Would you buy a T-shirt if you knew that it had been manufactured under inhumane conditions? Most people would probably say “no.” At the same time, in terms of hard sales numbers, fair trade clothing still leads a niche existence. According to figures from the GfK Fashion & Lifestyle textile panel, in the first three quarters of 2015, only around one in four consumers in Germany bought at least one article of clothing with an eco-label such as Fair trade, GOTS or Confidence in Textiles. The percentage of clothing with an explicit fair trade label is still distinctly lower.
So why is it that even after catastrophes like the Rana Plaza collapse in 2014 that left over 1,100 dead, we do not buy fairly produced and traded clothes more often? Certainly, there are consumers who do not care one way or the other about manufacturing conditions even though they may not openly admit it. Some consumers who do care about social standards in manufacturing may lack trust in fair trade labels. Or they feel that the responsibility of enforcing such standards lies with government and not the individual, who cannot do anything to change conditions anyway.
Individual attitudes are one aspect, but there are other reasons for the reluctance to buy. Fair trade clothing is often only available in specialty shops. The selection is smaller and does not appeal to everyone. The often significantly higher price also plays a role. Many cannot or do want to pay more than is necessary. The production facilities are usually very far away, so the suffering of the seamstresses can be easily blocked out. Besides, others usually cannot tell if somebody´s clothing is eco or fair. Therefore, it is not as easy for consumers to create an image for themselves through ethical consumption as it is with the usual designer clothes.
However, what actually moves consumers to buy fair trade or not? Could it be that there are customer segments that more quickly and frequently buy according to ethical criteria than others? Which types of customers have no interest whatsoever in eco products? The GfK Verein conducted a study in order to better understand why there is such a low percentage of fairly traded clothing (see Box 1).