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Fast Fashion and Environmental Impacts

Info: 17713 words (71 pages) Dissertation
Published: 13th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Environmental StudiesFashion


With an increasingly connected world, the apparel industry has transformed within the 21st century, to an accelerating business strategy, called fast fashion. This process has utilised the technology advances, trade expansion and lifestyle adjustments which have also accelerated. The fast fashion strategy aims to provide stylish and affordable clothes to the masses, by reducing expenses and time in the manufacturing processes. Retailers who have adopted fast fashion have been rewarded with accumulating profit as overconsumption is driving this industry.    Despite this success, environmental concern has been neglected resulting in high levels of environmental damage, which generally have gone unnoticed by the consumers. This research project was conducted to critically analyse consumption norms for females aged from 18-25, in relation to fast fashion and environmental damage. This study adopted a methodological triangulation, in the form of questionnaires and semi-structured interviews. The use of a mixed method approach established general consumption norms through collecting 100 responses, whilst the semi-structured interviews provided analysis of respondents’ attitudes towards apparel consumption. The research has found that a large proportion of consumers are affected by fast fashion and increasing consumption. The reasons found for increasing consumption was increasing trend turnover, the importance of appearance and poor quality clothing.  This study also recognised that there was a lack of awareness and a disconnection to the environmental issues. In addition, there was a common belief for the need for more advice and guidance on how to shop for clothes sustainably.

Chapter one:

1. Introduction

The apparel industry is one of the most profitable and influential industries worldwide; shaping the majority’s apparel consumption (Cobbing and Vicaire, 2015). The industries dominance has arguably been enhanced by the fast fashion business strategy which has fundamentally altered the industry at all levels; from the design and production, to the lifespan of a garments (Sull and Turnconi, 2008). The revolutionary business approach has accelerated sales and production resulting in a trillion dollar industry, transforming a substantial proportion of the western population consumption perceptions and behaviour norms (Choi, 2016; Forbes, 2016). Therefore it is vital to understand all aspects of fast fashion and the alterations in apparel consumption as this industry has great social, environmental and financial implications (Cobbing and Vicaire, 2015; Solomon and Rabolt, 2009). This research will concentrate on the environmental implication due to the industry placing unrealistic and unsustainable pressures on the environment which have arguably gone unnoticed.

Fast fashion had emerged from the millennium, therefore there has been research and literature recognising the changes within consumption behaviours and increasing trend turnover. However the research remains at the surface of the issue, with little research investigating the factors underpinning the increasing consumption and unsustainable perceptions. Consequently, this research study will focus on general consumption norms, investigating factors for overconsumption and barriers prohibiting sustainable consumption. The study also explored key arguments for environmental consumption to gain a further understanding of motivations and barriers (Shove, 2009; Brosdahl and Carpenter, 2010).

1.1 Aim of the Report

The overall aim of this dissertation is to investigate fast fashion in relation to general consumption norms for women aged 18-25 within the apparel industry, alongside the environmental implications. This will involve the development of knowledge as to what the fast fashion business strategy involves and the potential impacts.  This will take into account consumer behaviours, perceptions, influences and barriers to sustainable apparel consumption.

1.1.2 Objectives

To fulfil the aim stated, the research project will be motivated by three objectives which will clearly direct this study. The objectives are:

  • To investigate general apparel consumption behaviours within females aged from 18-25, in relation to fast fashion.
  • To critically analyse consumer perceptions and factors influencing consumption norms with the apparel industry.
  • To examine barriers for sustainable apparel consumption

1.2 Document Outline

The literature review will cover relevant literature within the topic of fast fashion and environmental consumption. This section will begin with analysing the fast fashions business strategy and the consequences within the fashion industry, regarding consumption and trend turnover. It will then explore the environmental implication and misconception within the apparel industry and the relation with fast fashion. Following on, it will then comprise the literature on consumer perceptions to the apparel industry and sustainable consumption behaviour, providing the necessary context to create the research questions for this study.

The next chapter will justify the methods selected to collect the data for the research, by providing an in-depth description of the strengths and limitations of using methodological triangulation and conclude the relevance for the aims of this research project. This also includes the sampling methods and process of ethical consent to obtain a valid and high standard of research.

The findings and discussion chapter will present the primary data collection from this research project and separates them into key themes. The quantitative data will be presented first in descriptive statistics to capture general consumption norms. This is supported by the qualitative data which provides the scope and detail needed to clarify motivations and barriers for apparel consumption. These findings will also be supplemented with secondary data from the literature review to either support, conflict existing findings or highlight a new point of interest.

The final chapter will conclude the research project and provide an overview of the study’s findings and the significance of this research. This section will also briefly discuss developments within this topic and where further research is required to gain a greater clarification.

Chapter two:

Literature Review

2.1 Introduction

This chapter will review the available and relevant literature on fast fashion alongside environmental consumption. This section firstly outlines the development and ethos of fast fashion, to increase contextual knowledge. The section will then comprise the literature on subsequent impacts on apparel consumptions and consumer perceptions. After, the environmental implications are evaluated against the framework of fast fashion to comprehend the large scale damage.  There is also a short discussion on the ideologies of environmental awareness and environmental concern within consumption. The findings from the literature review have also assisted the formation of the researches objectives and questions in order to clarify and support existing research. Additionally, the use of articles from abroad is also beneficial due to the industry being global and the fast fashion culture recently emerging.

2.2 Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is a business model that exploded in scale at the beginning of the 21st century (Sull and Turnconi, 2008). This business approach combines three main ideologies:

  • Quick response
  • Frequent assortment of changes
  • Fashionable designs at affordable prices

There has been a structural change within the apparel industry resulting in a shift in manufacturing from the Western world to mainly developing Asian countries in the pursuit of lower production costs (Niinimaki and Hassi, 2011). Sull and Turnconi (2008) indicate that H&M, Zara and other high-street stores have transformed the fashion industry by embracing fast fashion. This approach focuses on a quick response and shortening their lead-times to achieve trendy, affordable items to the masses. It has been suggested (Carruthers, 2003) that the importance of being able to react almost instantly to current trends has acted like a catalyst for retailers to continually improve their response times. The quicker response formula has resulted in an unprecedented financial success and increased consumption (Hayes and Jones, 2006).

Richardson (1996) suggested that the increased focus on accelerating the manufacturing processes to shorten response time has resulted in a shift from price and quality towards style that can be quickly imitated and lower quality products, which captures the height of trends. Despite the success in shortening lead-times, this approach has resulted in accelerating trend turnover and overconsumption (Caro and Martines-de-Albenize, 2014).

2.2.1 Increasing Trend Turnover

Fast fashion embraces and utilises the increasing trend turnover year after year (Sull and Turnconi, 2008). Previously high-street brands produced two main collections a year, spring/summer and autumn/winter because the design, production and distribution process required six months. However, fast fashion redesigned this strategy to significantly reduce this time frame (Figure 1).   Hayes and Jones (2006) argue that the acceleration of the fashion industry has led to a number of mid-season collections, which is expected to continue (Figure 2). This is a profitable approach as fast fashion retailers will have continual sales throughout a season, instead of two peak sales. The retailer most recognised for this strategy is Zara, operating on a lead-time of 15 days or less (Reda, 2005; Saini and Ryle, 2005; D’Andrea and Arnold, 2002). Moreover, Mango and H&M have reduced their lead-times to approximately three weeks, which is a stark contrast to the previous six months turnover (Carruthers, 2003). The retailers who refresh their stock often in small quantities, indirectly reduce markdowns and stakeouts as it encourages consumers to pay full price instead of waiting for sales; increasing revenues and minimising inventory (Anson, 2002; Caro and Martines-de-Albenize, 2014).  The retailers who do not embrace the fast fashion strategy and are not receptive to markets trends have a significantly lower profit growth (Caro and Martines-de-Albenize, 2014).

Figure 1. Traditional vs. fast-fashion design-to-sales processes for a product introduced in 2013 (Caro and Martines-de-Albenize, 2013).

Figure 2. A graph Illustrating new arrivals in the Women’s section in 2013 (Caro and Martines-de-Albenize, 2014).

Despite the increased profit and renewed trends, there is a negative consequence in regards to sustainability. Sull and Turconi (2008), stipulate that rapidly shifting trends has significantly reduced the shelf life of garments from months to weeks, or even days. This is widely agreed as retailers produce more collections than previously particularly within women’s collection, leading to items having a shorter life expectancy and increasing consumption (Francois et al., 2007; Morris and Barnes, 2008; Schor, 2005).

2.2.1 Increasing clothing consumption

“Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity. Everybody’s buying far too many clothes.” —Vivienne Westwood (Grant, 2013).

As a consequence of fast fashion, increasing trend turnover and significantly shortened lead-times, the amount of garments produced and sold has dramatically increased (Caro and Martines-de-Albenize, 2014). For instance, “clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014 and the number of garments exceeded 100 billion by 2014” (Cobbing and Vicaire, 2015: p1). Furthermore, clothing sales have “doubled from 1 Trillion Dollars in 2002 to 1.8 trillion dollars in 2015, and is projected to rise to $2.1 trillion by 2025” (Cobbing and Vicaire, 2015: p1). It is therefore logical to suggest that increasing production and profit from retailers has resulted in clothing consumption to accelerate. The fast, inexpensive fashion has changed consumer’s outlook on how they dress resulting in a clothing consumption global peak as an “average person buys 60% more items of clothing and keeps them for about half as long as 15 years ago” (Cobbing and Vicaire, 2015: p1). Moreover in 1991 the average American bought 34 items of clothing each year and by 2007, it reached 67

2.3 Consumption drivers

items, equivalent to a new item every four to five days (Chung,2016). There is now arguably a disposable and overconsumption culture as compulsive shopping has resulted in more being consumed than ever before. Therefore, within this study it would be significant to clarify clothing consumption norms compared to Cobbing and Vicaire (2015) USA’s research (Figure 3).

Fast fashion and increasing consumption is expected to continue to increase.

Inexpensive commodities and quick lead-times resulting increasing consumption

Technological advances and increasing global trend leading to cultural changes

Brands like Zara and H&M, which have both shown an “explosive expansion” since 2000

Average high-street trend response was 6 months

Previously two collections per year: Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter

          1995                       2000                                    2015                         2025

Figure 3. The rise of fast fashion and clothing consumption (adapted from Cobbing and Vicaire, 2015)

This subsection highlights significant factors which have promoted fast fashion and increasing apparel consumption. This section reviewed the literature on the implications of globalisation and compared arguments on the fast fashion strategy being industry driven to increasing profit, against consumerism.

2.3.1 Globalisation

Globalisation and the changes in the clothing consumption patterns are arguably the key factors in apparel overconsumption and the subsequent environmental impacts (Kanemoto et al., 2014; Xu and Dietzenbacher, 2014). The geographical shift in manufacturing and expansion in trade has profoundly affected the apparel industry along with other global industries. For example in 1995 the quotas restricting world trade in textiles imports began to be officially removed (Mair, Druckman and Jackson, 2016). Therefore, the liberalisation of trade allowed for clothing manufacturers to relocate to developing countries, resulting in clothing global trade to reach 4.3 million tonnes in 2013 (Caro and Martines-de-Albenize, 2014).This business strategy not only became feasible but profitable following the reduction in transport costs, low labour wages and tax reductions (Dunford, 2004). This has arguably had a great significance, as high-street chains have the ability to produce inexpensive clothes which is crucial in the fast fashions ideology. However, increasingly affordable and easily available clothes may lead to consumption without deep consideration and used only a few times being disposed of, creating an unsustainable and wasteful attitude (Niinimaki and Hassi, 2011).

2.3.2 Industry Driven Market

Fast fashion developed tremendously at the beginning of the 21st century as a result of brands looking for an updated approach to increase their profits and globalisation facilitating it (Sull and Turconi, 2008). This can result in a cycle of increasing trend turnovers and utilising marketing skills to capture the imagination of consumers to an impulse buying behaviour to increase consumption as an approach to maximise their profit (Cook and Yurchisin, 2017). Choi, (2016) implied that the success of fast fashion brands have projected them into major players in the top league of the apparel industry. Sales from fast fashion stores have risen 31% from 2001 to 2005, compared with the womenswear industry average of just 1% (Murphy, 2005). Additionally, Forbes (2016) announced H&M was worth $60.8 Billion with 3,716 stored worldwide and Zara was ranked 53 in the World’s Most Valuable Brands with a value of $10.7 Billion. The retailers clearly benefit financially from this business strategy, however these brands rely on further consumption to continue their success. Therefore retailers repeatedly refreshing their stock and employ marketing techniques to feed the “must have” culture in order to continually increase profits (Carruthers, 2003). This can lend weight to the notion of a disposable culture as retailers utilise and pressurise consumers to regularly purchase items as they are constantly under scrutiny to stay on trend (Cook and Yurchisin, 2017).

The saturation of commodity production and consumption which is higher than ever relates to what Marx referred to as ‘commodity fetishism’. This theory underpins the requirements of capital, profit and commodity that encourage businesses to exploit. Marx believed that need-satisfaction consumption resulted in serious social and environmental ramifications (Carrier, 2010).  Furthermore, this theory argues that capitalism values commodities and profit, whilst neglecting the human and environmental capital (Hudson and Hudson, 2003). In relation to fast fashion, western retailer’s priorities profit, reducing response time and increasing production, without thought of the environmental and social damage caused. Under capitalism, it becomes easier to desire these appealing items, than to question the environmental manner of their production (Hudson and Hudson, 2003). Hudson and Hudson (2003) indicate the reasoning behind the bourgeoisie’s ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality as commodity capitalism hides the social and the environmental relations of production. There is arguably a disconnection between consumers purchasing garments and the wider environmental impacts as the western society protects themselves from witnessing the damage. Moreover, Marxism would infer the greed of commodity fetishism and need-satisfaction consumption can intensify the damage and in this case to the environment.

2.3.3 Consumer Driven Market

Cook and Yurchisin (2017) argue that consumers today are far more fashion-savvy and demanding which is pressurising retailers to increasingly refresh their stock. In order for retailers to capture the profit, they need to predict trends and apply a quick lead-time to meet customer changing demand. A “must have” attitude has emerged from need-satisfaction consumption, driving fast fashion to refresh their styles quicker year after year (Claudio, 2007). This also supports Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism as fast fashion is arguably driven by the greed of variety-seeking/fashion-conscious consumers as they focus on chasing the latest trends, rather than what they need (Carrier, 2010). Consequently, they disregard the value of the social and environmental impact to produce the commodities. Therefore, the industry is simply utilising customer’s demand which already exists instead of pressuring customers for more consumption. This study will consequently explore whether consumers purchase clothes because it is necessary or to stay in fashion.

Moreover, as a result of improving technological advances, there has been a socio-cultural change in consumer’s lifestyles, which are constantly knowledgeable about the latest trends and demand them in an affordable, dynamic manner (Cachon and Swinney, 2011). However, Solomon and Rabolt (2009) stipulate that there can be negative aspects to these consumer behaviours to individuals and societies. It has been identified that some consumer behaviours are rooted in social pressures and the cultural value placed on money. Exposure through fashion bloggers, social media and a celebrity culture may create an unattainable idea of beauty and success (Solomon and Rabolt, 2009). However, often consumers aspire to the lifestyles presented in social media, resulting in consumers chasing trends and overconsume. This is reflected onto the apparel industry to refresh their trends at an affordable price. It can also be argued that young females are most affected by this culture change, as they are embedding with a social media culture (Cook and Yurchisin, 2017).

2.4 Environmental damage

The ideology of fast fashion is pressurising the Earth’s capability to subsist greenhouse gases, harmful chemicals and manage diminishing water and land resources (figure 4). There is a high environmental cost for fast fashion as, overall it contributes to an unsustainable and unobtainable approach (Cobbing and Vicaire, 2015; Chen and Burns, 2006). This section briefly outlines a proportion of the environmental damage caused to gain context. However it is important to note that within the scope of this study, it will not be possible to cover all of the environmental impacts.

Many high-street chains place pressure on the manufacturing country to further reduce both costs and lead times to remain competitive (Morris and Barnes, 2008). Studies on global trade typically discover that international trade has shifted pollution into developing countries, especially within manufacturing industries as their fuel intake increases (Kanemoto et al., 2014; Peters et al., 2011b).This can lead to environmental damage, particularly within carbon rates, energy and water intensive practices. The textile industry is considered one of the most polluting in the world due to its energy intensive methods which releases co2 into the atmosphere. The purchase and use of clothing contributes about 3% of global production of co2 emissions or over 850 million tonnes (Mt) of co2 a year, from the manufacturing, logistics and usage (Cobbing and Vicaire, 2015).

Additionally, fast fashion expansion would not be possible without the rising use of polyester, which is relatively inexpensive. Demand for man-made fibres, particularly polyester, has nearly doubled in the past 15 years (Claudio, 2007). “In 2016 about 21.3 million tonnes was used in clothing, an increase of 157% from 2000” (Cobbing and Vicaire, 2015: p3). Despite polyester lowering costs to create affordable clothes, this fibre is made from petroleum. The manufacture of polyester and other synthetic fabrics is an energy-intensive process requiring large amounts of crude oil and discharging 282 billion kg of co2 emission in 2015 (Cobbing and Vicaire, 2015).

Unlike polyester, cotton is a natural fibre from a renewable source which is intrinsically biodegradable, however this can often be misleading as many consumers believe it is environmentally responsible, unfortunately that is not always the case (Chen and Burns, 2006). In fact cotton is heavily dependent on pesticides and fungicides. It is estimated that cotton uses only 3% of the world’s farmland, but about 25% of the world’s pesticides (Yates, 1994). The use of pesticides kills weeds (herbicides), insects (insecticides), fungus (fungicides), in order to allow a high quality and amount to be grown, which is necessary for the fast fashion to create affordable clothing. Unfortunately, a large proportion of pesticides used in cotton production are extremely hazardous causing a significant risk of pollution to freshwater ecosystems. These pollutants can directly affect the biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems due to its toxicity, or indirectly by accumulating, resulting in wildlife and species losses (WWF, 1999).  Therefore, more environmentally benign and nontoxic alternatives for these herbicides and pesticides are being called for (Chen and Burns, 2006). However this may interrupt the volume or quality needed for the industry.

Cotton is also reliant on a vast amount of water, it requires 20,000 litres to produce 1kg of cotton which makes a single T-shirt and pair of jeans (WWF, 1999). Cotton is accountable for 2.6 per cent of the global water use and approximately one fifth of the global water footprint (Chapagain et al., 2005). Within the green market there is an increasing production of organic cotton which prohibits the use toxic pesticides, however does not minimise the amount of water used to grow cottons.

After reviewing the theory behind fast fashion involving shortening the production process, saving cost and increasing trend turnover to create affordable and trendy garments, it is clear that the environment has suffered from the heavily pollutant and energy intensive processes (Chen and Burns, 2006; Sull and Turnconi, 2008). Furthermore, the pressures from fast fashion has intensified and increased in scale as the environment is not a priority in the business strategy. Overall this is not a sustainable approach therefore Western retailers will eventually need to rethink their business models, and consumers their consumption choices, to reduce consumption levels (Mair, Druckman and Jackson, 2016). It is important to understand consumer perception and behaviour regarding clothing consumption in order of the industry to become more sustainable

Figure 4. An image representing the environmental damage from the apparel industry. (Cobbing and Vicaire, 2015).

2.5 Sustainable consumption behaviour

This section of the literature review will examine  literature on sustainable consumption behaviour within the apparel industry to gain a further understanding on general consumption norms.

2.5.1 Knowledge of environmental impacts

“Most of the damage we cause to the planet is the result of our own ignorance” (Chouinard, 2006).

Knowledge can have a powerful influence on consumer behaviour (Brosdahl and Carpenter, 2010). Despite this, Bhaduri and Ha-Brookshire (2011) suggest that there is limited public understanding and general awareness of the environmental damage caused from unsustainable clothing consumption.  Similarly, there is a lack of communication and transparency within the apparel industry resulting in consumers’ having an insufficient understanding of the effects, resulting in an unsustainable approach (Hill, 2012). Hill (2012) further implies that widespread education and awareness is required as consumers simply do not consider the environment when purchasing clothes. Within consumer behaviour literature, there has been a clear correlation between knowledge and sustainable behaviour (Hock and Deighton, 1989; Park et al., 1994). This knowledge is arguably a reason for the growing demand for a green market and environmentally friendly products (Williams, 2008).

However, there are contrasting studies which did not report a relationship between environmental knowledge and behaviour (Geller, 1981; Schahn and Holzer, 1990). In many cases consumer knowledge does not necessarily translate into environmentally friendly behaviours, after other influences have been considered. Despite this, Brosdahl and Carpenter (2010) demonstrated that increased levels of knowledge can have a moderate impact on clothing consumption, however to cement sustainable behaviours other factors need to be considered. Hence, widespread sustainable consumption can be complicated to implement.

2.5.2 Environmental concern

Kim and Lynn-Damhorst (1998) dismisses the strong relationship between knowledge and consumption as they believe the link to be weak.  It have been suggested that customers not only have to be aware of the environmental effects but also value the environment in order to change their behaviours. Individuals with environmental awareness, a positive attitude and a relationship with the environment are more likely to engage in environmental responsible behaviours (Kim and Lynn-Damhorst, 1998) (figure 5). Moreover, Brosdahl and Carpenter, 2010 imply that individual’s with a degree of emotional attachment to the environment may be inclined to sustainable consumption.

Knowledge of environmental impacts

Environmentally friendly consumption behaviour

Concern for the environment

Figure 5. A diagram on factors resulting in environmentally friendly consumption behaviours (Brosdahl and Carpenter, 2010)

Nevertheless, concern for the environment alone may not be sufficient resulting in a Value- action gap (Shove, 2009). This refers to consumers who have green values but who do not always act in accordance with them. Krause (1993) explained that self-labelled environmentalist at times did not adjust their behaviour to deal with environmental problems. Moreover, Shove (2009) implies an Attitude-Behaviour-Choice model is needed to overcome this as proactiveness is required rather than concerned.               In addition, this may involve the breaking down of old habits and establishing new ones, where sustainability is prioritised.

2.5.3 Prioritising Sustainability

Kim and Lynn-Damhorst (1998) demonstrate that environmental awareness and concern are not a certain equation for environmental consumption. It is unclear whether stated concern for the environment translates directly into actual purchase behaviour of eco-friendly products. This could be due to consumer’s prioritising price and style over sustainability within the decision making process (Kim and Lynn-Damhorst, 1998). Furthermore, Shove (2009) indicates that environmental behaviour depends upon a mixture of positive motivators and negative barriers. The fast fashion approach provides significantly more barriers and motivating factor for overconsumption, resulting in an unsustainable system. For instance, a proportion of retailers are finding it more difficult to sell organic and recycled textiles products because of their higher price and longer lead times over regular items (Brosdahl and Carpenter, 2010).

Similarly, Straughan and Robert (1999) remark that consumers who are empowered and believe they have an impact on the environment through their choices are more willing to make eco-friendly decisions. However within Hill’s (2012) study, consumers have suggested that they believe their action to have a limited effect on the overall environmental impacts. Therefore, it appears that knowledge and concern for the environment alone may not be enough to motivate consumers to seek out environmentally friendly product. Therefore additional motivations provided by the fashion industry will be beneficial for sustainable consumption. 

3.6 Selection of demographic

This research topic widely affects a large proportion of people as clothes are commonly regarded as essential commodities (Claudio, 2007). However, this research project has selected to concentrate the findings within the demographic of females aged from 18-25. Firstly, this demographic has been selected because of their long future of potential consumer decisions, consequentially it is crucial to understand their perceptions and consumption behaviours (Bhaduri and Ha-Brookshire, 2011 and Williams and Page, 2011). The participants would have been born between 1998 and 1991 as they are arguably part of the globalisation generation. They have grown alongside technical developments and rapidly intensifying industries including the textile industry, where expectations for instant results are important (Cachon and Swinney, 2011). In addition, women are arguably the world’s most powerful consumers, as they drive 70-80% of all consumers purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence. Lastly, Cook and Yurchisin (2017) argue that fast fashion’s target market is young, fashion conscious females.

3.7 Conclusion of the literature review

The investigation into young female’s clothing consumption behaviour in relation to fast fashion is of continuing importance, due to consequential social and environmental impacts.  This business strategy is predicted to continue, therefore intensifying the environmental pressures.  It is important for this to be understood so the environment can be respected and protected. Raising awareness and environmental concern is a key method of improving these issues. However, change will also be required within the apparel industry.

The literature review has provided evidence that general clothing consumption norms have increased within the 21st Century and the emergence of fast fashion (Sull and Turconi, 2008). Therefore, it would be beneficial to identify what consumption norms are within this demographic to, support or challenge the literature.   The literature provides two different theories of increasing consumption. The first is potentially due to retailer’s concentration on increasing profits and expanding their business globally. However, a separate argument suggests that retailers are simply meeting consumer demands for increasing trend turnover (Sull and Turconi, 2008). Consumer expectation and behaviours have changed due to technical advances and lifestyle adjustments which followed. Hence during the research, it would be valuable to investigate consumption influences and access whether consumers are chasing the trends or creating them. The semi-structured interviews would be most appropriate methods to investigate this.

Moreover, Hill (2012) and Brosdahl and Carpenter (2010) stipulate that a lack of general environmental knowledge acts as a barrier for sustainable shopping. However, Hill’s research was taken in USA, therefore it would be appropriate to establish the level of consumer knowledge for the environmental impacts of the apparel industry. In addition, it would be valuable to explore other potential barriers to sustainable clothing consumption.

Based on the literature, the following research questions have been identified:

  • To investigate general apparel consumption behaviours within females aged from 18-25, in relation to fast fashion.
  • To critically analyse consumer perceptions and factors influencing consumption norms with the apparel industry.
  • To examine barriers for sustainable apparel consumption

Chapter 3:

Research Methodology

3.1 Introduction

This chapter justifies the selection of the research methods in this study in regards to its practicality and how they contribute to the completion of the objectives. This involves validating why they are suitable specifically to this research project, whilst acknowledging potential limitations. Inductive research will be first assessed, followed by quantitative and qualitative research approaches. Next, the methods of triangulation will be discussed in relation to this dissertation. The practice of questionnaires and semi-structured interviews will also be debated. Finally, an ethical consideration was also taken into consideration to ensure consent is given when carrying out the data collection.

3.2 Research Approach

3.2.1 Inductive reasoning

Research can be classified into either inductive or deductive research. Kitchin and Tate (2000) refer to inductive reasoning as collecting the research and analysing the data before a theory is put together- prohibiting any biased ideas. The research then develops concepts and understandings from patterns in the data, contrasting from deductive reasoning.  This process collects data in order to assess hypotheses or theories (Taylor et al., 2015).  However, it should be noted that pure induction is impossible as assumption is a natural process and approaching research with some goals and questions in mind is valuable. In relation to this study, there are limited theories on fast fashion because of its recent emergence. This research does not aim to support or oppose a theory but access the findings; an inductive approach is appropriate as it is guided by research objectives (Kitchin and Tate, 2000)

Despite this methodology using inductive reasoning, a proportion of questions were inspired from the literature. Fellows and Liu (2008, p. 62) state that ‘Literature should not merely be found and reviewed; the body of relevant literature from previous research must be reviewed critically. Therefore, the literature must be considered in the creation of both data collections. An example of how the literature has been incorporated into the questionnaire can be seen in the open-ended question, asking participants knowledge on the environmental impacts of manufacturing clothes. Bhaduri and Ha-Brookshire (2011) and Hill (2012) depict an image of limited public knowledge which could be a factor towards fast fashion. Hill’s (2012) study involves exploring undergraduate’s knowledge of environmental impacts in the USA.  Subsequently, it would be beneficial for this study to investigate whether this demographic has a similar outlook.

3.2.2 Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Quantitative and qualitative research methods are the two leading approaches which basic ideals profoundly oppose one another (Feilzer, 2010). Quantitative research examines the relationship between variables by collecting and analysing numerical data expressed in numbers or scores meaning analysis may be relatively straightforward (Feilzer, 2010). Clark and Ivankova (2016) imply that quantitative research can increase validity when investigating general ideas within a larger number of participants. Subsequently, adopting this approach to achieve the aim of investigating clothing consumption norms would be appropriate. However, this research method would not be appropriate to fulfil the objective of understanding why people have increased their consumption.

Conversely, Qualitative data focuses on exploring individuals’ experiences with a phenomenon by collecting and analysing narrative expressed in words or images (Feilzer, 2010). By adopting this method, the research can use social processes to recognise and explain avenues of thought which quantitative methods cannot. Nevertheless, criticism of this method illustrates the approaches lack of ability to identify with the scale and numbers of research (Feilzer, 2010), which this study requires to fully understand consumption norms. Moreover, this approach involved additional time to analyse due to interpretation and coding, although this research method will provide the depth necessary to understand participants shopping norms and barriers prohibiting sustainable consumption. These two forms of methodology fundamentally contrast each other however, Denzin and Lincoln (2011) illustrates that mixed methods offers a third alternative. This approach is becoming increasingly common as it argues that the two methodological approaches are compatible and combat one another’s limitation.

In addition, quantitative research is advocated by Positivism as it considers size, magnitude and the elimination of extraneous variables to support standardised testing (Kidder, Judd and Smith 1986; Holt, 1998). While this is important for this study to identify consumer norms constructivism would contest quantitative data for its inability to measure opinion, perceptions and social phenomena (Holt, 1998). This research project overcame the limitations between the constructivist and positivist paradigm by adopting a pacifist approach referred to as pragmatism, which supports a mixed methodology approach.

Despite these strengths, incorporating both methods may contradict one another therefore mixed methods may not be as comparable as advocates propose (Brannen, 1992). It is questionable whether quantitative and qualitative research supports one another despite them examining apparently similar issues. Therefore to overcome this limitation of disconnection a sequential design was embraced to ensure both quantitative and qualitative data are aligned with each other. In relation to this study, the quantitative data was accessed before the qualitative data collection began.

3.2.3 Methodological Triangulation

The coalition of quantitative and qualitative research methods to produce the findings of this dissertation, will also help to achieve triangulation (Flick, 2014).  Methodological triangulation is the most commonly used form of triangulation, which uses multiple research methods to produce more accurate and in-depth findings Neuman (2014). This process adopts two different data collection which can be cross referenced, ensuring that both data collections supports and reflects one another. Hence this process decrease biases, increase validity and strengthens the study as the data can minimize one another’s weaknesses (Joslin & Müller, 2016).

This research adopted across methods triangulation as this study employed both qualitative and quantitative data collection to gain both depth and breadth (Figure 6) (Denzin, 1970; Tashakkori and Teddlie, 2009). A combination of quantitative questionnaire aimed to understand general clothing consumption norms and semi-structured interviews acting to provide and in-depth understanding of participant’s influences and barriers.

Figure 6: Methodology Triangulation (Authors own, 2016)

Although adopting a mixed methods approach, triangulation can increase validity, it can also be problematic as undertaking two methods would prove to be more time consuming than a single method strategy (Brannen, 1992). This research has taken this into consideration by allowing extra time for the data collection and incorporating the pilot test interview into the data collection. A clear organisation of the process can ensure the research collection will be streamlined and time-cost effective (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Organisation of Research (Authors own, 2016)

3.3 Methods

3.3.1 Questionnaires

Flowerdew and Martin (2005, p79) define questionnaires as “an indispensable tool when primary data are required about people, their behaviour, attitudes and opinions.” Using questionnaires to collect primary data can have significant cost-time benefits as large amounts of data can be collected in a short amount of time. Moreover, Carr (1994) argued that questionnaires limit researcher-participant contact and involvement therefore decrease biases. Therefore, this research approach would be useful for achieving the objectives to discover general females shopping behaviours and attitudes.

This approach will produce mainly quantitative data, although some open-ended questions will be integrated into the questionnaire; open questions do not provide a definitive choice of answers (Feilzer, 2010). This process began to address the research question of investigating the amount of environmental knowledge participants know about the fashion industry.

3.3.2 Semi- Structured Interviews

Semi-structured interviews will be used in order to collect qualitative data as part of this research’s mixed methods approach.  This approach was carried out in order to explore opinions and achieved honest thoughts regarding clothing consumption (Creswell, 2013). Semi- structured interviews are the most appropriate technique to increase communication with participants, in order to gain an in-depth understanding of their knowledge of environmental issues within the fashion industry, shopping influence and sustainable shopping barriers.

The semi-structured style is referred to as a topic guided interview, meaning participants are asked specific questions. However, the interviewees will be given the flexibility to expand on their key interests without being held to a rigid structure (Cobin and Strass, 2015; Whittaker and Dawsonera, 2009). The same initial research questions are asked, although depending on the participant’s response certain opinions could be expanded by asking further in depth questions. Moreover, if a participant provides a short response, then another questions such as “Why do you think that?” could be asked to gain further depth. This method will consequently result in a detailed analysis.  Whilst the key research questions create a soft structure, it also ensures the interviews are aligned to the questionnaires findings and specific avenues of enquiry could be explored (Kitchin & Tate, 2013).

In addition, to streamline the semi-structured interviews to the questionnaire, some of the questions asked in the interview were based of the findings from the questionnaire. This method can validate findings within the quantitative data and strengthen the research (Clark and Ivankova 2016). An example of how the researcher has used the findings from the questionnaires to construct a main topic question can be seen in presentation of facts about the negative impacts and simply asking for any comments and questions. Furthermore, asking if the participants wish to comment on the facts could allow for more in-depth answers.  This was in response to an overwhelming amount of participants in the questionnaire stating that they don’t know of any environmental impacts caused by the manufacturing of clothes.

3.3.3 The Interview Process

The interviewees were required to read an information sheet and sign the consent form, stating they understand what the interview will consist of. The consent form also declared that the interviews would be recorded as part of the research. The interviews were held in quiet locations to guarantee privacy and to promote open and honest answers (Rice and Ezzy, 1999). These locations were either within the University or at the participant’s residence after requiring their permission which resulted in a relaxed atmosphere aimed to maximise findings. Other ways to capitalise on information can be gained by improving interview skills as a researcher, such as: conversational skills and listening skills to ensure a participant is not interrupted (Creswell, 2013).  Researcher interruption can have a negative impact in research validity as participant’s thoughts and answers can be altered in the process (Whittaker and Dawsonera, 2009). Therefore it is important for the researcher to remain impartial and allow the answers to unravel naturally.

The interviews varied in duration from 13 minutes to 18 minutes. This was a result of the semi-structured style as the topic questions were asked to all participants and some questions were expanded upon for different lengths, whilst other did not veer away.

3.3.4 Narrative Methodology

The semi-structured interviews also adopted a narrative method as a way of enhancing the research to access and capture experiences (Davoudi et al., 2016). This approach suggests that human experience has a crucial narrative which is organised into a sequential order (Kleres, 2010). Hence, participant’s “specific “narrative” knowledge; the knowledge of how things have come about” is significant in this study (Kleres, 2010).  This research aims to discover consumption influences and sustainable barriers which may be impacted by participant’s experiences.

3.4 Sampling

3.4.1 Questionnaire Sampling Method

Following the literature review, the sampling demographic has been selected to females aged from 18-25, due to their higher involvement in fast fashion.  Consequently, systematic sample will be adopted to ensure the data accurately reflects the populations being studied. Unlike random sampling, systematic sample are interested in a particular group, however covers the entire sampling frame (Investopedia, 2015).

In order to access this social group, an online questionnaire using a social media platform would be appropriate. Posts on Facebook were created to ask for anyone who is a female aged from 18-25 and would be willing to take part in a short questionnaire on fast fashion and clothing consumption.

3.4.2 Semi-Structured Interviews Sampling Method

The sample group for the semi-structured interviews will be small because of the depth of information. Additionally, the number of participants will be guided by a theoretical principle called saturation (Glaser and Strauss, 1967). This is the point in which the information begins to repeat itself. The purpose of the interviews is to explore options rather than gather a large number of participants with similar experiences (Hennink, 2011).

Purposive sampling was selected as the appropriate sampling method. This sampling method was used as it was clear which participants would have been appropriate for this study (Rice and Ezzy, 1999). Despite this, participants remained anonymous for this research.

3.4.3 Pilot-testing for the questionnaire

To maximise reliability and gain the scope needed to achieve the studies objectives, the target of 100 participants has been created. However, before the questionnaires were launched it was pilot-tested twice, to ensure clarity and interpretation (Creswell, 2013). The first attempt is shown in appendix X. After the first pilot-test, the following points were recorded.

  • There was a difficulty understanding an open-ended question on environmental issues within the fashion industry.
  • Participants suggested that the questionnaire was particularly short.

Therefore, a rewording of the open-ended question followed to increase clarity and refined the interviews (Creswell, 2013). In addition, as the participants suggested that they would be willing to spend more time on the questionnaire, therefore, the questionnaire was expanded to add a set of scaled questions, to access what participants considered when shopping. The scale was also from 1-6, meaning there was no neutral or middle option, forcing the participants to choose a side. The design of the questionnaire was mindful to remain within a 5 minute time limit.  A short paragraph at the beginning of the questionnaire about what this research will be used for was also added to increase interest and understanding about the questionnaire.  The second pilot’s feedback involved a positive understanding to all the questions which did not predict negative interpretation of the open-ended questions and positive attitude to the duration of the questionnaire. Therefore this signalled that this questionnaire was ready to be released, (see appendix X for the final questionnaire).

With the demographic, this research does not need a selection process because it is the norm to wears clothes and their opinions are valid (Martinez de Albeniz, Felipe Caro Victor, 2014). This approach has selected certain characteristics meaning in many cases justified generalisations can be made as it can be assumed that the interviewees had shared values. However, this should be adopted with caution as the interviewees have other variables.

Moreover, this form of non-probability sampling is a practical approach for this study (Rice and Ezzy, 1999), whereas random sampling would be problematic. Although, all participants were from the general public to ensure a variety of individuals, a range of ages, socio-economic backgrounds and employment were used.

3.4.4 Pilot-testing for the Interview

In many circumstances predicting how interviewees will interpret the interview questions can be difficult.  A lack of clarity within questions can create confusion and therefore decrease the reliability of a study’s findings (Creswell, 2013). To overcome this problem typically researchers conduct a few pilot interviews, within their chosen demography (Hennink, 2011). However, due to time constraints this research incorporated pilot-testing within the first interview. After the interview the participant was asked whether they understood the questions and if not if they could be rephrased.  The `participants provided encouraging feedback involving a clear understanding and order of the questions, along with a positive attitude of the length of the Interview. After the review of this pilot test, the semi-structured interview plan was continued and the pilot data was also included in the research’s data collection (Appendix x). The sampling of the five other interviews then began.

3.5 Data Analysis strategies

It is necessary to use both quantitative and qualitative analysis strategies to present and discuss the raw findings from this research.

Microsoft Excel was used to analyse the quantitative data from the questionnaires. Microsoft Excel was selected as the most appropriate option because of its ability to produce charts and tables allowing the numerical data to be understood by a single figure (Newing, 2011). The presentation of each question assessed to ensure the data is clear to read and understand, this may involve employing a variety of charts and tables.

The qualitative findings from the semi-structured interviews was analysed thematically, adopting Clarke and Braun (2006) method. This process identified key words or phrases from the transcripts. The process then groups the key findings into a lower and higher order of themes. This process is appropriate for this data as it allows key themes and patterns to be identifies across various transcripts. This process will be further discussed in the findings chapter.

3.6 Ethical Considerations

Throughout the data collection process, ethical procedures should be maintained to ensure the data is to a high standard (Rudesteram and Newton, 2007).  It is also important to note that using a mixed methods approach require separate ethical considerations for the questionnaires and the interviews.  To overcome this, the questionnaires were anonymous and the researcher’s university email address was provided, if they wished to contact to withdraw.  If a member of the general public wishes not takes part, they are not obliged to.

Within qualitative research, ethical consideration and obtaining consent was a significant process in validating the data (Rudesteram and Newton, 2007). This process ensures mutual trust and confidentiality which consequently increases the value and accuracy of the findings. The participants were emailed prior to the interview, declaring what the interview would contain and approximately now long they should expect the duration to be. At the start of the interview they will be provided with an information sheet and consent form to sign. This stated that any information provided would be anonymous and safety stored away from the raw data. At both of these stages the participants were given the opportunity to opt out. The consent forms that the contact information of the researcher on and the participants took a copy of this away with them. After the interviews the participants received a follow up email, thanking them for their time and participants in this research data collection.

3.6.1 Sensitivity

Sensitivity is a significant part of conducting qualitative research in order to increase data collection (Rudesteram and Newton, 2007).  Sensitivity should be embraced throughout the whole process of the interviews and across the participants. A key part of this involves listening carefully to the answers given, understanding what they mean and asking further questions to gain a great depth (Strauss and Corbin, 2015; Whittaker and Dawsonera, 2009). This also means respecting participant’s responses as their opinions are valid and they can provide another unexpected viewpoint.

3.6.2 Limitations and Declarations

Every research project faces limitation and this study was no exception, however steps were put in place to minimize these limitations and increase the integrity of the study. Some limitations to the study are that the participants who took part in the semi-structured interview were aged from 20-22. To gain a greater representation of general consumption norms a more varied sample size, within the chosen demographic, would be advised. Despite this the participants were selected on the basis on having different backgrounds and therefore viewpoint. A dental nurse, a student studying prosthetic make-up and a trainee teacher were amongst the participants selected to represent females aged 18-25. However, it should be recognized other options may vary within the demographic of this research as are a variety of other characteristics which could have an impact of their opinions and consumption. However, in order to understand general clothing consumptions it was important to have an inclusive research.

3.6.3 Positionality

Whilst collecting the data the researcher will remain mindful not to create any biased responses. However, this research topic widely affects a large proportion of people, including the researcher.  This could be valuable as having an understanding of the research project is significant in identifying key findings. In addition, the researcher is a female aged 22, consequently within the demographic and potentially have common believes. This can relax participants and allow them to be open with their responses. Nevertheless, it is important to allow the patterns and themes to emerge naturally, without interface.

3.7 Final Comments

After considering Neuman’s (2014, p167) opinion on combining both quantitative and qualitative research as it results in “richer and more comprehensive” research, a conclusion of adopting a mixed methods approach would be appropriate for this research topic. This methodology will allow this project to collect a wide range of data regarding clothing consumption habits, while investigate people’s perceptions and influences of fast fashion. Overall the questionnaires and semi-structured interviews will enable the research to be well-rounded and complete the objectives of the dissertation.

Chapter Four:

Results and Discussion

4.1 Introduction

This chapter presents and discusses the findings of the primary data for the research into apparel consumption. After using the methods stated within chapter three, the data was analysed to identify the main aspects for discussion in the following chapter. The quantitative data was statically analysed using Excel to produce descriptive statistics. Whereas, the qualitative interviews, was analysed thematically using Clarke and Braun (2006) method. The findings from both the questionnaire and interviews will be cross referenced to ensure all aspects are included. Moreover the outcomes will be compared to existing literature to establish whether the findings support, oppose current theories or if this data provides new information.

4.2 Analysis Process

4.2.1 Questionnaires

A total of 100 respondents filled out the online questionnaire; either through a social media platform or via email. The questionnaire consisted of 12 questions which mainly included closed questions and a scale framework, therefore using Excel was deemed the most appropriate method to create descriptive statistics. Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) would not be required to analyse this data due to the small scale of this data. Loether and McTavish (1974) emphasise the significance of presenting relevant and clear information. Therefore the findings have been presented in a variety of visually attractive and clear graphs and charts, (appendix X).

4.2.2 Semi-structured Interview

The 6 interviews which were collected, presented a number of common opinions and ideas. Due to clear patterns and themes emerging while completing the interviews, it was suitable to analyse the interviews thematically. Clarke and Braun (2006) thematically analysis method was adopted as it provided clear guidelines of creating themes from the interview transcripts (Figure 8).

Figure 8: A table describing the thematic analysis phases used in this study (Clarke and Braun (2006)

  1. Phase one involved transcribing the interviews recorded, re-reading them and highlighting anything of significance, in order to gain an accurate understanding of the participant’s responses, (appendix X).
  2. Once the data had become familiar, collecting initial themes and recurring phases began. This is presented in a list of significant findings shown in the raw data in appendix X. The phases in the list were all classified as significant, frequent and linked to the objective of the study.
  3. This list was further analysed as some of the phrases had similar expressions or meaning. The list was grouped into similarity and created a lower order or themes.
  4.  These groups were then review and generated general themes and provided an overall story from the research.
  5. The fifth phase involves conjoining those initial themes, resulting in two end themes: increasing general consumption and lack of knowledge.  Each theme has three subthemes which will also be discussed. It is also important to note that these themes contribute toward unsustainable clothing consumption.

4.3 Analysis and Discussion

This section analyses the data from the questionnaires and interviews and discusses them in relation to the objectives of the research study. After the statistical and thematic analysis on both sets of data, there are two main themes emerging from the findings. These themes can be further broken down into subsections to provide critical analysis (see appendix X).

1. Increasing general consumption

  • Increasing trend turnover
  • The importance of appearance
  • Poor quality clothing

2. Lack of environmental knowledge

  • Lack of general environmental knowledge
  • Lack of concern for the environment
  • Insufficient advertisement

The structure of this section will be conducted in order of the data collection: quantitative followed by qualitative.  This approach was adopted to capture scale in regards to general consumption and scope to identify influences and barriers.

4.4 Increasing General Consumption

One of the aims for the questionnaire was to investigate general consumption norms within females aged 18-25. It is important for the research to recognize how participants shop before attempting to understand reasons behind participant’s consumption behaviour.

Figure 9. The average frequency of an item of clothing purchased from the questionnaire respondents (In percentage terms).

Figure 9 clearly presents that the highest proportion of participants shop monthly with a majority of 59%. In addition, 20% of participants shop weekly supporting the theory of apparel overconsumption (Cobbing and Vicaire, 2015: Sull and Turnconi, 2008). 80% of the participants shop once or more in a month, presenting consumption norms to be high within the participants. This trend is also represented in the interviews.

Table 1. Views on the amount of apparel consumption

This illustrates that a high proportion of the participants shop for clothes regularly, suggesting that apparel consumption norms are weekly or monthly within this sample population. Consequently, one may argue that an over consumption culture is present as the fast fashion strategy is widely affecting or enabling consumption to increase, due to the readily available clothes and affordable prices (Reda, 2005). Cobbing and Vicaire (2015) also predict that the fast fashion cycle will continue to accelerate alongside consumption trends, suggesting weekly and monthly consumption will continue to be the new norm.

4.5 Increasing trend turnover

The research indicated that accelerating trend turnover could be a factor in increasing general consumption as consumers are in pursuit of the latest styles which therefore requires continual purchasing (Carruthers, 2003).

Figure 10. The average amount of items of clothing purchased each shopping trip from the questionnaire respondents (In percentage terms).

Figure 11. The average amount spent per shopping trip from the questionnaire respondents (In percentage terms).

These findings imply that although this generation may go shopping regularly, they are only purchasing a small amount of items at a relatively low expense.  For instance, 79% of participants purchased 2 or 3 items each shopping trip which may cost from £21-£40, as 1/3 of the participants stated this was their average spend per shopping trip. This could correlate to increasing trend turnovers, as Sull and Turnconi (2008) imply that apparel items have a short fashionable duration as new collections are constantly being released. Therefore, in order for consumers to remain on trend, regular consumption is required, illustrating that a fast fashion culture is present.  This also helps explains the quantity of their shopping trips, because consumers are aware of upcoming trends therefore are unwilling to purchases large amount of clothes knowing they will not be fashionable for a long time (Carruthers, 2003). Moreover, findings from the interviews also suggest the correlation between buying fewer items at a lower price as a result of trend turnover and fast fashion.

Table 2. Views on trend turnover

Overall, participants are likely to purchase fewer items, more frequently to stay on trend. Fast fashion’s affordable and readily available items enable consumers to do this, contributing to increasing apparel consumption (Sull and Turnconi, 2008).  However it would be beneficial for the research to understand why staying on trend is valued by the participants.

4.6 The Importance of Appearance

The following subsection discussed the importance the participant’s place on “looking good”. This emerging idea of constantly wanting to look good and stay on trend can also link to increasing trend turnover and results in overconsumption which is facilitated by fast fashion (Cachon and Swinney, 2011).

Figure 12.  A scale of style from not considered (1) to greatly considered (6) when purchasing an item of clothing.

Style has been established as a significant purchasing factor in figure 12. Compared, to the other influences including price, quality and environmental sustainability, style had the highest amount of participants selecting 6 in the scale. 40% of participants stated that style was greatly considered when shopping. As style is viewed as the most important factor when purchasing a clothing item and the trend turnover in increase, the result is increased apparel consumption as consumers chase the trends.

Figure 13.  A table representing potential influences for purchasing new items of clothing

In addition, figure 13 illustrates that 52% of participants are influenced by staying on trend when purchasing a new item and 25% of participants are influenced by social media when shopping for clothes. These statistics suggest that general consumption norms are influenced by the importance of appearance (Solomon and Rabolt, 2009). This can also be demonstrated in the amount of time a consumer wears an item of clothing.

Figure 14. The average amount times the questionnaire respondents wore an evening item of clothing (In percentage terms).

Figure 14 presents that 65% of participants will only wear an evening garment between 1-19 times. This implies that clothes do not have a long life expectancy, leading clothing overconsumption and a disposable culture. This could link to accelerating trend turnover and the importance of appearance as Sull and Turnconi (2008) indicated that trends can alter monthly, weekly or even daily. Therefore, items of clothing may only be worn a small amount of times before they are regarded as unfashionable. However, poor quality could also have an impact on the amount of wears (Carruthers, 2003). However, the contrast between the amount an evening item is worn and casual wear indicates that the correlation is with trends and not quality (appendix X). Solomon and Rabolt (2009) further suggest that increasing consumption is linked to cultural changes within social media and lifestyle expectations, which place a greater value on appearance and commodities. Moreover, there is a developing perception linking commodities to success and wealth as consumers wish to represent their wealth through their belongings and publicise it via social media (Solomon and Rabolt, 2009).  Therefore, this was selected as a line of interest, to be expanded upon within the interviews.


Table 3. Views on the appearance

The findings from the interviews support the assumptions that increasing apparel consumption links to the importance of appearance found in the questionnaire and literature. These findings imply the significance this generation places on staying on trend, linking to social pressures, supporting Solomon and Rabolt (2009). The interviewees suggest that a social media and a celebrity culture has contributed to the importance of looking good as it effects their daily lives and may often create unrealistic expectation. Despite this, throughout history, presenting yourself in an attractive manner has always been important, although following technical advances, increasing communication and social media, our lives are more transparent than ever (Morris and Barnes, 2008). This could have intensified consumer’s attitudes for appearance and arguably this generation is greatly affected.  Social media and fast fashion emerged within a similar time period and have supported and enhanced one another’s businesses (Cobbing and Vicaire, 2015). For instance social media can advertise trends and new collections worldwide creating a “must have” attitude for consumers to buy into, leading to apparel overconsumption. Individual behaviours are deeply embedded in social situations, institutional context and cultural norms (shove 2009). Therefore, the cultural value on appearance and trend has translated into consumption.

4.7 Poor Quality Clothing

Furthermore, the research finding indicated an alternative reason for increasing apparel consumption; poor quality clothing. Niinimaki and Hassi (2011) stipulate that fast fashion priorities reducing lead-times and manufacturing expenses in order to meet demands and increase profits. However, this process neglects clothing quality and durability as it is no longer desirable within trend turnover.

Figure 15.  A table representing potential influences for purchasing new items of clothing

Figure 15 demonstrates that 42% of participants purchase clothes to replace discarded or worn clothes. This could potentially be due to the poor quality clothes, the fast fashion business strategy produces.

Figure 16.  A scale of quality from not considered (1) to greatly considered (6) when purchasing an item of clothing.

Figure 16 illustrates that participant’s highly regard quality when purchasing products as 35% selected 5 in the scale. Quality is generally not considered at the same level as style, although it is still a key factor in the decision making process. The comparison of figure 15 and figure 16 suggests that quality is valued by the questionnaire participants, however replacing clothes is a significant reason to shop and overconsumption. This was viewed as a line of interest and expanded upon in the interviews.

Table 4. Views on apparel quality

The overall attitude from the interviews was that quality is significantly considered in the purchasing decision, as the participants wanted clothes to last longer, particularly basic items such as vest tops. All of the participants in the interviews declared that replacing worn or poor quality clothes was a reason for shopping. The participants stated a sense of disappointment and general acceptance that some clothes simply do not have a long life expectancy, in regards to wear and tear.  Additionally, interviewees 2, 3, 4 implied that wearing worn or “tatty” clothes did not look professional or stylish. Due to style and appearance being considered highly and poor quality clothes having a negative impact on their appearance, over consumption is an outcome (Cachon and Swinney, 2011). This once again highlights the style and appearance as the dominate factor.

The findings within the questionnaires and interviews support the industry driven theory, suggesting retailers direct the industry towards overconsumption to increase their profits (Hayes and Jones, 2006). The fast fashion approach arguably purposely produces poor quality clothes, to reduce material and production expenses, despite consumer demand for durability and high quality. The short life span of apparel garments consequently results in overconsumption and continues the cycle of fast fashion, needed for retailers to survive (Martinez de Albeniz and Victor, 2014).

Despite this, Cook and Yurchisin (2017) argued that fast fashion retailers are merely capturing consumer demands. In order for retailers to remain on trend they must frequently refresh their inventory, therefore providing a quick lead-time and quality, simply is not possible. Cachon and Swinney (2011) also suggest that consumers want to continually update their style and they will not have a garment for long, therefore it is not necessary for retailers to produce durable items. However, the interviews support the industry driven theory as interviewees 1, 3, 5 and 6 highlighted frustrations as they want high quality garments which have a longer life expectancy. However unfortunately, it is difficult to find high quality clothes as high expense does not necessary translate to quality and durability.

Table 5. Views on apparel quality

Overall, poor quality clothing is an outcome of fast fashion as quality is neglected in high speed and mass production. This affects consumers as it is difficult to find resilience and durability, despite consumers regarding quality highly. Shove (2009) indicated that consumers often find themselves “locked in” to unsustainable behaviours, in this case consumers are locked into purchasing poor quality clothes leading to a cycle of overconsumption, which could be prohibited by improving the durability of garments.

4.8 Summary

The above demonstrates that overconsumption is present within the participants. The findings also present possible reasons for the increasing consumption: increasing trend turnover, the importance of appearance and poor quality clothing. These are all significant factors within the fast fashions ideology, therefore it could be suggested that fast fashion has contributed to increasing consumption (Sull and Turnconi, 2008).

4.9 Lack of Environmental Knowledge

The other key theme presented within the findings of both the questionnaires and interviews was a high proportion a general unawareness and lack of knowledge for the environmental impacts caused from the apparel industry. The open-ended question from the questionnaires depicted a lack of general environmental knowledge as 54% of the participant stated that they did not know any environmental impacts caused from the manufacturing of clothing. This supported Hill’s (2012) argument of consumers having insufficient environmental awareness within the apparel industry, particularly within a younger generation. Furthermore, 20 participants, who did state some environmental impacts of manufacturing clothes, consisted of general effects regarding pollution.  Despite an environmental effect being stated, this answer is general to many industries and still highlights a lack of environmental knowledge.  Although from the 100 questionnaire responses, only 4 participants provided a few sentences describing the environmental impact, emphasising the overwhelming norm of the lack of environmental knowledge supporting Hill’s (2012) argument for unawareness and opacity within the environmental effects.  The likelihood that consumers will shop sustainably, without a cohesive understanding of the environmental impacts is improbable (Brosdahl and Carpenter, 2010).   The lack of knowledge is also illustrated in the interview participants. The interview structure included a list of environmental effect (appendix X) and all of the participants were shocked and unaware of these impacts.


Table 6. Views on environmental awareness

This further supports the lack of environmental knowledge within the participants. The interviewees either were simply ignorant to the implication or unaware of the scale and extent of the damage. Furthermore, interviewee 4, 5 and 6 also represented the confusion surrounding cotton’s environmental friendly perception contrasting from the realistic impacts (Chen and Burns, 2006). Interviewee 6 further indicated that 100% cotton products were often strongly and positively advertised, alluding to cotton being environmentally responsible. Therefore, the insufficient understanding could impact on increasing consumption and benefit the fast fashion strategy as consumers are unaware of their behaviours having a negative impact. Moreover, uneducated and disconnected consumers are further unwilling to alter their consumption behaviours (Dickson, 2000). Brosdahl and Carpenter (2010) stipulate that there is a lack of transparency within the industry, arguably protecting themselves and their profits, supporting the commodity fetishism as the industry is pressuring overconsumption.

Additionally, Kim and Damhorst (1998) imply that there is a general misconception and confusion between ethical and environmental effects. There were also a proportion of the questionnaire respondents who stated ethical impacts rather than environmental for example “sweatshops” and “low wages”. The findings in the interviews also indicate there is a higher amount of ethical knowledge compared to environmental, when asked the difference.

Table 7. Views on environmental and ethical impacts

The findings from this research indicate that ethical implication are wider known and prioritised supporting Kim and Damhorst’s (1998). Hudson and Hudson (2003) argue that fair trade neglects the environmental problems of overconsumption, giving people the false impression that they can improve environmental and social conditions by consuming differently, ignoring the importance of reducing consumption. The findings from this research indicate that there is an overwhelming lack of environmental knowledge, supporting Hills (2012) argument, overall resulting in an unsustainable industry driven by overconsumption.

4.10 Lack of concern for the environment

The previous subsection provided an insight into the lack of awareness for the environmental impacts within the apparel industry.  This subsection, builds on Brosdahl and Carpenter (2010) argument that concern of the environment is significant with environmentally friendly consumption.

Figure 17.  A scale of environmental sustainability from not considered (1) to greatly considered (6) when purchasing an item of clothing.

Figure 17 implies that environmental sustainability is considered the least out of style, price and quality.  70% of the questionnaire responses selected 1 and 2 in the scale of influence, when purchasing an item of clothing.  Table 7 and figure 17 demonstrate a lack of awareness and concern for the environment is present resulting in a pattern of consumption which is fundamentally unsustainable. A lack of concern for the environment is also acknowledged with the interviews participants 2 and 4.

Table 8. View presenting a lock on environmental concern

Participants 2 and 4 indicated that their focus and concern was for style and the need to be fashionable, rather than the environment. After discussing the environmental impacts, both participants stated their disbelief but that this would not affect their consumption behaviour as being fashion was deemed more important.  Consumers who have a low level of environmental knowledge and interest will be further improbable to have sustainable consumption behaviour, contributing to overconsumption (Brosdahl and Carpenter, 2010). The apparel industry itself is not responsible for the lack of concern. It is arguably a consequence of globalisation, technical advances and the lifestyles adjustments which have followed, resulting in more screen time, rather than time spent in the natural environment creating a disconnection (Mair, Druckman and Jackson, 2016).   Nevertheless, other interviewees did stipulate a concern for the environment.

Table 9. Views presenting environmental concern

These participants stated a limited knowledge of the environmental impacts however they were shocked and concerned with the impacts and they would be interested in increasing their understanding. They also indicated their disappointment with the life expectancy of clothes and were open minded about consuming less therefore they would probably be more willing to shop sustainably, however  they did suggest it would be difficult. The fast fashion industry has not impacted on participants concern for the environment but it has prohibited them from lowering their consumption (Sull and Turconi, 2008).  This represents two types of participants within this research: those who are concerned about environmental impacts and those who are not. It has been suggested that having a connection to nature may be a reason behind environmental concern (Dickson, 2000) (Table 10). Although, it is important acknowledge there may be other factors within environmental concern.


Table 10. Views on connection to the environment

Interviewee 1 also implied that even if she was educated and concerned in the environmental impact, it would have a limited impact on her shopping behaviour due to the insufficient advice and advertising regarding where to purchase sustainable garments (Kim and Damhorst, 1998).

4.11 Insufficient advertisement

This subsection acknowledges participants frustration with that lack of guidance on sustainable and environmentally friendly apparel retailers. Chen and Burns (2006) stipulate that a green market within the apparel industry has recently emerged, however the market has yet to become mainstream. There is no relevant literature disusing the general unawareness of sustainable apparel practices stemming from insufficient advice and advertisement.  The findings from the questionnaire represent that unawareness of sustainable apparel practices is  the norm. 63 respondents stated that they did not know how to shop in a sustainable manner, suggesting this is the norm within this demographic.

Table 11. Views representing in the insufficient advice on where to purchase sustainable clothes.

Table 12 indicates the general confusion for sustainable apparel practices. This could be linked to the lack of information and guidance on how consumers can reduce their environmental impacts. The combination of uneducated apparel consumers and a lack of direction, to reduce the environmental impacts can result in an unsustainable system. Participant’s unawareness on where to shop for sustainable clothes was also illustrated with the interviews.

Table 12. Views representing in the insufficient advice on where to purchase sustainable clothes.

The interviews imply that consumers are uninformed about the issues and how they can reduce their impacts and shop more sustainability. This will overall contribute to an unsustainable system and benefit fast fashion, which relies on continual consumption.  Consumers want to be able to shop with ease and speed, consequently if the advice is not clear and easily provided, they will not know how to shop sustainability.

Table 13. Views on fast and efficient consumption.

However, it is improbable that fast fashion retailers will provide advice on sustainable consumption, considering their products prioritise trends, affordability and overconsumption, rather than sustainability.  Therefore the combination of the factors leads to an unsustainable system.

4.12 Summary

This subsection recognizes that there is a general unawareness of the environmental impacts and possible ways of improving of their consumption behaviours.  The lack of promotion towards sustainable consumption and the accelerating fast fashion business strategy increasing consumption will fundamentally result in an unsustainable apparel approach.

Overall, the results of this research have provided evidence to support increasing apparel consumption. This research indicates that fast fashion has had a significant impact on the consumption norms as it is responsible for increasing trend turnover, reducing the quality of the garments and prioritising an impulsive shopping behaviour (Sull and Turnconi, 2008). Despite the acceleration of fast fashion, consumers unsustainable apparel consumption is also rooted within pressures placed on beauty and fashion and lack of environmental knowledge (Hill, 2012; Solomon and rabolt, 2009)

Chapter 5


5.1 Introduction

This chapter displays the final conclusions of this dissertation.  The central aims of this research project will be deliberated against the literature review and the projects comprehensive findings. The methodology selected to achieve this research will be re-evaluated, highlighting areas of improvement, before recommendations are produced to benefit future research.

5.2 Final Comment

The key aim of this study was to investigate fast fashion in relation to general consumption norms for women aged from 18-25 within the apparel industry and the environmental implications. In chapter 2, the literature review explored the impacts of fast fashion within the apparel industry, the subsequent environmental pressures and factors effecting sustainable consumption. This emphasised the complexity of sustainable apparel consumption as fast fashion prioritises, trend turnover, style and affordability (Sull and Turnconi, 2008; Hayes and Jones, 2006). Additionally, it suggested that social pressure and globalisation goes hand-in-hand with fast fashion and increasing consumption, due to the cultural and lifestyle adjustments which have followed (Hill, 2012; Solomon and Rabolt, 2009).  Overall, the literature illustrated that lifestyle expectations, lack of environmental awareness combined with affordable and readily available clothes produce general unsustainable consumption behaviours.

The results from this study support the literature views as it indicates that overconsumption was present within the selected population as a result of fast fashion (Caro and Martines-de-Albenize, 2014). This argument was reinforced by participants confirming that increasing trend turnover, the importance of appearance and poor quality clothing promote their consumption behaviour supporting Carruthers (2003), D’Andrea and Arnold (2002) and Hayes and Jones (2006). This literature did not link increasing apparel consumption to the lack of environmental knowledge and concern however this study highlights a clear correlation. There was a high proportion of participants with lack of environmental awareness and a proportion with a lack of concern resulting in unsustainable consumption behviour, supporting Hill (2012), Kim and Lynn-Damhorst (1998) and Brosdahl and Carpenter (2010). The research study also emphasized a new viewpoint within apparel consumption regarding a general lack of knowledge of sustainable consumption practices. The combination of all the factors have resulted in a fundamental unsustainable systems.

5.3 Reflection on Methods

Chapter 3 considered the wide variety of data collection processes and justified the selected approach of adopting a mixed methodology. Online questionnaires and semi-structured interviews were considered the most appropriate as it allowed the research to collect, scale and scope, required to investigate general consumption norms, purchasing influences and sustainable barriers (Clark and Ivankova, 2016). The questionnaire received 100 respondents capturing the scale required to access consumption norms which was arguably achieved through the relatively short size encouraging participation. However, this sample size is still relatively small in relation to the overall size of the demographic. The questionnaire concentrated on consumption norms as it was not suitable to examine influences and barriers. Therefore semi-structured interviews were adopted to gain an in-depth understanding of participant’s experiences and opinions (Corbin and Strauss, 2015; Rejnö, Berg and Danielson, 2014). The study conducted 6 interviews as it prioritised information rather than volume. Feilzer (2009) argued that the combination of quantitative and qualitative research can increase validity and reliability due to the elimination of weaknesses. On reflection, this approach was suitable for the research project and utilised the time scale however this dissertation relies upon a relatively small sample of interviews, therefore further responses and participant would maximise validly and accuracy. Despite this, obvious themes were present within the findings correlating with existing literature.

5.4 Areas for Further Research

This study may draw attention to the issues within the apparel industry and act as a spring board for future research to investigate the environmental damage. The interviews particularly raised several topics which could be considered as areas to research, for instance

  • To investigate potential solutions to promote limiting apparel consumption and a more frugal culture.
  • To examine the consumption norms within different demographics as a means of comparison and a way of triangulating the findings of the research project.
  • The significance of technology such as social media on the overall apparel industry.
  • To critically access consumer knowledge of sustainable practices within the apparel industry.

5.5 Final Comments

In conclusion, this research topic has brought to light to a recently emerging apparel consumption behaviour change and environmental issues which has largely gone unnoticed. The fast fashion business strategy is arguably fundamentally unsustainable as its ethos prioritises affordability, style and quick responses. The cycle of increasing consumption and trend turnover is predicted to continue, further pressuring the Earth’s resources. In reality, this attitude can be damaging to the environment and if allowed to continue, could result in long-term problems which may not be reversible (Cook and Yurchisin, 2017).

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