From comfort and style to eco-friendliness, the future looks bright for linen

·3-min read
Consumer interest in linen continues unabated, whether in France, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, China or India.

Linen seems to be enjoying some well-deserved revenge, after being ousted from the fashion scene in recent years by newer (more polluting) materials. Seen all over fashion catwalks, as well as on the shelves of ready-to-wear stores, this age-old plant-based fiber is proving a hit with brands, as well as consumers, whether in Europe, the United States or Asia, where the fabric is appreciated as much for its comfort and style as for its low environmental impact.

Long associated with home textiles and beachwear, linen has been making a triumphant return to closets in recent seasons. Brands are turning to the plant-based fiber in an attempt to reduce their impact on the planet while also meeting new consumer expectations. Indeed, linen is grown mostly in Western Europe, and does not require much in the way of water, fertilizer or pesticides, all without generating waste. Consumers also seem to see linen as one of the materials of the future, whether for reasons of style or for its many environmental qualities.

So suggests a new report from the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp (CELC)*, in partnership with the Economic Observatory of the Institut Français de la Mode, surveying thousands of consumers in France, Italy, the UK, the US, China and India. The results show that consumers in each country have their own perceptions of linen, but that the fabric is becoming increasingly popular around the world.

Linen: a material in the spotlight

Linen's popularity is hardly surprising given the current concerns of consumers around the world. Consumers in Italy (84%) and the UK (69%), for example, say they plan to favor natural fabrics in their clothing purchases in 2021. And this extends beyond fashion, since, to a lesser extent, natural fabrics are also looking popular among consumers for interior decoration purchases.

In the ready-to-wear sector, linen is now the second most popular material among French and Chinese consumers, just behind cotton. In fact, one person in five in China considers linen to be their favorite fabric, compared to one consumer in ten in India, where silk has been a prime choice for centuries. All in all, it seems clear that clothes made of linen will be popular in 2021. Nearly half of the French respondents (48.6%) say they plan to buy them. This figure rises to 65% for respondents in the United States, 67% in Italy, 75% in China and 82% in India.

A comfortable and eco-friendly fabric

So why are consumers increasingly turning to linen? While the fabric's environmental qualities tend to be highlighted first and foremost, these aren't the material's only characteristics. For example, lightness and comfort are the main factors cited by French respondents as reasons for purchasing. The freshness or coolness of the fabric is particularly important in Italy and China, just as style is paramount in India and the UK.

It's also surprising to see that consumers' perceptions of linen differ considerably from country to country. European and Indian consumers associate the material with a shirt or a summer dress, while the Chinese see it primarily as a jacket. Meanwhile, one in five Indian consumers associate the fabric with a traditional garment, the kurta.

The report also reveals that the criteria driving consumers to purchase an 'eco-friendly' linen product reside in the fabric's environmental impact -- especially for Chinese consumers -- as well as environmentally friendly production for consumers in India, Italy and, again, in China. Moreover, an overwhelming majority of consumers in France, the United Kingdom and the United States say that they are interested in obtaining information on the environmental or social traceability of linen products.

* The Flax/Linen Barometer 2021 surveyed 6,600 consumers across six countries: France, Italy, the UK, the USA, China and India. In each country, 1,100 consumers age 18+ were surveyed.

Christelle Pellissier

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