I knew what the subject of my thesis would be, already before I started with the master MSc Communication, Health and Life Sciences. In fact my interest in sustainable consuming was one of the reasons why I chose to switch my study in Amsterdam University into a study in Wageningen. I guessed that there would be more possible with this subject in Wageningen University.
I chose to focus on sustainable clothes: I like nice clothes, shopping for new clothes and love the fashionable and therefore changing character of clothes. I am a consumer who likes to be tempt by new things on the world. But, the idea that everything I am wearing has a history became more and more important for me. Like one of my respondents in my research said ‘a trousers does not just grow in the ground’.
Sustainable consuming is seen as a part of the solution for social and ecological abuses, without giving up our consumers’ lifestyle. To enable sustainable consuming complementary product information about the social aspects is needed. Ethical labels – an ethical claim, social or ecological, in the form of a logo or text (presented on a product) – could provide this information, which can lead to more transparency of the products.
Different initiatives are present in Holland if you look at fashionable clothes, but this presence is minimal. Some labels are extracts from other product sectors, some labels are made by clothes producers themselves. The clothes sector is also characterized by the specific values of the consumers: clothes can have emotional characteristics. When buying clothes other criteria are important then when one buys food for example. Because of this reason I thought it would be interesting to research the ethical label for this product group. My research was an explorative step to discover where the opportunities and constraints for this sector were to make ethical qualities visible. In the first phase I have interviewed consumers to get an overview of the interpretations and evaluations of existing ethical labels. In a meeting with a ‘focus group’ (people who take initiatives in this field) I have talked about the balances, the challenges and constraints in the development of an ethical label for clothes.
The results of both phases of the research showed which constraints in the clothes sector are important if you want to be transparent in information provision when using ethical labels. In first place the labels were unknown by the interviewed consumers. The promoters said that it is not easy to make the labels well-known for the broader public. There are already many different labels, and the budget they got to promote can also be a constraint. Next to this the promoters do not have a full interest in profiling ethical labels because they have to focus on the unique brand or image of the clothes, which has a big role in the clothes sector.
Another fact that came out of the research was that there is some confusing among the consumers about the concrete affirmations of the labels. This is often overestimate. The focus of promoters is more on decreasing the interest of clothes consumers for sustainable aspects then on the completeness of information. A last constraint, which can also be found in other sectors, is the skeptical aspect among consumers about the reliability of the labels.
Further research, working on the familiarity of the ethical labels for the clothes sector; more concrete information and integration of these aspects in the style of the brands. These and other recommendations formed the end notes of my research.