Even though most consumers overall don’t think the textile industry is a major polluter, 41 percent of those who live in manufacturing regions do consider textile manufacturing to be a major contributor to pollution, and rank it as the third most polluting industry after the energy and car sectors.
Revealed in Oeko-Tex’s new study of sustainability, “The Key to Confidence: Consumers and Textile Sustainability Mindsets, Changing Behaviors, and Outlooks,” the survey of 11,200 adult consumers also showed that 40 percent of respondents admit that they don’t know a whole lot about the way textiles or clothes are produced.
Forty percent of survey participants said they are concerned about harmful substances in clothing or home textiles. Oeko-Tex noted that there is only a 20-point difference between concerns about harmful substances in food and in clothing and “the gap appears to be closing,” which is “an indicator that impressions of the textile industry might be changing.”
The study was Oeko-Tex’s first to focus on the global consumer rather than on the textile trade. Now in its 25th year, Oeko-Tex offers companies along the textile value chain independent certifications and services.
The global survey included consumers from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, Switzerland and the U.S.
Overall concerns about climate change were reflected in peoples’ attitudes and beliefs, with more than 80 percent saying climate change is a real and serious problem and more than 70 percent attributing it to emissions from human activities.
Most people (63 percent) feel they have a role to play reversing climate change, frequently mentioned that they want to get involved, act responsibly, and take their own “small steps” towards a healthier planet.
A significant 70 percent of people globally indicated they are committed to a sustainable, environmentally friendly lifestyle. Many are making changes, but the gap between the 70 percent who want to live sustainably and the percentages reporting changes show that this desire is aspirational.
[Read more about Oeko-Tex: J.C. Penney First US Retailer to Receive Oeko-Tex Made in Green Certification]
People consider safety from harmful substances and environmentally and socially responsible production to be very important. About 60 percent rated the importance of these factors “very highly.” However, only half gave the textile industry high marks for its perceived performance in these areas.
Eco-friendly and sustainable
Most people–80 to 90 percent–are aware of “eco-friendly” clothing and home textiles, and 36 percent have purchased eco-friendly clothing and 32 percent have picked up eco-friendly home textiles.
Those who purchase eco-friendly clothing describe it positively as “high quality, soft, innovative, unique, durable or long-lasting.” Those less likely to purchase also describe these items positively, but perceive them to be “expensive” and “hard to find.”
Consumers today are often skeptical of claims like “eco-friendly” or “sustainable, with about two-thirds indicating they check if claims like “ecofriendly” or “sustainable” are true at least some of the time.
There was evidence throughout the survey that brands 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.
Some 42 percent of respondents “Like to know the values and principles of brands of clothing they buy,” and 38 percent “Like to know what small steps brands have taken to be more sustainable – even if they’re not fully ‘green.’”
Consumers and certification
Many consumers commented that a certification label helps or would help them know which brands to trust and which to avoid. Several consumers also noted that they “don’t have the time” to check the veracity of eco-friendly claims and others suggested that it was difficult to go about checking.
“As such, brands and certification labels play an important role in raising trust among consumers–easily and quickly,” the study said. “Essentially, then, they function as shortcuts to trust and transparency for consumers.”
Consumers said they are interested in textile certification: six in 10 consumers globally are interested in knowing if the clothes or home textiles they purchase are safe from harmful substances and produced in environmentally and socially responsible ways. About one in three consumers globally have purchased certified clothing and one in five have purchased certified home textiles.
Nearly 50 percent of consumers indicated that they would favor responsible textile brands, suggesting “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,” Oeko-Tex said.
Globally, 43 percent of clothing or home textile consumers said they were aware of Oeko-Tex, just over half of them stated they have purchased an Oeko-Tex certified product. Once people were educated about the textile industry and Oeko-Tex, 90 percent indicated they would be “likely” to check for Oeko-Tex labels in the future and 40 percent indicated that they would be “very likely” to do so.
“The increased awareness of harmful substances in textiles and the rising interest in textile sustainability offer many opportunities for leading brands and retailers, especially those who are already implementing sustainability programs,” Oeko-Tex said. “More and more, consumers want to know this kind of information about their brands. They also want help and guidance about how to ‘live a better textile life.’ Brands and retailers should publicize their sustainability efforts and educate consumers. By doing so, brands and retailers make it easy for consumers to do the right thing.”
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