Consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable clothing.
Photo: Flickr / Muhammad Fiji (CC)
Anna Torres Garrote
What do you know about the clothes you wear, beyond the brand? Does it concern you if the environment is being contaminated in the production process, for example, through the use of toxic dyes? Little by little, there is a growing interest in these issues. In fact, a UOC study on consumer behaviour and fashion concludes that companies which are committed to sustainability, and include it as an environmental social responsibility in their business strategies, achieve higher sales. In fact, the vast majority of consumers surveyed are willing to pay more for an item of sustainable clothing; up to 50% more.
However, one in three consumers considers that it is difficult to find sustainable clothing they like as much or more than conventional clothing. The offer is still too small to reach the wider public. Sustainable fashion needs to have a “contemporary and attractive appearance” if it wants to reach the wider public, according to the research and its author, the Biologist and graduate of the UOC's University Master’s Degree in Corporate Social Responsibility, Roser Gasol.
What do we value most when buying clothes?
More than price, the factors most highly valued by consumers when buying conventional clothes are, according to the study, comfort, that they look good and their wearability.
By contrast, the main reason people buy sustainable clothes is the environment. “They prioritize the environmental benefit over the personal benefit”, Gasol says. More than half of those surveyed have purchased sustainable clothing, demonstrating that a market for this type of product does exist. The study says that being aware of the reasons behind the purchasing decision is fundamental for companies.
The study also points out that socio-demographic factors do not influence whether people buy sustainable clothes or not. So, even if a person has sustainable habits in their everyday life, such as eating ecological food, recycling or an account in an ethical bank, this does not mean they will buy sustainable clothes. “The results do not reveal any correlation between age, income, education level, marital status or habits”, the author explains.
Alternative models of consumption
The study has detected certain factors that could make sustainable fashion more popular. One of them is the implementation of alternative models of consumption, such as the case of second-hand clothing or the hiring of clothes, which would lead to “benefits both for companies and for society”.
One trend on the increase is upcycling: transforming waste into a new material of great value and utility. The Spanish company Ecoalf does this, and converts fishing nets, plastic and other waste it finds in the ocean into materials that can be used as textiles.
Along the same lines, H&M has implemented an initiative for recycling clothes: consumers leave used and unwanted clothing in its stores and the company recycles it.
Another factor that could help bring sustainable clothing to the wider public is including more environmental information on the labels. “Labelling could be an effective way of enabling consumers to recognize sustainable products, since most people acquire information on a product while they are purchasing it”. Some brands already include the place of manufacture or the type of textile used on the label, but do not state whether toxic substances were used or not in the manufacturing process of the clothing item.
Mango, for example, does not use products which are harmful to the environment, yet does not state this on the garment so the customer remains unaware of this. This is revealed in the study.
An exception is H&M, with green labels that indicate the use of organic cotton in its sustainable line, H&M Conscious. According to a report published by the Textile Exchange in 2013, H&M and C&A are two of the top fashion brands which, since 2011, have topped the world ranking of the ten companies that use organic cotton the most.
The role of the consumer is key
60% of those surveyed believe that consumers play an important role in mitigating environmental impacts. For this reason, they need to have as much product information as possible, to allow them to take the purchasing decision with a social and environmental conscience.
In this regard, they positively value alliances between textile companies and an NGO, such as the ones between Mango and Inditex and Greenpeace to eliminate toxic substances from the manufacturing process of their products.
Consequently, the study concludes that companies which implement good CSR practices, and communicate them, will have “greater opportunities for gaining the confidence of stakeholders and, therefore, increasing their competitiveness”.
The marine biologist Roser Gasol used a sample of 174 people to conduct the study “Consumer behaviour and QR codes in the textile sector. Environmental CSR in the textile sector”, presented as a final master's degree project for the UOC's University Master’s Degree in Corporate Social Responsibility.
Gasol is Communication officer of the SwitchMed, programme at the Regional Activity Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production. She has worked for fifteen years on the implementation of projects involving sustainability, the circular economy and communication. She collaborates with various communication media and publishing projects.