By Heather Noel
When Hae Jin Gam first became a mother five years ago, she was faced with picking furniture and linens for her baby’s nursery. Suddenly, decisions she hadn’t given much thought to before became shrouded in concern.
How were these products made? Do these textiles contain any chemicals that might be harmful to my baby?
Gam, now an associate professor of fashion design in the College of Visual Arts and Design, thought there must be other consumers like her, and that influenced her most recent study looking at how considerations about health might impact consumer purchasing behavior of textile furnishings.
Previous studies have analyzed how environmental consciousness could factor into purchasing decisions of textile furnishings, but there was no data about how health concerns could make a difference in what people buy, Gam says.
“You don’t eat your furniture, curtains or carpet, but if people are interested in their own health or the health of their loved ones, they might be worried about the pesticides used on those textiles or chemicals used to treat the fabric that stay in these materials long after their production,” Gam says.
Gam, along with her research collaborators Ui-Jeen Yu, professor of fashion design and merchandising at Illinois State University, and Somang Yang, graduate student at Auburn University, analyzed data from an internet-based survey of 302 U.S. shoppers. They found that health consciousness did indeed influence consumers’ purchasing intentions of environmentally sustainable textile furnishing products such as carpets, curtains and fabric sofas.
This information can be helpful for companies as they decide how to design and market their products, Gam says.
Their article published in the Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal received a “Best Paper” award from the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.
Gam researches sustainability development in the apparel and textile industry and is focused on equipping aspiring designers with the knowledge of sustainable practices that will make for a safer, more environmentally friendly industry.
“I’m interested in how we educate our students because they are the future leaders of this industry,” Gam says. “We need to educate them about the practice and how to be mindful about consumption and resource limitations, so that the future of our industry is better and more sustainable.”