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Can Consumers Make Ethical Clothing Purchases?


As time goes on, the world population increases, as well as the demand for clothing. This demand is expressed not only in a necessity for clothing as a way to conceal or cover one’s body but also as a statement and a pipeline to provide joy. This essay discusses the implications of these necessities and the potential of ethical clothing to satisfy these needs.

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The Importance of Ethical Clothing

It is no secret that the clothing industry plays a major role in forming the cultural and natural landscape of the day-to-day world. For example, according to estimations, the fashion industry is responsible for approximately ten percent of greenhouse gas worldwide (Chan, 2020). The sector grows so actively that this situation is worsening every year (Hymann et al., 2021). Although companies have made and continue to make solid efforts to combat the negative impacts of clothing production, the predictions regarding it are not so inspiring. It has been estimated that the amount of water consumed during production will increase by 50 percent by the year 2030 (Wiedelhold and Martinez, 2018).

The Industry’s Approach

As has been stated above, fashion brands strive for a more sustainable approach to clothing making. Organic and recycled materials are no longer a rarity, and companies are eager to proclaim themselves “sustainable”, from small brands to Balenciaga (Indvik, 2020). The sustainability narrative tends to be overtaken by large luxury brands, but currently, steps are being made to change this situation. Brands such as Ninety Percent and H&M offer products with an affordable price tag, although it is not without a catch (Chan, 2020). Nowadays, one of the significant concerns within the industry is the treatment and financial situations, and work conditions of clothing factories employees. With companies like H&M, it is practically impossible to ascertain because many of their factories subcontract other factories, of which the company itself has no knowledge (Indvik, 2020). So, could it really be called sustainable clothing when the people who made it have not been paid the minimum wage? (Chan, 2020). Despite all the efforts made to control environmental damage, the world is still dominated by non-sustainable choices.

Customers’ Approach

Just like human nature, people’s attitudes towards ethical clothing purchases are a complex and multi-leveled subject. For example, according to various surveys, consumers find the idea of sustainable and ethical clothing more and more attractive (Wiederhold and Martinez, 2018). People are also becoming increasingly aware of the “greenwashing” concept, the idea of companies deceptively claiming to be environment-friendly (Acaroglu, 2019). Therefore, they often expect fashion brands to adhere to a certain standard of sustainability (Hymann et al., 2021). At the same time, however, irrespective of consumers’ want to purchase more ethically, they continue to buy environmentally harmful products (Wiederhold and Martinez, 2018).

Old-fashioned Possibility

In light of the confusion created by companies’ seemingly futile efforts to fully combat the harm they cause to the planet and customers’ uneven stances towards ethical clothing purchases, a different solution arises. Shopping second-hand clothing, also known as thrifting, is predicted to triple in the next ten years (Park and Martinez, 2020). This type of shopping does not contribute to production in factories, therefore saving water and other natural sources. It is also not without its disadvantages, primarily the excess of online purchases that encourages over-consumption.


In conclusion, the answer to the question of whether it is realistic to expect customers to make ethical clothing purchases seems to lie within the customers’ lies within the industries’ current landscape. People have grown to expect big companies to follow a standard of sustainability, and small companies follow suit. In addition, the rise of online thrifting makes ethical purchases more accessible and affordable.


Acaroglu, L (2019) What is greenwashing? How to spot it and stop it, Medium. Web.

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Chan, E (2020) ‘Why isn’t sustainable fashion more affordable?, British Vogue. Available at: Why Isn’t Sustainable Fashion More Affordable? | British Vogue.

Huber, E, Hymann, Y, Marriott, H, Marquis, C & Sumner M (2021) Brands are claiming that they are not sustainable. Here’s why that’s a good thing, refinery29, Why Are Fashion Brands Claiming To Not Be Sustainable?

Indvik, L. (2020) ‘Sustainable fashion? There’s no such thing’, Financial Times. Web.

Park, H & Martinez, C. (2020) Second-hand clothing sales are booming – and may help solve the sustainability crisis in the fashion industry, The Conversation. Secondhand clothing sales are booming – and may help solve the sustainability crisis in the fashion industry.

Wiederhold, M & Martinez, L. (2018) ‘Ethical consumer behaviour in Germany: The attitude-behaviour gap in the green apparel industry’, International Journal of Consumer Studies, vol. 42, pp. 419-429.

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