Half of the Japanese in their 20s would choose sustainable fashion items!

The importance of sustainability to a business is real and cannot be overstated. Companies in all sectors across the world are refining their sustainability strategy and how value can be added to the business, customers and society.

As such, Rakuten Insight investigated Japanese consumers’ attitudes and behaviours towards sustainability in fashion, by asking 1,000 consumers from their own proprietary panel in Japan. Here ‘sustainable fashion items’ refers to clothing that uses environmentally friendly and recyclable materials. Furthermore, the pandemic and inflation have impacted Japan, like many markets, so the impact of COVID-19 and inflation on fashion was also explored.

Sustainable Fashion Items

In Japan, it is the younger generation who are blazing the sustainability trail in fashion. The percentage of people in their 20s (50%) who chose ‘sustainable fashion items was the highest, and the lowest was for those in their 60s (31%). With a difference of almost 20 points between the generations and almost half of those in their 20s choosing sustainable fashion items, the target for sustainable fashion items is clear.

Overall, there was a mixed response in terms of interest in sustainable fashion items. Our panellists were asked whether they would purchase ‘sustainable fashion items’ or ‘regular fashion items’ if they were almost the same design and price. 42% of consumers answered in the Top 2 Box for a preference for sustainable fashion items. Whilst 58% answered in the Top 2 Box for a preference for regular fashion items.

There are some potential barriers to sustainable fashion items. When asked about the image of sustainable fashion items, 38% answered ‘limited choice’ (12%) or rather limited choice’ (27%). Furthermore, there is a mixed feelings about how easy sustainable fashion items are to handle. Included in this term is a sense of easy to wear (feels good), wash and maintain. 20% of consumers felt that sustainable clothes didn’t feel easy to handle (6%) or somewhat not easy to handle (15%). Whilst 27% felt that sustainable clothes were either easy to handle (4%) or somewhat easy to handle (23%). 

Disposal of clothing

Fast fashion has had an impact on sustainability within fashion, especially when it comes to the disposal of clothing. In our survey, the top disposal method for clothes that are no longer worn by far is ‘disposing of them in the garbage of local governments’ (67%). In a distant second and third, were ‘selling them to thrift stores’ (25%) and ‘storing them in chests and closets’ (14%).

For Japanese consumers, the younger generation have a higher awareness of the impact of fast fashion on sustainability with women in their 20s-30s more likely to have a higher awareness of reuse, selling in recycled fashion stores (20s -33%, 30s-39%) or selling at online auctions and flea market apps (20s-31%, 30s-21%).

Fashion scenes

When asked which scenes emphasize fashion, the scene most commonly answered was ‘when going out on a date’ (72%). The role of fashion for those social occasions was also highlighted by the second and third highest scenes: ‘when going out with friends of the opposite sex’ (66%) and ‘when going out with a spouse or partner’ (63%). This was especially true for women in Japan. Only 8% of women in all age groups answered ‘when going out with friends of the same sex’. However, 21% of women in their 20s and 31% of women in their 30s answered “when going out alone’ indicating that they tended to pay attention to fashion regardless of who or if they were going out with anyone.

Social Media

The role of social media as a source of information for fashion is well-established. Interestingly, in Japan Instagram is only the second most referred-to information source (20%). Apparel store displays are the top source of information (24%), and magazines are in third place (20%). This may indicate that entrenched habits offering differing benefits take longer to change in a market like Japan. For example, shopping with friends & family provides the opportunity to socialise, and the preference for traditional print formats may provide a level of comfort and familiarity. Rakuten Insight also identified this trend in a survey on e-readers, where it was found a stronger preference for traditional book formats compared to other markets in Asia. However, the role of social media will continue to increase with Instagram being the key source for women (27%) compared to men (13%).  

COVID Impact

COVID had an impact on many sectors across the world. In Japan, only 6% of consumers stated that there had been no change in their level of interest in fashion. The main impact of the pandemic can be seen in the purchase channel. The frequency of online purchases of clothes increased for 47% of our participants (Increased-20%, slightly increased-28%). On the other hand, 42% stated that the frequency of purchases in physical stores had decreased (decreased-20%, slightly decreased-22%).

Impact of inflation

Post-pandemic inflation has been felt in many markets. In Japan, the increase in the price of food has impacted the available spending on fashion items. When asked about the change in the frequency of purchase of fashion items due to the increase in grocery prices after 2022, it was found that the frequency of purchasing fashion items had “decreased” by more than 2%. This was especially true for women compared to men. Overall, there was a decrease across fashion items stated as being impacted: accessories (32%); clothing (28%); bags (27%); hats (26%) and shoes (22%).


In conclusion, a few key findings emerged. Firstly, a key impact of the pandemic has been an increase in purchasing fashion items online. Secondly, although Instagram and social media has a clear role in providing the latest fashion information, the emotional benefits provided by visits to store displays and fashion magazines remain strong in Japan. And finally, especially in Japan, the role of the younger generation in promoting a more sustainable society will be critical.

Related articles:  2022 Impact of COVID-19 on consumer behaviour

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