A paradigm shift has resulted in sustainability becoming an important value in current society. Companies have been modifying their business model to meet this new value and to satisfy the demands from their stakeholders. In fact, being “green” delivers many benefits for a business. Research studies have shown that environmental innovations and green marketing strategies can boost the economic performance of a company [1
]. Environmental innovations, for instance, such as finding a more efficient application of raw materials, developing a more effective product design process, and converting waste into saleable products, can lower the cost and provide additional revenues. Green marketing strategies, such as launching a green positioned brand and using eco-labels or environmental certificates, can improve a company’s image, reputation, and relationship with consumers. In addition to benefitting economically by being green, companies, more importantly, can minimize the environmental destruction that is caused by their industrial and commercial activities [3
The apparel industry relies heavily on industries such as agriculture, chemical, engineering, design and marketing [4
]. Therefore, there are many opportunities for companies across these different sectors to engage collectively in green business activities. A sustainable apparel business can take actions such as lowering pollution, consuming fewer resources, maintaining a safe workplace, and promoting non-toxic and durable quality products for consumer well-being [5
]. Consumer awareness and demand have stimulated the eco-friendly apparel market growth. Such clothes are made from recycled materials or otherwise produced by methods that are not harmful to the environment, such as using cotton grown without the use of pesticides [7
However, despite the efforts companies have taken to be green in response to the need and growth of environmentally conscious consumers, falling sales of eco-products have been observed in the U.S. market [8
]. Some eco-apparel lines have even failed [10
]. Several barriers to eco-friendly apparel acquisition have been identified by consumers, such as “higher price range,” “lack of knowledge”, “uncertainty of quality”, “trust of the company”, and “availability of products” [12
]. These barriers exist across product categories [9
], and this may reflect the fact that many companies have failed to develop efficient green marketing strategies and to transform their environmental innovations into a competitive advantage. Due to the unique attributes of eco-products, scholars in sustainability marketing have underscored the need to re-examine consumer behavior toward specific eco-products in order to develop an effective marketing mix [13
Several studies have been conducted to examine consumers’ value and motivation behind sustainable apparel consumption [14
]. Building upon the insightful findings provided by those studies, the researchers of this study seek to move forward to examine consumer attitude of the subgroups to answer the question of whether a difference may exist between male and female consumers in sustainable apparel consumption. Research studies have found that men and women exhibit diverse levels of environmental concern and attitude. In general, women showed a more positive attitude or higher environmental concerns compared to men [17
]. However, an eco-focused outdoor brand indicated that its customers consist of roughly 50% men and 50% women [21
]. Thus, in order to examine the discrepancy and help marketers understand what motivates consumers’ patronage behavior so that they can communicate with their target segments more efficiently, the purpose of this study is to investigate gender-based distinctions in attitudes in the specific context of sustainable apparel consumption. A model with three indicators, self-identity and two motivational variables (cognitive and affective involvement), was developed in this study to examine the U.S. consumers’ patronage intention. The rationales of the relations among the variables are presented in the following sections.
While eco-friendly apparel is made available in current markets [71
], its promotion has been recognized to be challenging [12
]. This study examined the characteristics of eco-friendly apparel consumers and how gender differences affect the consumer’s patronage intention. The findings of the study showed that consumers’ environmentally conscious self-identity is an important antecedent which can increase their involvement with eco-friendly apparel (H1a
). As suggested by Eisler et al. [17
], personal values are important determinants of a person’s involvement. The present study not only confirmed this proposition but also moved the examination further to the RPII’s sub-constructs of cognitive and affective involvement. The findings indicated that there is a positive relationship between consumers’ green self-identity and their cognitive and affective involvements toward eco-friendly apparel. That is, an environmentally conscious consumer is more likely to appreciate the green attributes of eco-friendly apparel and also have affective attachments with the products. This is true of both male and female consumers.
While a green self-identity seems to be a promising indicator of involvement across genders, its direct influence on consumers’ patronage intention is different between men and women (H2
). Women who possess an environmentally friendly identity exhibit a stronger commitment and patronage intention towards companies that sell eco-friendly apparel compared to their male counterparts. In comparison, men do not exhibit a significant link between their green self-identity and purchase intent. The result for women supports the notion put forth by Grubb and Grathwohl [44
] that people tend to consume certain products to retain their self-consistency. Unfortunately, in this research, men’s patronage intention is not influenced by their green self-identity. In general, women tend to use clothes as a tool to manage their appearance and to express their identity [74
]. Women are more attached to emotional and symbolic possessions, whereas men tend to value functional and instrumental products [75
]. This provides an explanation for the finding that in this study women’s green self-identity is statistically significantly related to their eco-friendly apparel patronage intention, while men’s is not. The findings can also be explained based on the viewpoint of the gender division of labor [66
], mentioned in the previous section regarding men’s role in the labor force, that men may not consider consuming eco-friendly apparel as an active way to express their environmentalism. Perhaps men’s responses would be different with other green product categories, such as energy-saving cars.
Another focus of the study was to determine whether men and women are motivated by different aspects of involvement in eco-friendly apparel consumption (H5 and H6). In the hypotheses, it was proposed that men were more likely to be motivated by cognitive involvement, whereas women would be primarily motivated by largely affective involvement. The findings indicated that for men, as expected, cognitive involvement is a prominent indicator of their patronage intention. They are more likely to be motivated by the cognitive aspects of their involvement, such as meaningful, valuable, and needed, with eco-friendly apparel. Thus, when communicating with male consumers about sustainable apparel, the messages that induce the sense of responsibility will be more likely to motivate their purchase intention.
Unexpectedly but interestingly, the findings showed that women’s patronage intentions were influenced by neither affective involvement nor cognitive involvement. For female consumers, being cognitively or affectively involved with eco-friendly apparel are not the most important factors driving their patronage intent. Since women are generally more fashion conscious [76
], perhaps their decision-making process is more complicated than just focusing on the environmental friendliness of eco-apparel as the only determining factor. Unless the women have a strong environmentally conscious identity, for female consumers, the primary reasons influencing their decision making may be other factors such as style, fabric, fit, or color of the apparel. Comparing to the R2
of women’s and men’s models, the proposed model in this study is a better explanation of male consumers’ behaviors. This may also indicate that other variables, such as fashion opinion leader and fashion innovativeness, need to be taken into consideration to explain women’s eco-friendly apparel patronage intention.
In sum, this study shows that men and women can be motivated by different factors in sustainable apparel consumption. Brough et al. [79
] conducted a research study in green-feminine stereotype and suggested that “this green-feminine stereotype may motivate men to avoid green behaviors in order to preserve a macho image” (p. 567). Stewart [21
] argued that the conclusion might not be applicable to sustainable apparel consumption because the statistics from an eco-focused outdoor brand shows that there are about equal numbers of men and women who purchase its eco-friendly apparel. Thus, men did not avoid green behaviors to preserve a macho image in sustainable apparel consumption. The finding of Brough et al. has been overgeneralized in that they did not examine sustainable apparel in their studies. However, this also indicated the need of relevant studies that focus on a particular green product in order to obtain a holistic understanding of consumer green behavior. In addition, the findings of this present study may be able to provide some explanation. Women purchased sustainable apparel from the outdoor brand in order to express their green self-identity. Men might be encouraged to purchase the sustainable apparel from the outdoor brand because the company’s mission, “cause no unnecessary harm” and “implement solutions to the environmental crisis” [21
] reconciled with their cognitive involvement in the value, meaning, and necessity of the products. Instead of framing the marketing message that affirms the masculinity as proposed by Brough et al., this study suggests to construct the message that induces the sense of responsibility [15
]. Nonetheless, more in-depth studies are needed to expand this research stream.
5. Managerial Implications
The findings of this study provide several managerial implications for marketers to promote eco-friendly apparel. While several communication barriers have been identified in eco-friendly apparel acquisition, such as lack of knowledge, uncertainty of quality, and trust of the company [12
], this study provides some directions to improve the marketing communication of eco-friendly apparel. The results suggest that gender specificity is important in market communication. When creating a marketing promotion strategy for eco-friendly apparel, it is imperative to be aware that men and women are triggered by different cues. One can develop a differentiated marketing promotion strategy for men and women separately. As a starting point, based on the findings, when targeting male consumers, rational narratives and reasoning may be more likely to help men perceive the value and necessity of eco-friendly apparel. It may be more efficient and persuasive to provide them such product details as how many recycled water bottles were used to make a pair of jeans. Such message delivers a solid concept to remind them the meaningfulness of sustainable apparel. For female consumers, the communication strategy may focus on images or/and messages that induce their green self-identity. However, this strategy may be effective only to those who exhibit strong environmental awareness.
Marketers can also create an undifferentiated promotion strategy including both aspects of cues. For companies that aim to promote a general brand image or to target both genders, they may want to include both cues, which are the messages that reflect the green self-identity and cognitive involvement, to increase the effectiveness of the promotion ad. The finding of this study shows that combining the two may help to maximize the effect of the marketing message. Keeping both cues in balance in the presentation will be important when applying this type of marketing communication to avoid distractions. Nonetheless, the effect of such strategies mentioned above in eco-friendly apparel requires further research examination.
6. Conclusions: Final Remarks, Limitations, and Future Research
In the apparel industry, some production processes have raised a number of environmental and social issues, for example, the large quantities of pesticides used to grow cotton, water pollution from fabric dyeing/printing and finishing, and the use of “sweat shops” in foreign countries [5
]. To integrate the sustainability paradigm in corporate operations, many apparel companies have not only adopted more sustainable manufacturing processes but also strive to provide consumers more eco-friendly products that use organic fibers or recycled materials [80
], such as post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.
To better understand the consumers and the associated factors affecting their patronage intentions regarding eco-friendly apparel, this research study was conducted by using a U.S. national representative sample of U.S. consumers to provide empirical evidence that closely reflects current markets. The findings of the study indicated that the patronage intent of men and women are motivated by different factors when they consider eco-friendly apparel. To stimulate their interest toward the products, marketers need different motivating cues. Men are more likely to feel motivated and involved through utilitarian performance and functional product information, while women are more likely to be involved when they can use the product to express their green self-identity.
Many future studies can be envisioned based on the findings in this study. First, a comparison of different eco-products should be conducted to explore whether men’s and women’s attitudes also vary across other eco-friendly product categories. Second, this study has identified different motivations between men and women in eco-friendly consumption. A future study can utilize experimental research designs to examine how different types of promotion messages (cognitive vs. affective) in an ad influence their eco-friendly product consumption. Third, as the sample was selected from the U.S. consumers, the results may not reflect consumers’ attitudes from different countries. A study of a cross-cultural comparison of consumers could be conducted.
As with most research studies, this study exhibits limitations as well. Although the sample was collected to reflect the current structure of U.S. consumers in age and gender, the sample was selected from a commercial panel which might have introduced a selection bias. Thus, the generalization of the results is limited. In addition, this study focused on one antecedent of involvement (green self-identity). Therefore, the effect of cognitive and affective involvement might have been limited. Another critical limitation of this study is the measure of the dependent variable, patronage intention. This study measure consumers’ intention instead of actual behavior. It has been noticed that there is a green attitude-behavior gap in green behavior [81
]. Consumers’ favorable attitudes may not lead to their actual green behaviors. Moreover, this research study is based on a self-administered questionnaire, which may have introduced the method bias. Thus, the implications should be considered with caution. More studies are needed to investigate the topic by applying different research methods and to carefully examine the effectiveness of the managerial implications proposed in the study. Lastly, as consumers keep gaining knowledge about eco-friendly products, consumers’ attitudes may change in the near future. A longitudinal study could be useful to provide an integrated understanding of eco-friendly apparel consumption.