Sustainability As a Recognized Issue within the Fashion Industry

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Imagine a situation where a fashion consumer is choosing between a sustainable and a non- sustainable T-shirt. Both T-shirts have the same design, quality and aesthetics, but are produced in two different ways – one is sustainably produced and one is not. The question is what factors are influencing consumers’ purchasing decision in advantage for the sustainable fashion product? Irrespective of reasons, it is necessary that the awareness of sustainable fashion accelerates due to the impact today’s consumption has on the world’s scarce resources. The need to encourage consumers to purchase sustainable fashion relies on many factors. Within the fashion industry sustainability has become a particular sensitive subject due to the industry’s environmental burden and as recognized the fashion industry’s environmental impact is very high – both in production and throughout the supply chain. In order to accomplish a sustainable future all parts of the fashion supply chain has to collaborate and to minimize the environmental burden companies have to change their way of producing and consumers their way of consuming.

The continuous increase of the population of this world requires thoughtful disposal of the finite resources in order to not risk total consumption and in that way sacrifice need of future generations. Consequently, in order to change fashion consumers’ purchasing decisions and actions, it is of interest to find out what could affect consumers purchasing decision to choose sustainable fashion over non-sustainable. This since, there is proved to be a gap between consumers’ positive attitudes towards sustainable fashion and their actual purchasing actions. This is for example shown in the study ‘The 4/40 Gap’ where it is found that about 40% of the consumers are open to shop for more sustainable products, but only 4% of them actually does.

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The following chapter introduces the subject of this dissertation in how different factors can affect consumers’ attitudes and actual actions towards sustainable fashion, focusing on women’s wear in the Indian fashion industry. It gives an introduction to the subject of this dissertation and it also provides a background to the identified problem followed by a problem discussion and a purpose. Altogether this result in the presentation of this study’s research question and some limitations of what areas this study is not covering.


Sustainable development is a concept introduced in the ‘Brundtland Report’ from 1987. In this report sustainability is described as a way of finding solutions to make sure that “requirements of the current world population are met without doing harm to the needs of future generations”. The report also reveals an overall description about the world’s resource- and environmental issues and its idea of pursuing a sustainable development (World Commission on Environment and Development 1987). Concluded is that this report is a springboard regarding environmental concerns, which nowadays has become an uprising concern. It has especially become crucial to involve within the fashion industry due to the industry’s heavy burden on the environment, massive use of chemicals and natural resources. Also, there is an inherent contradiction between a business model driven by selling lots of fast and the concept of sustainability. Another concern is therefore the industry constantly needs to improve responsiveness and increase speed in production to reduce the risk of producing clothes that’s out of fashion.

To reduce the impact and doing fashion better companies are today making efforts to include sustainable practices and standards in their businesses. In Europe, for example, working with sustainability reports has become a trend and companies want to prove their sustainable consciousness and efforts. Another strategy used by fashion companies is the way of becoming circular – referring to how products are designed produced, transported, marketed, used reclaimed and recycled and also how the product is consumed and used by the consumers. It includes all work behind a product and all natural resourses that have been used throughout the supply chain.

According to Varadarajan (2010) it is recognized that strategically marketing principles might have a considerable positive impact towards more sustainable consumer behaviour. It is suggested that fashion consumers’ awareness level will increase when the consumers have more knowledge on sustainable and environmental issues. Such knowledge could be gained through different communication tools offered by fashion companies. For example by using labelling as an information barrier. However, there are several labels used within the fashion industry to communicate the sustainability efforts. This makes it difficult for fashion consumers, as well as fashion students, to distinguish what they are certifying. Some of the most commonly used labels used by Indian fashion brands are Ecolabel, GOTS (global organic textile standard) and Oeko-Tex 100 as well as the company’s own sustainable label.

Even if previous research proves consumers’ gradually increasing request for sustainable, qualitative and unique products there is a limitation in fashion consumers’ sustainable awareness. Hence, fashion companies have to increase consumers’ awareness in order to change their purchasing decision. One difficulty companies are facing is fashion consumers’ limited interest and motivation to purchase sustainable fashion. To close the loop there is a need for fashion companies to change and strengthen consumers’ awareness and actual action towards sustainable fashion. In order for companies to afford and produce more sustainable fashion there has to a significant change of the correlation between attitudes and actions among consumers and the consumption of sustainable fashion.


It is necessary to accelerate the awareness of sustainable fashion among consumers. This since today’s fashion consumption is unsustainable as, for example, the world has finite resources and raw material is becoming scarcer. Fashion companies efforts of facilitate, support and monitor sustainable practices and standards is not enough as sustainable consumption has not yet made an impact on consumers’ fashion purchasing decision. To be able to produce more sustainable garments, the willingness to purchase sustainable fashion has to increase along with consumers’ actual actions. Without such increase the companies will not be able to sell, the producers will not be able to produce and the use of raw material will not decrease. It takes an interaction between all parts involved in the value chain to make a development and improvement.

When fashion consumers are about to purchase a fashion product it is evaluated from different product related aspects such as design, quality and price. Also, external influences, information and emotions are affecting their purchasing decision. Even though there is a rising concern among companies and consumers regarding sustainability the development is not enough to make a difference for future generations. Without considering attributes affecting the consumer’s’ purchasing decision the sales of sustainable fashion will not increase. With this in mind the problem to be examined in this report is how to accelerate the development of sustainable consumption. This since previous research has shown a gap between consumers’ sustainable awareness and their actual actions to make a purchase. Another problem is that it is difficult for consumers to distinguish sustainable fashion among fashion and textile products available today. A problem with sustainable fashion is that it is not always obvious that they are sustainable. With this in mind it is important to meet the demands in both design and aesthetics along with a sustainable production. Sustainable fashion has to be of good design as well as sustainably produced.

Researchers suggest that by communicating relevant information and knowledge companies might affect the consumers to create an interest and demand for a certain product. This perspective suggests that information is highly valuated and that it through different attributes is possible to affect consumers’ purchasing decision. Although, fashion consumers differs from other consumer segments generally since they seldom recognizes a problem when making purchasing decisions. Fashion consumers starting position is their awareness of the product and their decisions often excludes information search. Since fashion consumers are less likely to be affected by information provided by fashion companies, this is concluded to be a problem. It is more likely that fashion consumers tend to do an external search involving asking for friends’ opinion. Therefor sustainability needs to be included in consumers’ knowledge, values and attitudes to affect their purchasing decisions, starting with awareness. With this in mind, another problematization in this report is to recognize what might influence consumers’ awareness in order to affect their actual actions.

Purpose and research question

The purpose with this study is to investigate how it is possible to accelerate Indian consumers’ willingness to purchase sustainable fashion in order to affect their actual actions. Furthermore – what would make consumers choose sustainable fashion over non-sustainable in order to develop an improved sustainable fashion future. This by examines what factors are affecting consumers’ behaviour including their awareness and willingness to act. The purpose is also to examine what factors are affecting female fashion consumers’ rational behaviour in the gap of their willingness to act and actual actions. The research question of this study is consequently:

Q: How is it possible to accelerate Swedish consumers’ willingness to act and their actual actions to purchase sustainable fashion?


When referring to sustainability this study focus on the consumption of newly produced sustainable fashion. Consequently, a limitation of this report is that it does not cover all areas concerning sustainability and the purchase of sustainable fashion. For example repaired, recycled and second-hand fashion and how these are affecting consumers’ purchasing behaviour. Nor, does this study consider the importance of quantity and how mass consumption affects sustainability. Another limitation to consider is that this report suggests that consumers are rational. A rational perspective does not involve low involvement decisions and does not include the purchase decision as something influenced by others. Important to consider is that this perspective alone does not portray the fashion consumers’ purchase decision.

Theoretical Framework

In the second chapter relevant views on the issue of sustainability and sustainable fashion is presented. The purpose is to give a deeper understanding for this report’s research question. The chapter also presents existing theories and gaps concerning factors influencing fashion consumers and their purchasing behaviour. At the end of the chapter the theories presented is concluded in a model showing factors affecting fashion consumers in their purchasing decision.

Sustainability – a recognized issue within the fashion industry

Sustainability is a term covering three areas – economic, social and environmental. It has, over the last years, been highlighted and by many companies included in business strategies (Shen 2014). Within the fashion industry sustainability has become a particular sensitive subject due to the industry’s environmental burden on land and water as well as its intense use of natural resources. Even though fashion companies are trying to improve their sustainability efforts, the industry is complex when it comes to adapting sustainable solutions. For example today’s fast fashion market is highly competitive. There’s a constant need to ‘refresh’ product ranges, which means that many retailers need to extend the number of ‘seasons’. To devise an effect supply chain is it important to consider the nature of the demand of the products in the chain (Hines & Bruce 2007). Speed-to-market and short lead times are a key to success and since the competition has intensified it is more important than ever to deliver the right product at the right time, which indirect encourages an unsustainable transportation mode (Shen 2014). The fast fashion industry is criticized due to its heavy burden on social and environmental surroundings. It is blamed for being non- sustainable as it focus on delivering low-cost garments in no time using methods that are encouraging a unsustainable consumption behaviour and as is considered not to prioritize environmental concerns (McNeill & Moore 2015).

Globalization and the delocalization of the production has led to economic changes within the European clothing industry and the awareness of ethical issues within clothing production has increased among fashion consumers (de Brito, Carbone & Blanquart 2008). Since the consumers today are increasingly considering the social and environmental concerns companies have to act more responsible than before to decrease risks within the supply chain (Turker & Altuntas 2014). An environmental or social scandal could ruin a company’s reputation in no time due to how global companies have become and how easy international press and social medias deliver news (scandals) all over the world. This is also the reason why large companies are acting more responsible and has become more transparent than before in advantage to sustainability (van Weele 2014).

In order to accomplish a sustainable future all parts of the fashion supply chain has to collaborate. It takes interplay and consensual from all parts involved. To minimize the environmental burden companies have to change their way of producing and consumers their way of consuming (Shen 2014). Even though fashion companies today works with sustainability in ways like recycling or reuse of different materials this industry still stresses how to increase sales to competitive price points, encouraging mass production and consumption – which is why the fashion industry is criticized to in many ways clash with the work towards a sustainable future (Birtwistle & Moore 2007). Another issue is how the

fashion industry uses sustainability as a communication tool rather than implementing actual actions in their operations. The reason is simply because society today expects companies to be ethical responsible (van Weele 2014; de Brito et al. 2008).


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