Textiles and clothing represent the world’s second largest industry, which also makes this industry one of the most polluting industries in the world, and therefore this industry should reconsider its practices in respect of the environmental impact it has. The entire life cycle of an apparel item has an impact on the environment, from the product design stage to the disposal of an apparel product. Environmentally friendly apparel products refer to apparel products which have been created with consideration of the environmental impact of the production process. The consumer’s apparel decision-making process consists of five stages, namely: awareness, interest, evaluation of alternatives, decision and post-buying response. Buyer behaviour is inherently determined by a consumer’s knowledge or extra information that a consumer obtains. The acquisition of environmentally friendly apparel is therefore influenced by environmental knowledge. It is consequently crucial to provide consumers with relevant information regarding the environmental impact of their apparel consumption choices in order to facilitate consumers in making more environmental friendly apparel decisions. Very limited research exists on consumers’ environmentally friendly apparel purchasing practices, especially in the South African context. Insufficient literature also exists regarding the role of environmental knowledge and information source exposure in the acquisition of environmentally friendly apparel. The purpose of the research was to explore and describe how environmental knowledge and exposure to information about environmental issues are reflected in consumers’ choice of apparel products. A qualitative approach was used to explore young female consumers’ existing levels of environmental knowledge, and whether that environmental knowledge is reflected in the evaluation and selection of apparel as well as the role environmental information plays on their purchase decision. Non-probability purposive sampling was used to ensure the inclusion of young female students (19–22 years old, n = 29). Participants first had to write an essay on the subject of pertinent environmental issues and then participated in a focus group discussion on the evaluation and selection of a t-shirt. Results suggest that the participants have general environmental knowledge. They have the ability to identify environmental problems as well as the causes and consequences of these environmental problems. However, participants’ environmental awareness and their knowledge pertaining to the actual production and supply of environment-friendly apparel in the South African context were very limited. The results also highlight the product attributes important to the participants when evaluating and selecting apparel such as price, aesthetics and functionality of the garment, but environmental attributes such as organic cotton, locally produced, reduced waste techniques and not using harmful chemicals did not feature high under the attributes participants considered. They prioritized price, aesthetics and fit above other attributes (including environmental attributes). Environmental knowledge was not consciously considered in their general apparel decision-making, even though participants indicated that they do care about the environment. It also seems that information source exposure relating to the environmental impact of clothing had no effect on their purchase decision process. When probed, certain barriers emerged that prevented the participants from using environmental knowledge or the information source exposure in their decision-making. These barriers are: the relevance of non-environmentally related product attributes, the availability of environmentally friendly apparel, a lack of relevant knowledge, and perceived consumer effectiveness. While the study had certain limitations, the findings should be valuable to manufacturers, retailers and marketers of environmentally friendly apparel and further research is needed, especially in the South African context, relating to environmentally friendly apparel and consumer behaviour. Copyright
Dissertation (MConsumer Science)--University of Pretoria, 2012.