Consumers’ willingness to pay more for sustainable T-shirts


Apparel consumers are keen to pay £2 and £4 more on sustainably produced T-shirts, according to a new cross-European survey.

Though maximum customers are in good turn with sustainable production, limited have integrated it into their buying lifestyles, according to the IBM and Morning Consult survey of 1,000 adults in each of Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. Germans are most willing to spend more on sustainable fashion, among the groups surveyed, paying €15.84 on average for a sustainably produced white T-shirt, €3.94 more than they would pay for a basic version. Brits, by contrast, are the least willing, and say they would typically spend £9.45 (€10.36) on a T-shirt, and would stretch to £11.39 (€12.40) for a sustainable one.


The results suggest that shoppers are willing to spend more on sustainable clothing but with limitations, signalling a lack of awareness around costs involved. Brands hoping that their sustainable collections will resonate with consumers may need to do work on educating the public on the environmental impact of clothing, analysts suggest. It also risks disincentivising brands from investing in costly sustainable production and materials, stalling mainstream sustainable fashion, while more cheaply made, fast fashion continues to grow.

“There’s a real need to think about how you surface that information at the point of engagement with the brand, at the point of research… and ultimately at the point of consumption,” says Luq Niazi, global Managing Director of Consumer Industries at IBM.

Plaintiffs in all four countries told that the effect of fashion on the environment is a pure worry, increasing the strain at the centre of the sustainable fashion movement. While customers, particularly the more eco-minded Gen Z cohort, care about sustainable fashion and the environment, they’re not willing to pay that much more for it. Despite their purported concerns, the majority of consumers in every country bar Germany spend less than two minutes researching the sustainability of clothing prior to purchasing. In the UK, 45 per cent of adults spend no time at all doing so.

Consumers who are confronted with cheap fast-fashion items like Boohoo’s £5 dresses may still be influenced by value, despite what they say in a survey, says Lynn Oxborrow, associate professor at Nottingham Business School whose research is dedicated to supply chain management. A recent independent review into Boohoo’s supply chain found “significant and clearly unacceptable issues in our supply chain” CEO John Lyttle admitted.

Labour and supply chain issues tend to resonate most with consumers. Fifty percent or more of consumers in every country say fair conditions and wages for workers are very important to them.

Investigations into labour practices in Xinjiang have prompted a public outcry, for instance, and led to international government responses: the US banned imports of clothing from the Chinese province and the European parliament is working on legislation that would make environmental and human rights due diligence a mandatory requirement for brands.

Environmental concerns like protecting biodiversity and low water use, meanwhile tend to have less buy-in, particularly in the UK.

Incorporating blockchain technology into their supply chain could make due diligence easier, IBM says. Niazi hopes that data gathered through this exercise could eventually be pivoted into a consumer-facing tool, such as a QR code that could reveal the provenance of a piece of clothing. Over three-quarters of consumers in Italy and Spain say they would trust such a tool.

That is actually on par or above the trust consumers in those countries have for independent industry certification schemes like the Better Cotton Initiative. For Perry, these results suggest that consumers are continuing to trust brands to take a lead on this issue and not outsource their ethical decision-making onto the fashion buying public. “They need to try and lift the entire range… and not be offering consumers sustainable capsule collections,” she says.