Natural materials cotton, wool and silk scored high on consumer perceptions of which fibers are safe for the environment in two surveys from Cotton Council International (CCI) and Cotton Incorporated.
In the U.S., among 500 people who were asked, “Are the following fibers safe for the environment,” 79 percent said cotton was safe, 62 percent said wool was and 56 percent gave the nod to silk. In a global survey that interviewed about 10,000 people in 10 countries outside the U.S., 83 percent thought cotton was safe, 75 percent said silk was and 74 percent said wool was environmentally friendly.
Results from the U.S. survey showed negative perceptions of synthetic and cellulosic fibers. Just 33 percent to 36 percent said nylon, polyester and spandex were safe for the environment, perhaps due to the connection to the more chemically oriented manufacturing process or news of alleged microplastics pollution. Cellulosic fibers Tencel, modal and rayon also registered small percentages of 17 percent to 27 percent of respondents who perceived of them as being safe for the environment. This is possibly due to lack of knowledge of how those fibers are derived. The perception also could be that such fibers might be harmful to forests, since in the case of Tencel and modal, the fibers are wood-pulp based.
The global respondents, from the U.K., Mexico, China, Colombia, Germany, Thailand, India, Italy, Japan and Turkey, were more measured in their responses. A range of 49 percent to 56 percent of them said the synthetic and cellulosic fibers were safe for the environment.
When asked, “Which type of clothing is best described or represented” by a range of attributes, U.S. respondents had more faith in cotton. For example, 86 percent of Americans said cotton was “most comfortable,” while just 69 percent in the global survey said that. Similarly, 86 percent from the U.S. said cotton was the “most sustainable,” while only 65 percent of global respondents thought it was.
There was general agreement in both surveys that cotton is the most preferred fashion fiber, with 80 percent of Americans making that choice and 81 percent from the global survey. Also in the area of fiber choice, 66 percent of U.S. consumers said they were willing to pay more for natural fibers such as cotton than synthetics, and 52 percent of global respondents expressed the same sentiment.
The main reasons consumers from both surveys said they would pay more were comfort and quality. This included cotton preferences for jeans, underwear, T-shirts, sleepwear, dress shirts and pants.
The U.S. survey showed 79 percent of consumers look at the fiber content label before purchasing and 86 percent of global respondents made that same claim. The survey was conducted by Ipsos.