The Oeko-Tex Association presented findings of a new research study “The Key to Confidence: Consumers and Textile Sustainability—Attitudes, Changing Behaviors and Outlooks“, focusing on global consumers rather than the textile trade.
The more than 11,000 participating consumers completed an online survey with a full spectrum of questions designed to gauge their attitudes about sustainability, harmful substances, environmental responsibility and the social welfare of textile workers.
The study found that consumers do want to live more sustainably and that their concerns about the textile industry are growing. Consumers who learn about the textile industry think differently about their purchases and they want to make sure to “buy the right products”. In addition, Oeko-Tex certification raises confidence and climate change is a serious issue for people worldwide.
Consumers prefer sustainable lifestyle
However, though a significant 70 percent of those surveyed indicated that they are “committed to a sustainable, environmentally friendly lifestyle”, their actual behaviour does not – yet – reflect this. As the study puts it: “Many are indeed making changes…. However, the gap between the 70 percent who want to live sustainably and the percentages reporting changes show that this desire is aspirational: people may be on their way but they aren’t quite ‘there’ yet.”
In terms of knowledge and concerns about the textile industry, 4 in 10 consumers globally admitted that they “don’t know much about the way textiles or clothes are produced”. In fact, most do not consider the textile industry to be a major polluter at this time (it is perceived to rank sixth after the following industries: energy, car, home care products, airline and food). However, twice as many people (41 percent) who live in manufacturing regions consider the textile industry a major polluter and rank it as the third most polluting industry after the energy and car industries.
Consumers worry about harmful substances in clothes
What the researchers found surprising, however, is that a higher percentage of consumers than thought – 4 in 10 people – are concerned about harmful substances in clothing or home textiles. In fact, there is only a 20 point difference between concerns about harmful substances in food (where the consumer sustainability movement started) and in clothing: the gap appears to be closing. For the researchers, this is an indicator that impressions of the textile industry might be changing.
The study found that most of those surveyed – 80 to 90 percent – are aware of “eco-friendly” clothing and home textiles and that there is a positive perception of the label among those who have purchased eco-friendly clothing (36 percent), which they describe as “high quality”, “soft”, “innovative”, “unique” and“durable” or “long-lasting”. Those less likely to purchase also describe these items positively but perceive them to be “expensive” and “hard to find.” Parenthood seems to be a portal to a more sustainable, healthy lifestyle as parents start to eat better and use less toxic personal care or home cleaning products and purchase is higher (54 percnt) for “clothing or home textiles for babies or young children made with organic or other sustainable fibers.”
Brands play an important role for consumers
However, today’s educated consumers are often skeptical of claims like “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” and two-thirds (64-65 percent) admit to checking those claims, i.e. by looking for a certification label (52 percent), checking fibre content (49 percent) or the brand’s sustainability practices (33 percent). The latter should note that they play an important role for consumers who hold them accountable, count on them for assurances of responsible production and look to them as role models to sustainable living.
Specifically, 4 in 10 consumers (42 percent) “like to know the values and principles of brands of clothing they buy”, 38 percent “like to know what small steps brands have taken to be more sustainable – even if they’re not fully ‘green’” and many consumers commented spontaneously that a certification label helps (or would help) them know which brands to trust and which to avoid.
“I want to know if the brands or manufacturers I buy cause less pollution than others”, said one Chinese consumers, while another one from Spain said: “Certified clothing proves to us that a company is committed to making clothes in the most environmentally responsible way.” “As a mother, I’m very interested in making sure that our clothes and home textiles are safe from harmful substances and environmentally and socially sustainable,” declared a respondent from Germany.
A brand’s sustainability story is key in winning consumer confidence
In terms of consumer education, although most consumers confessed that they know little about how clothing is produced, “it is clear that there is growing awareness of ‘facts’ about the impact of the textile industry” according to the study. For example, almost one in two consumers (45 percent) indicated that they would favour responsible clothing and textile brands. “This suggests that there is a need for brands to tell their sustainability story across a variety of communication vehicles so consumers would be able to get the information they want easily”, concludes the study.