Automatgenererad bild.

9 January 2014

Wake-up call for the fashion industry

Young people want to be more environmentally aware fashion consumers. But first the industry must provide better information, and sustainable fashion must become more accessible. These findings emerge from the first study of consumer behaviour in terms of fashion and sustainability carried out within the framework of Mistra Future Fashion.

Wencke Gwozdz, an economist and consumption researcher, and her colleagues questioned 1,175 young Swedish consumers (aged 16–30) about their attitudes towards and behaviour relating to clothing consumption. The questions were about their actual purchases and thoughts before buying; their habits and behaviour in terms of looking after the garments; and what they did about recycling their clothes.

New and unexpected knowledge has emerged about young people’s ways of relating to fashion. The fact that seven out of ten mend their clothes, thereby extending the life of the garments, is assumed by the researchers to reflect an attitude clearly deviating from wastefulness and extravagance. Similarly, there is a noticeable interest in recycling or donating clothes instead of throwing them away, and this interest proved to be particularly keen among women. More than 10% go in for swapping, i.e. exchanging their clothes for others instead of just discarding them.

Many willing but still inactive
However, there is a gap between ideology and action.
‘Wanting to buy sustainable fashion doesn’t necessarily mean that they do it. When they choose a jersey or trousers, other factors often weigh more heavily,’ says Wencke Gwozdz of the Department of Intercultural Communication and Management at Copenhagen Business School.

The factors she is referring to are price, accessibility and transparency. As far as the respondents are concerned, buying sustainably produced fashion items must not be too expensive. The clothes must be available in ordinary fashion boutiques, and information about which garments are sustainably manufactured must be easily accessible.

Making the fashion industry more sustainable is the actual purpose of Mistra Future Fashion. More and more human beings seek to look good and change their clothes every season. This puts a burden on the environment. The fashion industry knows this, but vacillates between its short-term interest of getting the customers to buy more clothes and the fact that scarcity of raw materials and increasingly stringent legislation regarding, for example, use of chemicals is threatening the long-term profitability of the sector.

Wake-up call
Wencke Gwozdz thinks the study findings should be a wake-up call for the fashion industry: they should realise it is time to act.
‘When I meet industry spokespeople, they always tell me that the customers don’t want sustainable fashion — that the demand just isn’t there. But here we see that there’s tremendous demand, but that the consumers need a push in the right direction.’

The study identifies four categories of consumers, in terms of the degrees of awareness they have attained and the stages of change they are in. The first group have no ambitions at all to change their buying behaviour. Consumers in the second are thoughtful, but have not yet taken any decision to change. The third category are preparing to change their behaviour but have not yet taken the final step: action.
‘And then we have the fourth. They have already changed their behaviour and are working actively for their commitment,’ says Gwozdz.

This fourth, environmentally aware group made up 5.5% of the respondents. Further research will be a matter of performing more in-depth analyses of the various categories. Who are the people who like buying secondhand clothing? How do they see materialism and other values? Much potential information remains to be obtained by the fashion industry. Another way of building on the study would be to implement it in other countries, such as Germany and the US, and probably also the Netherlands.

Which of the categories does Wencke Gwozdz herself belong to?
‘The third. I’m taking baby steps. I’m a person with high ideals but who hasn’t fully translated them into action yet,’ she confesses.

Text: Thomas Heldmark, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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