A Consumer Perception Study of Polypropylene Apparel

ABSTRACT - A consumer questionnaire was used to investigate direct mail, polypropylene apparel consumers' perceptions and levels of satisfaction of polypropylene garments in order to develop an effective repeat purchase marketing strategy for polypropylene apparel sold through mail order catalogs. The consumers studied showed an increase of perceptions from prepurchase to after wear for their polypropylene garments. Consumers' satisfaction was found to be related to specific after wear perceptions, length of use, method of care, and activity for which polypropylene had been used. The results indicated that there is a need for broader consumer awareness of the uses of polypropylene in active sportswear applications.


Teri E. Taggart and Susan B. Hester (1985) ,"A Consumer Perception Study of Polypropylene Apparel", in SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, eds. Jagdish N. Sheth and Chin Tiong Tan, Singapore : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 234-238.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 234-238


Teri E. Taggart, Cornell University

Susan B. Hester, Cornell University


A consumer questionnaire was used to investigate direct mail, polypropylene apparel consumers' perceptions and levels of satisfaction of polypropylene garments in order to develop an effective repeat purchase marketing strategy for polypropylene apparel sold through mail order catalogs. The consumers studied showed an increase of perceptions from prepurchase to after wear for their polypropylene garments. Consumers' satisfaction was found to be related to specific after wear perceptions, length of use, method of care, and activity for which polypropylene had been used. The results indicated that there is a need for broader consumer awareness of the uses of polypropylene in active sportswear applications.


The use of the synthetic fiber polypropylene in active sportswear has gained widespread acceptance in recent years by manufacturers and retailers. Due to the special nature of this fiber, further growth now depends, at least in part, on active sportswear consumers' acceptance and understanding of its characteristics and use in functional apparel.

Polypropylene, an olefin fiber, is one of the newest man-made fibers now being produced. The ability to produce the stereospecific polypropylene appropriate for fiber production was discovered in 1954 (plastics and films had been produced previously), by Professor Natta of the Milan Polytechnic Institute in Italy (Stout 1970). Polypropylene in fiber form was first commercially used in 1957 (Mansfield 1982).

In 1964, Enjay (now Exxon) used Vectra polypropylene unsuccessfully in the intimate apparel market for panty hose and hosiery (Polypropylene Finds A New Home -- In Undies 1980). During this same period other attempts were made to introduce polypropylene to the apparel market, but with little or no commercial success (Lennox-Kerr 1980).

The producers and marketers of polypropylene currently claim that even though unique characteristics of the fiber and production problems have previously kept it out of the mass consumer apparel market, it has recently found a niche in active sportswear. Its ability to wick moisture away from the body, so that the wearer does not get clammy and/or chilled, is repeatedly being cited as its strongest attribute. Other attributes that help to make it useful in active sportswear are its low specific gravity, low moisture absorption for quick drying, abrasion resistance, and non-allergenic characteristics.

The current location of polypropylene apparel at the introduction stage of the product life cycle suggests that it is appropriate to be developing consumer awareness of its attributes (Wasson 1974). It is important that consumers understand and are satisfied with its new uses for repeat purchase to occur. Information provided by some retailers describes why and how the product is useful in active sportswear, because lack of understanding of fiber characteristics by the consumer can cause dissatisfaction.

The goal of this research was to determine the inconsistencies and misunderstandings between the fiber's actual and perceived characteristics. The data collected were then used to suggest more effective marketing strategies that could increase awareness of fiber's physiological benefits and develop repeat sales among direct mail, polypropylene active sportswear consumers.


Polypropylene's Initial Use in Apparel

Polypropylene was introduced to the apparel market twenty years ago. Since that time much effort has been expended trying to use polypropylene in finished apparel products, such as women's stockings, that did not appropriately utilize its fiber properties (Mansfield 1982). The recent re-introduction of polypropylene places the fiber at the introductory stage of the product life cycle for apparel uses. During this introduction retailers and manufacturers seem more aware of its limitations and are developing products that utilize its characteristics appropriately (Denham 1981).

Characteristics that have contributed to polypropylene's previous limitations in the apparel sector are generally considered to be its low melting point, its lack of dyeability, and the consumers' perception "that because polypropylene is durable and stain resistant, it must be stiff, clammy and uncomfortable fabric to wear, especially next to the skin" (Polypropylene Finds A New Home -- In Undies 1980, p. 39). Recent developments in dye technology and fiber production processes have increased its dyeability and melting point, but consumers' perceptions of polypropylene fabric are still questionable (Gray 1984).

Polypropylene's Characteristics -- Strengths and Weaknesses

The current melting point of polypropylene, although higher than that at first introduction, is still lower than those of other apparel fibers. This characteristic may deter consumers from purchasing polypropylene garments, because some care labels warn against machine drying. The use of an iron is also restricted due to the low melting point and thought to be the reason for the failure of a men's sport shirt marketed by Puritan Sportswear in the late 1970's (Polypropylene Finds A New Home -- In Undies 1980).

Another of polypropylene's properties is low moisture absorption. This causes an inability of the fiber to absorb or react with dyestuffs. Polypropylene must therefore be solution dyed. This limits the color selection and prevents extensive polypropylene usage in the apparel market, where a wide and varied range of fashionable colors is demanded every season (Polypropylene Finds A New Home -- In Undies 1980). However, in the active sportswear market, function is of utmost concern and fashionable colors are not as important as they would be in the mass consumer apparel market (Mansfield 1982).

Although polypropylene's low moisture absorption may limit its color selection, this characteristic is the major reason for its use in active sportswear. It is responsible for its excellent wicking properties (Sarwar 1979). Wicking occurs when "a polypropylene fabric is brought into contact with a heated body," and then, "water passes through it more quickly and completely than through fabrics made from other fibers, e.g. nylon" (Sarwar 1979, p. 45.3).

Polypropylene's specific gravity of 1.0 helps to provide high levels of thermal insulation without the bulk found in other fabrics such as cotton and wool (Gray 1984; Lennox-Kerr 1980). Less weight also permits more freedom of movement during activity.

Retailers and Manufacturers -- Concerns and Expectations

At present, cost is higher for polypropylene garments than is expected in the future, when fiber technology has been perfected and demand may be increased, due to greater consumer awareness (Gray 1984). However, some retailers believe that price has not been a stumbling block for increased sales among consumers, stating that .. once you explain what polypropylene does, the consumer will spend the extra money" (Gray 1984, p. 17). Other retailers think that polypropylene is overpriced no matter what the characteristics, due in part to poor packaging and lack of product information (Gray 1984).

Increasing consumer awareness of the fiber characteristics of polypropylene is a concern of several retailers and manufacturers (Campbell 1981; Gray 1984; Lennox-Kerr 1980). One retailer explained to Gray, "we have too many customers asking for polypropylene for all the wrong reasons. They do too much reading and think that polypropylene will keep them warm even when they're doing passive sports" (1984, p. 17). This same retailer also stressed the importance of better product information on the packaging. A questionnaire response from Paul Kramer, Director of Research and Development at Sierra Designs, showed his interest in consumer satisfaction. He stated, "polypro has many negative attributes, probably some of these will be overcome as more commercial use of the fiber takes place" and continues, "I hope the market is not soured on the product before that happens" (personal communication, April 1984).

Currently polypropylene garments including long underwear, hats, gloves, socks, briefs, sweatsuits, bodysuits, cycling suits, running shirts and shorts, tee shirts, jackets, and sweaters are being carried by many of the mail order companies. Their catalogs allow them space to describe their products' characteristics, functions, and care. Terms used to describe the attributes of polypropylene are lightweight, wickable, stretchable, soft, non-allergenic, quick-drying, durable, and washable, among others. Thermal vision pictures of people wearing different layering systems of polypropylene garments have also been used to describe its performance (Lands' End Direct Merchant Catalog 1984).

This is the status of the polypropylene apparel market during the current introductory stage in the product life cycle. Avoidance of failure, this time, as it moves towards the second stage 1. growth," will require consumer awareness and a cost/quality advantage as the competition increases within the industry. Keeping polypropylene on the market is necessary to effectively meet the needs of the active sportsperson. This requires repeat purchasing to support a viable market share. The industry's present challenge is to appropriately market polypropylene apparel to assure this future growth.


Information Collection

A cover letter and questionnaire were sent to 25 polypropylene fiber and fabric producers, apparel manufacturers, and retailers. The purpose of this questionnaire was to identify perceptions from within the polypropylene industry concerning the fiber's characteristics, and investigate possibilities for collecting consumer data. The responses to these questionnaires and interviews suggested that sales of polypropylene apparel were on a steep increase. However, a concern for the future and consumers' long-term acceptance was also expressed by these respondents.


A consumer questionnaire was developed using the information gathered from industry surveys, interviews, and a review of the current literature. The purpose of this questionnaire was to collect data related to; direct mail, polypropylene apparel consumers' prepurchase and after wear perceptions of polypropylene apparel, origins of direct mail consumers' awareness of polypropylene apparel, the level of satisfaction with polypropylene garments by these consumers, method of care of polypropylene apparel, and style and use of polypropylene garments. The questionnaire was pretested. Revisions were then made to eliminate problems identified during the pretest.

Data Collection

Arrangements were made with Moss Brown and Company for distribution of the questionnaire. This company is an active sportswear retailer which markets primarily running and bicycling apparel, along with a selection of other functional garments and accessories. The company has one retail store, but the majority of its sales are by mail order to consumers all over the country.

The Moss Brown consumer is demographically and psychographically typical of that of other direct mail companies which market polypropylene active sportswear (K. Ganley, personal communication, October 15, 1984; J. Palamountain, personal communication, November 15, 1984). This suggests that the sample used is similar to other direct mail consumers of polypropylene active sportswear (e.g. income of $25,000 or more, and 25 to 45 years old). These consumers are heavily involved in outdoor activities that are appropriate for high-tech and high performance fibers like polypropylene.

Two thousand questionnaires were inserted into boxes containing the Moss Brown Bodywear top. The top is constructed of an 85% polypropylene and 15% nylon knit fabric and is made for cool weather activity. Although this shirt was used as the vehicle for distributing the questionnaire to polypropylene apparel consumers, results and analyses were based on a variety of polypropylene garments, as the questionnaire calls for information on the first garment purchased by each respondent. Since data analyzed pertain to a variety of garments and represent various sources and brands of polypropylene active sportswear, a concern for brand effects was somewhat lessened.

Questionnaire packets (cover letter, questionnaire, and business reply envelope) were included with orders sent by Moss Brown to consumers. The first week's return was 11% (221); total return was 31% (620). The consumers sent questionnaires were not identifiable by the researcher making follow-up impossible.

Four hundred and four questionnaires were used for the final analysis. Two hundred and six questionnaires were eliminated from the sample, because the consumer had not worn the first polypropylene garment at the time of completing the questionnaire or because there were unanswered or inconsistently answered questions. Ten questionnaires were returned too late for analysis.

Statistical Analysis

Data collected were coded and placed into a LOTUS worksheet. Data were checked for errors and then transferred to the statistical package STATGRAPHICS. Analysis was accomplished using STATGRAPHICS on the IBM Personal Computer. Descriptive statistics (including frequency distributions, range, and mean as appropriate) were calculated to assess the responses. Chi-square analysis was used to test various relationships at the 0.05 alpha level.


The sample consisted of 318 (79%) males and 86 (21%) females. The greatest concentration of respondents was in the age groups 20-35 and 36-50; each had 179 respondents. There were 7 and 39 respondents in the under 20 and over 50 age groups, respectively. Forty-six of the 50 states were represented in this sample.

Three hundred and sixty-two (90%) of the respondents were runners, and 212 (52%) reported to be bicyclers. There was extensive consumer participation in other activities but at lower levels.

The questionnaire accompanied the first polypropylene apparel purchase of 7.2% of the respondents. Almost 93% of the respondents had owned from 1 to 14 polypropylene garments prior to this purchase, with an average of 3.5 each.

The questionnaire item which measured prepurchase perceptions of polypropylene consumers indicated that over 50% of the consumers had perceived the characteristics warmth when wet, thermal comfort, lightweight, and wickability before purchasing their first polypropylene garments. Thirty-six percent perceived quick drying, and less than 25% of the consumers noted air permeability, washability, softness, stretchability, durability, absorbency, and non-allergenic as prepurchase perceptions (see Table 1).

The question designed to measure the consumers' after wear perceptions of polypropylene indicated an increase in the perceived characteristics by respondents from prepurchase to after wear (see Table 1). This result suggests that awareness of the garment's properties is increased during wear. Chi-square tests indicated that there were significant differences between the prepurchase perceptions and the after wear perceptions of all stated characteristics.



Data suggested, due to a high increase in perception of the characteristic washability, that consumers found their polypropylene garments easier to care for than they had anticipated. The high increase of both softness and stretchability suggested that actual wear by the consumer need to take place to-facilitate perception of these characteristics. Low overall response to durability and non-allergenic suggested that these characteristics are not highly marketed and/or demanded by consumers for their active sportswear needs.

A questionnaire item asked the respondents to state how they first learned of polypropylene apparel. Magazines and mail order catalogs were by far the most common forms of introduction followed by friends, salespeople, and family members (see Table 2). For the subsample introduced by a salesperson, further investigation included type of store consumers were in at the time of introduction. All introductions were made in specialty, athletic, or outdoor clothing stores. No introductions were made in department stores.



The questionnaire item that investigated consumer satisfaction suggested that 94.3% of the consumers were satisfied with their first polypropylene garment. The majority (56.2%) of respondents stated that their garments lived up to their expectations. Another 38.1% of the consumers found the garment to be better than expected, and 5.7% found it to be less satisfactory than expected.

Consumers' satisfaction for their first polypropylene garment was not found to be related to their prepurchase perceptions of the garment. Satisfaction was however found to be related to 75% of the after wear characteristics. Satisfaction's relationship with after wear characteristics, stretchability, washability, softness, air permeability, absorbency, and durability suggested that the perceptions of these characteristics is associated with higher levels of satisfaction. The relationship between satisfaction and warmth when wet suggests that the lack of after wear perception of this characteristic leads to lower levels of satisfaction with polypropylene garments.

No significant association was found with satisfaction and method of care used; however, satisfaction for the method of care used was found to be associated with the consumers' overall satisfaction for their garment. This relationship suggested that higher satisfaction for the garment was related to being satisfied with the method used for care.

Respondents wearing polypropylene for running were found to have higher levels of satisfaction for their garments than those involved in other activities. There were no other relationships found with satisfaction level and activity participation while wearing polypropylene.

The winter season was overwhelmingly favored by consumers for the use of polypropylene garments, suggesting their lack of understanding of the characteristics that would make it useful in warmer weather (see Table 3). Polypropylene's functional aspects were the overriding factor for purchasing these garments, (see Table 4). Consumers reported a wide variety of garments as their first article of polypropylene apparel. A relationship between a particular garment owned and satisfaction, however, was not apparent.





Both frequency of wear and length of ownership were found to be associated with consumer satisfaction for their first garment. In both cases higher levels of satisfaction were associated with longer length of ownership and greater use of the garment.

Marketing Strategies

Natural fibers were found to be the most often used, prior to purchasing polypropylene garments, for the same purpose. This suggests marketing promotion using characteristics that are beneficial to the active sports person that are polypropylene or synthetic fiber specific, such as wickability and quick drying.

There were increases in the perceptions washability, softness, stretchability, and durability from prepurchase to after wear. Higher levels of satisfaction were also related to these characteristics. These results suggest that marketing promotion use these terms more often, than at present, in describing polypropylene garments. This may increase the range of activities for which consumers use polypropylene garments, and increase awareness of its performance during current use.

Lower levels of satisfaction were associated with machine washing and drying. Dissatisfaction with the method of care was higher when a consumer responded that the care method used was a result of cleaning all clothes in that manner. Marketing promotion should raise consumers awareness of appropriate methods of care.

The use of a swatch of polypropylene fabric in mail order catalogs is suggested as a promotional tool to increase consumers' awareness of polypropylene's softness before purchase. If sales are made through a retail store, salespeople should encourage consumers to touch the garment.

Two-thirds of the consumers perceived polypropylene to be absorbent while also being wickable. Lack of understanding that a fabric is wickable due to its lack of absorbency, suggests that more consumer information on why wickability is important for the active sportsperson is needed.

Data suggested that durability may be a garment specific trait and may also be associated with a heavy and harsh fabric. Appropriate verbiage, such as soft and thin, should be used with durability to develop an image of a more appealing fabric. Use of the term might also be reserved to describe a garment for which durability would be an important characteristic to the consumer. Low response to stretchability suggests that this characteristic is also a garment specific trait and that wear testing may be required for perception to occur.

The characteristics lightweight, wickability, warmth when wet, and thermal comfort were not related to consumer satisfaction. Use of these characteristics at the point of purchase is suggested as reinforcement, however, due to the percentage of consumers stating them as reasons for continuing to wear their polypropylene garments. Continued use of non-allergenic is also suggested due to its neutral effect on satisfaction and its specialized potential market.

New market development was suggested by the data. Consumers' extensive participation in various activities and lack of knowledge that polypropylene is an effective fiber for thermal comfort in warmer weather indicate potential for development in both these areas.

Origin of introduction had no effect on consumer satisfaction. It is, however, recommended that distribution of polypropylene through department stores be approached with caution due to lack of knowledgeable salespeople to introduce it appropriately. Poorly introduced garments may lead to a misunderstood product and consumer dissatisfaction.

Functional aspects were the primary purchase motive of polypropylene apparel consumers in this sample. Data and market investigation suggest that the current approach is appropriate for the active sportswear market. Further development into the mass market or the growth stage of polypropylene's use in apparel would require, however, meeting the style, fit, cost, color, and availability demands of the fashion conscious mass consumer.


It is important for polypropylene active wear garments to be available to meet consumer needs for thermal comfort. Continued growth in this segment will occur if consumer knowledge and the selection of functional garments is increased. High questionnaire return and consumer comments imply that consumers are interested in learning more about their functional garments. This interest, which is most often functional garment rather than fashionable garment specific, can be used by the marketers to their benefit. There is much to know and understand about polypropylene which benefits the consumer. The more the marketer presents about polypropylene apparel, the more information available to stimulate consumer interest in its application.

Current practices used by the marketers of polypropylene apparel may be appropriate for the active sports wear market. They do not suggest, however, a growth in market share unless awareness is increased of further active wear uses. Using the suggested marketing strategies and continuing to listen to consumers' needs is, therefore, necessary to establish the use of polypropylene in active sportswear for the long term.


Campbell, Stu, (1981), "Geerdes Discusses Future of Polypropylene Apparel," Daily News Record, 26 (October), 36.

Denham, Miles E. (1981), "Fiber Shows Great Growth on Price/Performance Factor," Modern Textiles, (February), 16-22.

Eugenis, Ted, (1983), "Wonder-Wear," Backpacker, (November) 37-38, 103.

Gray, Lori, (1984), "Polypropylene: Miracle Fabric or Fad," National Outdoor Outfitters News, (ju.ly/August) ,

Lands' End Direct Merchants Catalog, (1984), Dodgeville, WI: Lands' End.

Lennox-Kerr, P. (1980), "Polypropylene -- Sudden Progress," Textile Asia, (May) 113-116.

Mansfield, Richard G., (1982), "Polypropylene Enters a New Era of Growth," Textile World, (February), 44-46, 48.

Polypropylene Finds a New Home -- In Undies, (1980), Chemical Week, 17 (September), 39-40.

Sarwar, G. (1979), "The Properties and Potential of Polypropylene Fibers in Domestic Textiles and Apparel," Proceedings of the Second International Conference on Polypropylene Fibres and Textiles, York, England, 45.1-45.15.

Stout, Evelyn E., (1970), Introduction to Textiles, New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Wasson, Chester, R., (1974), Dynamic Competitive Strategy and Product Life Cycles, St. Charles, IL: Challenge Books.



Teri E. Taggart, Cornell University
Susan B. Hester, Cornell University


SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives | 1985

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