Does fashion need to adopt eco-labels to aid consumer purchasing decisions?

Photo: @chibelek via Twenty20
Jul 08, 2022

According to a new survey, half of U.S. consumers have some level of interest in eco-labels to guide their fashion purchases, including 13.1 percent who are “very interested.”

The survey of 500 U.S. consumers, conducted by Fordham University – Gabelli School of Business’ Responsible Business Coalition (RBC) in partnership with Rockbridge Associates, further found:

  • Interest in eco-labels is primarily driven by younger, college-educated and employed fashion consumers who live in urban settings. 
  • Nearly half of consumers (46 percent) indicated that recyclability is an issue of importance to them that they would like displayed on eco-labels, followed by human and labor rights (39 percent); chemical usage, animal welfare and material usage (33 percent); and information on carbon footprint (31 percent). 
  • Most consumers (65 percent) want eco-labels attached directly to the garments that they are considering purchasing via a brand label, the price tag, or both. Online, 44 percent preferred an eco-label in the form of a sustainability icon on the website, a website filter, or both.

One major challenge is the fashion industry’s poor track record on sustainability. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation found that while 95 percent of global textiles can be recycled, 73 percent end up in a landfill or incinerator.

Sustainability credentials are also still being fine-tuned.

Last week, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, an alliance of major fashion brands, announced it was pausing its use of the Higg Materials Sustainability Index, its tool measuring garments’ sustainability, after a Norwegian advertising watchdog found many of the environmental claims were misleading or outright deceptive.

Lerzan Aksoy, a marketing professor at Fordham, believes eco-labels would incentivize fashion brands to make more substantial sustainability commitments. He also believes that while the fashion industry needs a consensus on how to measure and report on sustainability metrics, eco-labels would offer significant value as standards are developed.

Speaking to WWD, Prof. Aksoy said, “We have seen something similar in the history of nutrition claims — these things take time to be codified. Ultimately, an agreed-upon rulemaking body is going to have to set the appropriate criteria for making sustainability claims. But we cannot use this as an excuse to wait.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you think of the consumer appeal of eco-labels and the challenges in developing and implementing them? Would such labels at this point further complicate or help resolve greenwashing claims?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I think we need to start somewhere, and eco-labels are a beginning."
"Governance with clear, transparent metrics that inform consumers of blockchain-type provenance would be the right direction."
"Buyers have to trust the standards if they’re going to be meaningful."

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9 Comments on "Does fashion need to adopt eco-labels to aid consumer purchasing decisions?"

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Ken Morris
I think we need to start somewhere, and eco-labels are a beginning. If I’m spending a dollar, I want it to be spent responsibly. Perhaps leveraging technology like blockchain and RFID would aid in the traceability of products with eco-labels. We need to treat this planet with respect and not squander the bounty we have been given.  Millennials and Gen Zs continue to pay close attention to social and environmental changes daily. So waiting to see what other brands and retailers are doing before improving your own products’ sustainability will only result in consumers diverting sales to your competitors. Give the consumers what they want: expand product assortment to extend sustainable brands. In addition, improve visibility into the lifecycle of the garment by paring with blockchain or other distributed ledger technologies.  Also, we need to be careful with what ends up being printed on the labels. Let’s not forget that the “nutrition” label has been essentially designed by lobbyists for decades, and the “food pyramid” even more so. How else would the healthiest diet consist… Read more »
Gene Detroyer

If you want to believe this research, read the second paragraph of today’s music discussion first.

Apparel is a huge environmental problem. The waste is mind-boggling to me. Therefore, anything will help. But, please, can we have an objective source determine what those labels should say? We have learned you can’t trust the manufacturer.

Dave Bruno

Assuming the data on these labels can be independently audited and verified (no small feat) I love this idea. These labels are akin to nutritional labels on food products, and they are a straight line to greater accountability for the manufacturers. Information is power – and a powerful influencer.

Nicola Kinsella

Buyers have to trust the standards if they’re going to be meaningful. Today it’s trust in a brand that often wins these customers over. Eco-labels based on a strong set of standards would help younger brands enter the market with more credibility, encourage more brands to produce more sustainable products, and help increase consumer confidence in mainstream brands who are transitioning to more sustainable practices. It would also help customers feel more confident in their decisions – which can sometimes be the difference between making a sale or not. Ultimately, I think the right standards will absolutely be beneficial, but they will have to stand up to close scrutiny.

Jeff Sward

Food labeling includes a ton of information about ingredients. There are 39 grams of sugar in a 12-ounce can of Coke. But you have to know that 39 grams of sugar is a lot of sugar compared to alternative drinks. Same with carbs, vitamins, minerals, grams of fat, etc. So yes, we need some kind of labeling system in apparel that communicates “ingredients” and what that actually means. We can decide if today’s outfit is going to be a double cheeseburger and fries or Greek yogurt.

David Spear

Governance with clear, transparent metrics that inform consumers of blockchain-type provenance would be the right direction. Unfortunately, I think there are so many different guidelines today that it will take several years before we see a significant alignment. But starting small and making progress each year is a step in the right direction.

Brandon Rael

Having led a sustainability discussion at the recent NYC PI Apparel Innovation summit, the eco-labels topic surfaced quite a bit. There is an absolute need for complete transparency around product and materials sourcing in the apparel industry. The conscious consumer is gravitating toward apparel brands with sustainability on top of their strategic agendas for 2022 and beyond.

Our discussion room was focused on how apparel product design decisions impact sustainability strategies and production emissions. In preparing for this discussion, it was eye-opening to see that the fashion apparel industry is responsible for:

  • 10 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and;
  • 20 percent of global wastewater and;
  • Using more energy than the aviation and shipping sectors combined.

Sustainability matters and fashion apparel brands must be fully transparent in their manufacturing processes. Time is of the essence.

Craig Sundstrom

I’m curious if your last figure includes the energy used in distribution?

(The shipping industry exists only to ship products, of course, so I would think that the sector wouldn’t really be responsible for any energy use at all if we assigned such to whatever products — food, fashion, autos, etc. — were being delivered.)

Craig Sundstrom

The timing of this seems quite ironic, given that just a couple days ago we had a story about (allegedly) fraudulent labeling at H&M. Then again maybe that’s the point “good” labelling and systemization are needed to restore credibility … now more than ever.

I’ll split the difference: a reliable system would be welcome, but a bad one would be worse than useless … and I have no idea which we’d end up with.

"I think we need to start somewhere, and eco-labels are a beginning."
"Governance with clear, transparent metrics that inform consumers of blockchain-type provenance would be the right direction."
"Buyers have to trust the standards if they’re going to be meaningful."

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