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08/18/2011 06:56 AM     print story email story  

Are Sustainable Apparel Companies Telling the Truth?

SustainableBusiness.com News

The public often views the apparel industry as lacking transparency, sustainability and ethical practices. But University of Missouri researchers find that people would support apparel companies that employ sustainable and ethical practices; if those businesses could verify their claims.

Gargi Bhaduri, a doctoral student, and Jung Ha-Brookshire, an assistant professor of textile and apparel management in the College of Human Environmental Sciences at the University of Missouri, surveyed people to learn if they're willing to pay a premium for products produced using sustainable and ethical methods. The survey is published in Clothing and Textiles Research Journal.

As usual in these kinds of surveys, respondents said they'd be willing to pay 15%-20% more for such products. Unfortunately, what people say in these surveys often doesn't translate to buying behavior.

The more important point is how skeptical people are about apparel companies' claims of transparency and sustainability.

"While consumers seem willing to support businesses that do practice sustainability and ethics, general distrust in the transparency of all apparel businesses tend to keep them from spending money on those businesses with sustainable practices," Bhaduri says.

That skepticism seems to stem from suspicions that sustainability claims are falsified or exaggerated as marketing ploys. The study suggests that people would feel more confident in those claims if products were certified by an objective authority, whom they can trust.

"The apparel industry is one of the most globalized modern industries," Bhaduri says. "Multiple countries are involved in manufacturing a single garment, making it almost impossible for consumers to know all the suppliers involved in apparel manufacturing. Because of this, if a business wants to establish a relationship of trust with consumers, it is up to the business to supply finished goods with visible and accessible information concerning the global manufacturing processes."

Bhaduri and Ha-Brookshire also conclude that people want convenient information regarding product sustainability, such as hangtags, care labels, and point-of-purchase tags that have clear information about their sustainable business practices.



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