Ethical Clothing: How it’s defined and how it influences purchase behaviour

2017-04-19T00:03:48Z (GMT) by Bryce Magnuson
The clothing industry is a key contributor to the global economy, serving as a key source of income for many countries, and as a key source of employment for their residents. These benefits, however, can come at a great cost. For example, the clothing industry contributes to environmental degradation via the pollution it generates and the many natural resources it consumes. Moreover, its negative impacts extend beyond the environment in general, to also include direct impacts on humans and animals specifically. In the case of the former, industry practices in some developing nations often result in labour violations, while in the case of the latter, animals often suffer via experiments, damage to their habitats and by having their fur or skin serve as clothing materials. Further compounding these issues is fast fashion a trend that exacerbates the environmental and labour issues that are inherent within the clothing industry. By encouraging the increased consumption of highly fashionable, low quality clothing, fast fashion simultaneously increases resource consumption and pollution while intensifying pre-existing labour issues. <br>     <br>    A key means by which the clothing industry has sought to minimise its negative impact is via the introduction of a specific type of clothing that seeks to address these various problems. Referred to in this study as ethical clothing, research often reports positive consumer attitudes’ towards such clothing. Yet in spite of this, sales of ethical clothing continue to account for a relatively small percentage of overall clothing sales. This discrepancy between consumer attitudes and actual purchase behaviour is referred to as the attitude-behaviour gap. This study seeks to address three of its main causes: the failure to develop a consumer-based definition of ethical clothing, the omission of key constructs when measuring consumer attitudes towards it, and an over-reliance on samples comprising university students. <br>     <br>    Divided into two parts, this study first seeks to establish a consumer-based definition of ethical clothing. Using the newly established definition, the second part then measures the influence of ethical clothing attributes on consumers’ overall attitude towards ethical clothing, relative to that of conventional attributes. Utilising a quantitative research design, 1500 self-administered surveys were randomly administered to consumer households for both Parts 1 and 2 of the study. <br>     <br>    For Part 1, the results of the analysis using Structural Equation Modeling revealed that consumers define ethical clothing using four dimensions: environmentally responsible, employee welfare, slow fashion and animal welfare attributes. Part 2 found that, even in an ethical clothing context, consumers overall attitudes are influenced by only two of the four ethical dimensions: slow fashion and employee welfare. Ironically, all three conventional dimensions - physical, extrinsic and cost attributes – were found to influence consumers’ overall attitudes towards ethical clothing. <br>     <br>    The findings from this study make an important academic contribution via a consumer- based, empirically developed definition of ethical clothing. Moreover, the findings also benefit marketing practitioners by highlighting that even in an ethical clothing context, consumer attitudes are shaped by both ethical and conventional clothing attributes, with the latter serving as the more salient determinant.