Do you want to buy transparent clothing?

Do you want to buy transparent clothing? Research would suggest you do.

‘Transparent clothing’ is part of a movement towards more knowledge about the true origins of the products we buy and wear. I joined this movement a couple of years ago when I decided I wanted to know more about what I was wearing and whether the process of its manufacture  had caused unnecessary harm to people or the environment. Frustrated with the lack of information out there, I decided to embark on my own research project.

Entering my final year of university, I wondered why I could find labels on my food telling me a banana is ‘Fairtrade’ or a fish is ‘Marine Stewardship Council certified sustainable’, but couldn’t find such labels to tell me more about my clothing. Turns out there are labels trying to do just that when it comes to our clothing, they’re also known as social labels. ‘Social labels’ tell us about the environmental and social impacts of a product. The title of my research dissertation quickly became ‘The future of sustainable fashion: could wider social labelling of clothing help grow sustainable consumption?’.


To find the answer, I needed to test awareness of clothing social labels (which, from my own experience, I expected to be low), and to understand whether there was a willingness to pay for the presence of social labels. I sent out my survey to participants of a similar age to myself, 18-25, in an effort to understand how we could better communicate the transparency of clothing to the younger generation. Although awareness of the social labels was low, the topic unintentionally sparked a feeling of guilt amongst participants wishing they were aware of initiatives which told them more information. But did this translate into wanting to pay for socially labelled clothing at the point of sale?

50% of participants chose to buy the socially labelled product only if there was no price difference. Whilst 20% of participants would pay over 10% more for the socially labelled clothing.

I took my results from consumers and presented them to fashion retailers for the next part of my study. I interviewed executives of national high street and online brands. I realised I had been asking the wrong question. I had been living under the stereotype that to buy transparent, Fairtrade, or sustainable products, we had to be willing to pay more. But actually the retailers didn’t like this perception, they would rather consumers felt they didn’t have to pay more for transparency, or to search harder. This is a good vision for the industry to aim for.

Whilst I discovered that there is a lack of awareness or availability of social clothes labels, I did discover that people do want transparent clothing. We do want to know and communicate more about product origin. Maybe a label could easily signal transparency, but our products have such exciting stories to tell I feel technology could help provide even richer information. That’s why my research led me to become interested in innovations such as Provenance, which are using technology to give us more transparent information than ever before. I’m excited to be part of this movement towards greater product transparency, and I have no shame in admitting that I want to buy transparent clothes!

Written by Marianne Caroline Hughes, a speaker on sustainability in the fashion industry.