money for fashion and beauty items simply because they are, or are marketed as, sustainable. Findings from our interviews also revealed that sustainable products, especially sustainable beauty products, are perceived as being of lesser quality and effectiveness.

However, brands can mitigate this (at least to an extent) by ensuring the key benefits of their sustainable items are emphasized, particularly, with a focus on their quality.

Overall, we believe there is huge potential for tapping into this relatively untargeted age group in the sustainable fashion and beauty market. Their drive to make real environmental changes, coupled with a desire to see this starting with companies, brands, and businesses, are undoubtable indicators of the purchasing potential of Gen Xers.