Women Both Economize and “Ecologize” By Buying Cotton

Rising fuel prices, a weak dollar, the credit crunch and mortgage meltdowns appear to have Americans on alert and primary election voters at the exit polls confirm that their chief concern, to little surprise, is the economy.

Data from the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ reflects both concern and apathy for the financial future among consumers. Fifty-nine percent of female respondents considered themselves very pessimistic to neutral in their outlook for the domestic economy; this figure is up four points from the previous year and is expected to rise as news about the financial markets grows ever more serious.

“Everybody is so worried about everything,” observes Scott Razek, Vice President of Marketing for The Limited, the specialty retailer. “People are looking at the markets and they are in a panic.”

Fiscal concerns are clearly playing out in daily life as consumers economize on gas for their cars and reassess the cost of nearly every item they buy from groceries to clothing. According to the Monitor, in Fourth Quarter 2007, nine out of ten female respondents cited price as an important factor in their apparel buying decisions.

Information Important to Garment Purchase
  Total Females  
  Q407 Q406 % Point Change
Price 87% 89% 2
Fabric Content 52% 55% 3
Made in U.S.A. 27% 36% 9
Laundry Instructions 52% 53% 1
Designer/Mfgr. Name 28% 23% -5
Environmentally-Friendly 23% 29% 6

It most certainly is about price, agrees Faith Popcorn, founder of Faith Popcorn’s Brain Reserve, a trend-based marketing consultancy. “But don’t forge t that pr i c e works two ways in apparel shopping,” she cautions. Popcorn confirms that while some shoppers are looking for a bargain basement price in clothing, there are others who adopt a “you-get-what-youpay- for” stance and use that price tag to validate a garment’s relevance, particularly for the longer term. Of the latter group, she contends, “These shoppers want something classic that’s going to last and that they can pass down to their daughters.”

Many women are also concerned with their ecological legacy as evidenced by an emerging sensitivity for the safety and conservation of our environment. In Q4 2007, 29% of female respondents told the Monitor that environmental friendliness was an important consideration in their apparel buying practices, up 6 points from a year earlier.

But in these days where price is paramount, will the premium for some of the higher end natural fibers force consumers to shy away from them in favor of cheaper and less environmentally friendly options? What will win out – ecology or economy?

Both should, strongly asserts Moshe Gadot, Director of Global Development and Marketing for Bagir Group Limited, a tailored apparel manufacturer. “We believe that eco-sensitive products should not come at a premium and that companies should improve their processes and supply eco-sensitive garments at equal prices.”

“At the same time, consumers want to help the environment and they want to help the economy,” says Paige Adams-Geller, founder of Paige Premium Denim. The designer recently added an eco-friendly line to her famous collection as a means of doing her part for ecology. “Essentially, people are already paying a premium for my jeans and buying from the new line will of course mean an additional cost, but we know that consumers want that option. The denim designer estimates that the base cost of the new “green” jeans are about 25% more than the base cost for a pair of jeans in the original collection.

But there is reason for optimism as both Gadot and Adams-Geller have faith that the associated cost for green apparel will lessen exponentially over time as manufacturers become more experienced and more companies join the ecological movement. “More than that, I even believe that in the future, regulations will be so that garments that are not eco-sensitive will be taxed and will eventually cost more than garments that are not eco-sensitive,” Gadot predicts. In the interim, consumers who want to save some green while going green have options. One of the best is buying a reasonably priced natural fiber, like cotton, that is not only good to the environment and one’s wallet, but also good to the wearer.

Women appear to already be on the right economic and ecological track. According to the Monitor, female respondents prefer cotton above all fibers in such varied apparel as in dress pants, dress shirts, casual pants, athletic appare l , pajamas a n d u n d e rwe a r. The average female respondent owns 9 pairs of casual slacks, 24 tees and 11 dress shirts, indicating that her cotton ownership i s a l r e ady qui t e significant, yet likely to grow if she is serious on being smart about her money and her impact on the environment.

“Today’s shopper is trying to find that smart balance between doing what’s right both economically and ecologically and that’s an important part of our strategy,” Razek from The Limited tells. “But don’t forget that it also has to have the look, the feel and the hand that she likes.”

Lest we forget the look, the style, the fit and that perfect complement to other garments in a consumer’s wardrobe are major “checks” in the shopping checklist and are likely the starting point in the shopping process. “It has to look fabulous,” Popcorn insists, recognizing that altruism only extends so far when buying eco-friendly apparel. “After all, we are consumers at heart.”

This story is one in a series of articles based on findings from Cotton Incorporated’s Lifestyle Monitor™ tracking research. Appearing Thursdays in these pages, each story will focus on a specific topic as it relates to the American consumer and her attitudes and behavior regarding clothing, appearance, fashion, fiber selection and many other timely, relevant subjects.

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