Organic Cotton: Are you willing to pay more?

organic cotton study why buy organic

Are you willing to pay more for organic cotton? A recent Washington State (WSU) study tried to answer that question!

The problem with a lot of studies that try to look at what folks will pay for things is that we will say that we’d pay more for certain things – say, organic or Fair Trade clothing – but when faced with actually swiping that check card, we won’t pay as much as we said we would. The WSU researchers used an interesting “auction method” to make the study closer to real-life transactions. Participants were willing to pay an average of 25 percent more for organic cotton clothing, but they were less likely to do so if they were buying their own clothing.

Why buy organic?

There’s no getting around it: organic cotton clothing usually costs more than conventional (though not always!), so why pony up the extra cash? And are most consumers willing to spend more for an organic t-shirt versus a conventional one?

The study – which used a sample of students from two large college classes – found that people were willing to pay more if they thought of organic cotton as being higher quality.  But what does “higher quality” really mean? The study doesn’t really explain that part.

Is there a perception out there that organic clothing is better made? Or by “higher quality,” do they mean choosing a product that doesn’t poison our water with pesticides, devastate farmers, or support big biotechnology companies with a penchant for bullying small farmers.  I think that’s an important distinction, and the study doesn’t distinguish.

Like Joan Ellis, one of the WSU researchers who worked on this study said:

If the consumer is not willing to pay, then everything upstream – the growing, processing, distribution and selling – has no ramifications. You have to start with identifying the consumer. If the consumer won’t buy it, everything else is moot.

Unfortunately, that’s true. It doesn’t matter how beneficial organic cotton is for the environment or for farmers if they can’t sell the finished product.

If you’re a regular reader here, you probably know the reasons to buy organic: it’s better for the planet, it’s better for workers, and by extension that makes it better for everyone. But when it comes down to the checkout lane, are you willing to pay more? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Image Credit: Organic Cotton photo via Shutterstock

Written by Becky Striepe

My name is Becky Striepe (rhymes with “sleepy”), and I am a crafts and food writer from Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for making our planet a healthier, happier, and more compassionate place to live. My mission is to make vegan food and crafts accessible to everyone!. If you like my work, you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .


  1. As always the question is… what exactly is the consumer paying for? A “normal” price – may be the result of unfair prices to the cotton growers, and/or to the factory workers – and we have come to expect a subsidised price as normal. Alternatively, a “luxury” garment may be expensive to the consumer – but the extra expense no better shared amongst the supply chain operators… These kinds of unknowns make it difficult for anyone to judge what the “right” price is. Furthermore, “cheap” clothing just makes us value it less and consume more. It will take a huge amount of effort on all fronts (governments, businesses, and consumers) to change the way we retail and the way we consume i.e to value our possessions more… and the earth and its resources that we do not own! The survey results in part shows how much we might want to do the right thing but mixed messages and lack of transparency don’t help!

  2. Hey – really interesting study, thanks for posting about it. I’m always wondering about consumer behavior with this sort of thing. For myself, I’m definitely willing to pay more for organic cotton but I’m more of an eco-fashion convert than your average consumer. As far as quality goes, in my experience, designers that are using organic cotton are generally more attentive to detail and the quality tends to be higher on the whole. But that’s just experiential evidence 🙂

  3. I’d like to say I always buy organic clothing, I am wearing an organic shirt right now but the newish jeans I’m wearing aren’t organic. I’m trying to lose weight and while when I’m at a point where I think I will be keeping the jeans for a long time, I’m willing to spend more, these I hope to not fit in for very long so I went with cheaper ones. 🙁

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