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Study: What socio-environmentally friendly fashion needs in South Africa

by | Nov 30, 2020

In her PhD thesis, titled Socio-Environmentally Friendly Framework For South African Fashion Design Entrepreneurs: An Exploratory Study, Nailejileji Mollel-Matodzi developed a framework that promotes the production of socio-environmentally friendly clothing by South African fashion design entrepreneurs. Here she gives us an outline of her work. 

Sustainable product consumption is crucial for any industry that seeks to be sustainable. The South African textile and clothing industry is in the early stages of addressing sustainability. It is the responsibility of the textile and clothing industry to produce marketable sustainable garments that will preserve the environment, promote social and economic well-being. Sustainable garments or socio-environmentally friendly garments that have minimal harmful impact on the environment and have a positive impact on the people who make and wear them.

Socio-environmentally friendly garments are produced in fair working conditions and workers’ salaries enable them to meet their day-to-day needs

Socio-environmentally friendly garments are made from fabrics with high recyclability when their life cycle comes to an end, use less water, chemicals, energy and sometimes use modern dyeing technologies. Some of these fabrics are organic cotton, linen and recycled polyester (rPET). The social benefits of environmentally-friendly fabrics and garments are twofold. Firstly, customers experience with the garments will not be short-lived. Secondly, workers health (and local communities where the manufacturing takes place) will not be compromised. Furthermore, socio-environmentally friendly garments are produced in fair working conditions and workers’ salaries enable them to meet their day-to-day needs.

The responsibility towards socio-environmentally friendly consumption doesn’t solely rest on the industry, customers have an important role to play in the drive towards a sustainable South African textile and clothing industry. Their participation or lack there-of can accelerate or slow-down the development of a sustainable industry. Persuading existing and potential customers to purchase sustainable garments requires awareness of clothing that appeals to them.

Knowledge about socio-environmental challenges leads to sustainable consumption

Certain attributes of a product have been linked to increased purchasing behaviour, most common are the look, feel, price and durability. Customers in overseas countries have reported that they are generally dissatisfied with the look and feel of socio-environmentally friendly garments. Customers have also indicated that socio-environmentally friendly garments tend to be more expensive than fast fashion clothes while the durability of socio-environmentally friendly garments has been praised.

There are two opposing and contradictory views regarding sustainability literacy. The first view asserts that knowledge about socio-environmental challenges does not lead to sustainable consumption. The second view emphasises that knowledge about socio-environmental challenges leads to sustainable consumption.

I conducted a study to investigate customers’ desired socio-environmentally friendly clothing attributes and the influence of sustainability literacy on their purchases. Findings of the study have contributed to a socio-environmentally friendly framework that promotes the production of socio-environmentally friendly clothing by South African fashion design entrepreneurs. Data was collected from 305 participants between the ages 18 years and above 45. Sixty five percent of the participants are between ages 25 and 38 years.

Durability ranked highest in terms of importance among customers

The results revealed that majority (61%) of the participants are dissatisfied with the look and feel of socio-environmentally friendly clothes and they would most likely purchase them if the look and feel resembled that of fast fashion clothes. This suggests that fashion designers need to improve the look and feel of socio-environmentally friendly clothes in order to increase customers’ consumption behaviour. There was a significant relationship between age and the likelihood of purchases if the look of the garments resembled fast fashion clothes. This means that participants’ age influenced their desire for socio-environmentally friendly clothes that resembled the look of mainstream clothes. Participants between ages 25 and 31 years showed the strongest (69%) likelihood of purchasing the garments if the look of socio-environmentally friendly clothes resembled the look of fast fashion clothes.

Durability ranked highest in terms of importance among customers. However only 46% of the participants purchased sustainable clothes based on this attribute. This suggests that although the durability is important to participants, there are other attributes that influence their purchases.

The price was ranked low in comparison to the other three attributes in terms of importance. Previous studies conducted in South Africa have indicated that customers find socio-environmentally friendly clothes more expensive than fast fashion clothes. More than half of the participants indicated that they purchase the garments when they are on special offers. One of the ways of improving customers’ purchases when garments are not on special offers is more sustainable participation from large clothing retailers. More involvement from large retailers will increase the demand for sustainable fabrics thereby reduce the price of the fabrics and enable a wide variety of customers to purchase the clothes.

Majority of the participants across all age groups indicated that they occasionally purchase socio-environmentally friendly clothes due to their awareness of the socio-environmental benefits. This implies that knowledge is an important tool for increasing sustainable clothing consumption.

Overall, increasing awareness of socio-environmental benefits of the garments, transforming the look and feel, and re-evaluating the price of socio-environmentally friendly clothes may improve participants’ consumption behaviour. A sustainable textile and clothing industry requires open channels of communication between the industry and its customers. Implementing customers desired attributes in creative sustainable fashion supply chain operations will advance our industry’s’ sustainable consumption and production.

  • Dr Nailejileji Mollel-Matodzi obtained a Doctor: Technologiae: Fashion from The Tshwane University of Technology’s Faculty of Arts & Design in October

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