Understanding Consumer Behaviour Regarding the Sustainable Consumption of Clothing

Crommentuijn-Marsh, Philippa Jane (2018). Understanding Consumer Behaviour Regarding the Sustainable Consumption of Clothing. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000dbfd


In response to the rapidly growing consumption of clothing, environmental sustainability concerns have increasingly been expressed. While designers and industry have worked on responses, little is known about how ordinary consumers understand sustainability with regarding to clothing. A study by Defra in 2008 revealed a low awareness of sustainability and proposed sustainable fashion goals for consumers.

Research on consumer clothing purchase tends to be from a marketing perspective with the ultimate aim of increasing consumer sales. Much of the literature on clothing sustainability has focused on the buying of ethical/environmentally-friendly clothing and on younger consumers. By contrast, this thesis has focused on an in-depth study of ten mothers aged between 25 and 60 in and around Leicester. The women’s clothing consumption was investigated through shopping trips, wardrobe sampling and a semi-structured interview about their shopping and ownership behaviour. Only at the end of the data gathering were the participants asked about sustainability in general before exploring their understanding of sustainability in clothing.

The research revealed that while the participants were concerned about environmental issues, their awareness of sustainability in clothing was low, even though their clothes buying and use behaviour was relatively sustainable. They bought a limited number of garments and wore them for many years, bought second hand clothes and passed their own unwanted clothes to charity shops. However, their clothes buying and use behaviours were shaped by their life circumstances and their personality. The participants had a strong sense of their own personal styles and selected clothes they know would suit them from a limited number of brands and locations. They showed little interest in fast changing fashion trends, but they were influenced by their peer group.

Any environmentally-beneficial behaviours were mainly a by-product of these core determining factors. A key contribution of this research is to show how more sustainable behaviour emerges when there is a good match to factors already embedded in people’s daily consumption practices. Building on these core factors, and on how knowledge develops around them, might be an important part of promoting clothing sustainability.

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