The Role of Information Exposure in Female University Students' Evaluation and Selection of Eco-Friendly Apparel in the South African Emerging Economyby N. Sonnenberg, B. Jacobs, D. Momberg

Clothing and Textiles Research Journal

Text

Article

The Role of Information

Exposure in Female University

Students’ Evaluation and

Selection of Eco-Friendly

Apparel in the South African

Emerging Economy

Nadine Sonnenberg1, Bertha Jacobs1, and Dinele Momberg1

Abstract

Increasing consumption in the South African emerging economy necessitates stringent effort toward developing environmental information campaigns that stimulate preferences for eco-friendly alternatives. This qualitative study explores the role of exposure to information about the environmental impact of the apparel supply chain in female students’ evaluation and selection of apparel. Based on the outcome of garment selection exercises and focus group discussions, participants were not swayed by exposure to hang tags, audio-visual or printed information sources to prioritize ecofriendly features in their choice of product, nor were they willing to compromise on attributes such as price for the sake of the environment. Participants’ recommendations include standardized ecolabels to facilitate identification of eco-friendly alternatives and message content that is short, precise and factual. Interpersonal communication could represent an influential source of information and merits further investigation into the relevance of normative social influence on proenvironmental apparel behavior in the South African emerging economy.

Keywords green products, consumer behavior, information processing, information, search, mass media, marketing, environment, sustainability, apparel industry, advertisement

Emerging economies such as South Africa have recently been highlighted in the Living Planet report (World Wide Fund for Nature [WWF], 2012) as having consumption patterns and ecological footprints that increasingly reflect those of high-income industrialized countries. Based on a 1Department of Consumer Science, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa

Corresponding Author:

Nadine Sonnenberg, Department of Consumer Science, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, 0002, South Africa.

Email: nadine.sonnenberg@up.ac.za

Clothing and Textiles

Research Journal 2014, Vol. 32(4) 266-281 ª The Author(s) 2014

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DOI: 10.1177/0887302X14541542 ctr.sagepub.com at UNIV OF NORTH DAKOTA on May 30, 2015ctr.sagepub.comDownloaded from classification that incorporates gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at purchasing power parity, emerging economies include countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa that are distinguished from the least developed countries in terms of economic growth potential (Burgess & Steenkamp, 2006; Essoussi & Merunka, 2007). Economic advancement includes several social benefits for these nations, but it also encapsulates environmental consequences such as an increased demand on natural resources, waste management issues, carbon dioxide emissions, and the loss of biodiversity (Mont & Bleischwitz, 2007; WWF, 2012), which require environmental intervention initiatives similar to those in the developed world (Bodur & Sarigo¨llu¨, 2005;

Haron, Paim, & Yahaya, 2005). Such initiatives may include creating environmental awareness through information provision (Iyer & Kashyap, 2007; Steg & Vlek, 2009), stimulating positive attitudes toward environmentally sound alternatives (D’Souza, 2004; Pickett-Baker & Ozaki, 2008), and creating markets for eco-friendly apparel (Gam, Cao, Farr, & Kang, 2010; Peterson,

Hustvedt, & Chen, 2012; Ritch & Schro¨der, 2012).

In recent years, the South African middle-class consumer segment has grown substantially with increased spending on a broad range of consumer goods including apparel. The demand for clothing is expected to expand by a further 15% per annum over the 2012–2016 forecast period (‘‘South

African Retail and Consumer Products Outlook 2012-2016,’’ 2012). Growth in this sector is linked to environmental implications that accompany each stage of the apparel supply chain (Ritch &

Schro¨der, 2012). Currently, 90% of the apparel in South African retail stores is imported (‘‘South

African Retail and Consumer Products Outlook 2012-2016,’’ 2012), which in addition to the environmental impact of production has several environmental implications linked to the transportation and distribution of the products (Mont & Bleischwitz, 2007). Consumer awareness and knowledge of the environmental consequences of the apparel supply chain is thus pertinent to stimulating proenvironmental choices (Chen & Burns, 2006; Ritch & Schro¨der, 2012).

Ideally, a consumer should be able to evaluate the environmental friendliness of a product based on reliable information provided by all role players in the value chain. However, although advances have beenmade in the supply of eco-friendly apparel, misconceptions based on conflicting and/or misleading information prevail. A typical example includes the assumption that natural fibers such as cotton are more ecofriendly than synthetic fibers (Kadolph & Langford, 2002). In reality, cotton represents one of the most water- and pesticide-intensive crops in the world (Soth, Grasser, & Salerno, 1999).

Factual information such as the aforementioned is not always readily available (Ritch & Schro¨der, 2012). On the other hand, it is not certain whether exposure to such information could endorse ecofriendly apparel choices. In a recent study byPeterson,Hustvedt, andChen (2012), respondents reacted negatively when exposed to additional information about wool production. Customized approaches whereby information is tailored to the unique characteristics of specific consumer segments seem to be more successful (Steg & Vlek, 2009). As an example, Lee, Choi, Youn, and Lee (2012) conclude that marketers should distinguish between consumers with low communication involvement who prefer straightforward uncomplicated messages and those with high communication involvement who require detailed information to ascertain the credibility of a proenvironmental claim.