The Material Innovation Initiative (MII), a non-profit dedicated to accelerating the development of next-generation materials, released a study in collaboration with North Mountain Consulting Group that found that many Chinese consumers have shifted their preferences away from animal leather and toward leather alternatives, revealing a market ripe for disruption.
China provides tremendous potential to anyone wanting to invest in its fast-developing markets, with roughly 20% of the world's population and a fashion industry revenue forecast to reach 383 billion USD in 2021, or 44% of the worldwide total. Not only are these industries booming, but they're also chock-full of customers who are more aware of the detrimental effects of legacy materials, most notably leather.
The goal of the study was to assess the prospects of introducing high-quality bio-based leather alternatives, often known as next-gen leather. A total of 501 Chinese customers were surveyed, representing various generations, educational levels, income levels, nationalities, faiths, and geographic locations.
70% of respondents were excited about buying leather alternatives and explained that they sought these out because of citing environmental issues (72%), quality (72%), animal welfare (63%), personal expression (61%), and cost (56%). Knowing why people choose next-generation leather can help develop effective messaging. Furthermore, 62% of these passionate customers said they would be willing to pay more for leather alternatives.
Nicole Rawling, co-founder and CEO of MII, said that consumers want to buy things that correspond with their beliefs, and they're becoming more conscious that animal leather isn't one of them. Leather production leads to greenhouse gas emissions, hazardous chemical pollutants, and adverse health effects for employees and the general public. Furthermore, leather manufacture uses the skins of around 1.4 billion animals each year, a fact that many customers find concerning. Developing next-generation leather substitutes that exceed leather both functionally and morally might lead to a complete shift of the leather business away from animal options.
In China, millennials and members of Gen X expressed the greatest preference for and probability of purchasing next-gen leather (75-76% highly likely to purchase). Millennials and Gen X, who had the highest chance of purchasing next-gen leather, also had the highest preference for next-gen leather.
Consumers who preferred animal leather (10%) said they chose it because they feel it is of higher quality, safer, and they are accustomed to using it. Some people were concerned about the quality of alternatives and wished to avoid them.
Keri Szejda, Founder & Principal Research Scientist, North Mountain Consulting Group, said that the survey revealed the highest rate of adoption of a new technology they've ever seen — 90% of participants chose a next-gen product over a conventional one, and 70% said they were very likely to buy it. This research shows that once next-gen leather reaches scale in urban Chinese markets, it will be widely accepted.
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