Analysing the Material Innovation Initiative Report: Consumer Adoption of Next-Gen Materials

As life moves forward, people are adopting different ways to make a change in the world and keep it cleaner and greener to ensure a brighter future. The beauty of time is it never stops; time is the one thing that is steady yet still dynamic. The word “generation” comes to mind, a word of two meanings according to the Oxford Dictionary: “all of the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively” & “the production or creation of something new”. As people are evolving through generations, so does materials, giving birth to the next-gen materials. Yet, what are they? And how can we implement them effectively? 

Next-gen Materials, according to the Material Innovation Initiative (MII), are a new category of high performance and more sustainable materials that are emerging as substitutes to materials that are traditionally sourced from animals. These include leather, silk, fur, wool, down, and exotic skins. Imagine that! Alternatives for all the materials that are causing the biggest issues for our ecosystem and our dear mother-nature! This month, Material Innovation Initiative have conducted a study to evaluate consumers’ Adoption of next-gen Materials: A U.S. Segmentation Study; examining their habits and preferences of the consumers most likely to purchase these materials, in order to effectively market them. 

It is important to first discuss the segment of consumers most likely to endorse next-gen materials, known as “early adopters”. According to the Diffusion of Innovation Theoretical Model, they are the first people to represent an opinion. They are leaders, who are aware of the need to change, and therefore, comfortable enough to adopt new ideas. Through the early adopters, subsequent population segments watch and later adopt similar ideas, after the innovation begins to be normalised in society. 

In the report, the study focused on US consumers and investigated the likelihood of adoptions, preferences and sociodemographic information of these early adopters. According to the report, it is no surprise that millennials are most liked to be early adopters and purchase next-gen materials, followed by Gen X, Boomers, and Gen Z. Nevertheless, all of the general population (97%) were at least somewhat supportive of next-gen materials being widely available, while more than half (55%) of the general population was highly supportive. Support was fairly even across generations. This proves that next-gen materials are finding a way to normalisation, which will hopefully spread with time, amongst the whole population.

According to the report, the characteristics that most attract these early adopters are: environmental benefits, animal welfare, and quality. These characteristics are the top reasons for early adopters to purchase next-gen materials. Nevertheless, there are other factors that play a role in the consumers’ behaviours. For instance, according to the study conducted, when it comes to the technologies used to produce these materials, it is stated that the likelihood of purchasing was higher for products made with familiar production technologies (recycled materials, biodegradable, materials sourced from plants / algae / fungi). This in fact, is no surprise! We all feel more comfortable with familiarity!

However, there are other technologies that are being introduced to the industry, such as biopolymers, cell-cultivation and greenhouse gas inputs…etc. The study suggests that these unfamiliar methods have a lower chance of being purchased by early adopters for now. Yet, with education and awareness this may change over the course of time, eventually leading to a bloom in the industry. Let’s hope we see a change within the years coming, where we normalise sustainability over the exotic luxury materials; luxury should never end with pollution!

In congruence with motivations for purchasing, the top three names preferred by early adopters were eco (preferred by 28%), animal-free (preferred by 21%), and next-gen (preferred by 19%). Bio-based, alternative, vegan, and bio were less preferred overall. Analysing the reasonings behind that, it is stated that overall, name preference was primarily related to the benefit inherent in the name. For example, eco was preferred because it showed the products are good for the environment, animal-free was preferred because it showed the products do not harm animals, and next-gen was preferred because it showed that the products are innovative.

Alongside, the study states that the attributes that the consumers mostly appreciate are quality, followed by price, value and sustainability, where both sociodemographic, men and women  were essentially the same. Early adopters are in general more liberal and educated, which is why they are most likely to adopt different methods and ways of sustainable living. Half or more of early adopters indicated they would purchase the following next-gen products in the next five years: shoes (86% would purchase next-gen), wallet (79%), coats (78%), sweater (77%), sofa or chair (77%), belt (74%), automobile (67%), handbag or purse (61%), scarf (56%), and tie (49%).  

It is quite clear that there is an increase in the interest in next-gen materials today. Yet, like every other concept in the world, education and awareness is key. The Material Innovation Initiative Report gave us insight to how consumers behave and their preferences. It is a growing concept that is fuelled by trends taken on by early adopters. Therefore, it is our mission as sustainability activists to lead the way and open more doors for the other segments to join in! Let’s work together to normalise next-gen materials, and make sure our earth stays clean!