Over recent years we have seen a clear growth and increased visibility of the consumer segment willing to reward responsible companies. Together with the generic term responsible consumer others have emerged such as LOHAS, Cultural Creatives, Voluntary Simplifiers, etc., all of which allude to a series of realities linked to consumption.
But even as within food, home durable goods, and even leisure sustainability is becoming increasingly more visible, other areas appear to be left on the back burner, such as clothing, through the selection of more sustainable products (word-of-mouth strategies and smart shopping) or the rationalization of consumption (exit and simplifying strategies) as well as social and environmental values.
Lipovetsky, in The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy, already remarked that the business of fashion is characterized by its ephemeral and changing nature, a process that is hard to avoid since clothing is our mark of identity, reflecting many personal and social characteristics that large segments of consumers are not willing to do without. We can therefore allude to a series of obstacles to responsible consumerism in textile that are intrinsic to the meaning we give clothing:
- They materialize the construction and expression of one’s own identity
- They fill the gap between reality (what one is) and fantasy (what one wants to be, or aspirations)
- They affect our image and social perception, and are strongly linked to our social groups
- They imply a “risk” or “personal cost”, in conditioning our physical appearance
Furthermore, as consumers we are still unaware of the transforming potential of our consumption, that our purchase may be a instrument of pressure to demand the fulfillment of certain social, work, and environmental guarantees merely as the result of being able to exercise our freedom to not consume a product or to change our habits.
Matrix of responsible consumption in textile
As an exit strategy, consumers may opt to stop buying in ephemeral fashion establishments (the repeated launch of new articles implies a greater consumption of resources; the concept of planned obsolescence) or to boicot companies of the textile sector that act with too little responsibility.
Eco- and labor-friendly labels and the participation of professionals from the world of design in sustainable fashion result in a better informed customer who will be able to choose the word-of-mouth strategy and make his or her purchases in companies with a good behavior. This demonstrates the importance of influencing trend setters in fashion.
Buying from and wearing the products of local SMEs using fair trade and clothes made with natural fabrics are proof of an intelligent purchase strategy. Also, to participate in information networks, to opt for renting in certain cases, and for the purchase of second-hand or recycled clothing are all part of the simplifying initiative.
The consumer must start to assume the capacity that he or she has to mobilize society and exercise pressure on suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors. To this end, there is an increasing amount of information, means, and agents of change available to consume responsibly in textile:
- First, the example of people and groups of our entourage: social organizations and informal networks
- Second, buyer’s guides (such as Setem 2011 or CRIC 2012), NGO reports, books, blogs, documentaries, etc.
- Last, initiatives coming from the world of fashion such as the Ethical Fashion Forum or the Ecofashion Week; and platforms such as Source4Style, Ecofashionworld, SlowFashionSpain…
In fact, over recent months new initiatives have been launched by the industry, the media, and social organizations, converting sustainable textile into a hot topic.
E-SOST Research Group, Universidad Pontificia Comillas