By  on April 10, 2007

As consumers cotton to eco-conscious products, the fashion industry must work to educate its audience on the subject.

Brands and retailers are racing to hop on the eco-friendly bandwagon, but the message to consumers might be getting muddled in the process.

The proliferation of eco-conscious products and brands is forcing the industry to educate consumers. As a result, consumers are being confronted with labels, logos and terms whose meanings can vary widely. Is the item 100 percent organic or does it use only a small percentage of organic fiber? Is it made from renewable fibers, recycled fiber or does it come from a sustainable source? The confusion reaches even to those working in the apparel industry, begging the question of whether consumers will be willing to spend time deciphering terminology when looking to purchase T-shirts.

Surveys conducted by Cotton Inc. indicate that, despite the rise of the eco-friendly movement, consumers are increasingly tuning the message out. In one survey, consumers were asked what action they'd take if they purchased an organic garment and later discovered that it was not. The majority of respondents, approximately 60 percent, said they would be bothered but not enough to do anything about it. In fact, only 15 percent said they would be bothered enough to return the item. The survey also suggested that consumers' interest in "green garments" has dropped since 2000. Terminology figured largely in this drop, according to Cotton Inc.

"The marketing associated with these laudable initiatives, however, is proving too much of a good thing for many shoppers, who are faced with a litany of often bewildering terms. Stores have become classrooms of sorts, especially where eco-friendly fashion is concerned," read a recent issue of Cotton Inc.'s Lifestyle Monitor, which included the survey results. "The lesson that consumers have learned is that there is a lot of terminology out there."

Mark Messura, executive vice president of global product supply chain at Cotton Inc., said another survey conducted in conjunction with the Organic Trade Association illuminated how easily consumers could be confused by terms. The survey of 1,000 people who said they had recently purchased an organic cotton item asked if organic had the same meaning as 100 percent cotton. More than half, 51 percent, said they believed the two terms to have the same meaning, while only 29 percent said they were different. When asked if an organic cotton product could contain soy, 28 percent said yes and 33 percent said they weren't sure.

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