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The emergence of the disposable fast fashion trend seems paradoxical in light of the increased societal focus on sustainability. Therefore, this paper provides an insight into how fast fashion consumers articulate their attitude towards this type of consumption in a society with an increased focus on sustainability. Yet, research taking a consumer-driven approach to fast fashion remains limited, and thus this paper extends current knowledge in an under-researched area. Firstly, an online document analysis has been carried out using material derived from online consumer discussions related to fast fashion. Secondly, the findings derived online were integrated into a questionnaire to determine whether the opinions towards fast fashion applied to consumers in general. Lastly, one-to-one interviews were conducted with fast fashion consumers based on an informed foundation constituted by the prior stages of data collection. By employing three distinct methods for data collection, this research has triangulated the findings with the purpose of obtaining a more nuanced foundation for answering the problem statement. The main findings showed that fast fashion consumers' attitudes were influenced by (1) The meaning assigned to sustainability, which was, however, neglected in relation to fast fashion consumption. (2) Sustainable initiatives by fast fashion companies, which were both subject to acknowledgment and suspicion. (3) Their underlying motivation to consume. (4) Their reflections pertaining to the future of fast fashion. The implications of this research pertain to the complexity of understanding consumer attitudes in this context. This was substantiated by an evident discrepancy between our participants’ expressed attitudes and their subsequent behavior, which marketers need to be aware of in order to plan effective communication strategies.
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Chapter 1: Introduction 2
Chapter 2: Theoretical Framework 5
2.1 Philosophical Assumptions 5
2.2 Theoretical Background 6
2.2.1 Consumer Behaviour and Attitudes 6
2.2.2 Exploring Sustainability in Research 8
2.2.3 Fashion Consumption 10
2.2.4 Fast Fashion 11
Chapter 3: Methodology 14
3.1 Research Approach 14
3.1.1 Mixed Method Approach 14
3.1.2 Methodological Triangulation 15
3.2 Collection of Data 17
3.2.1 Online Document Analysis 17
3.2.2 Questionnaire 19
3.2.3 One-To-One Interviews 21
3.3 Analysis of Data 23
3.3.1 Online Document Analysis 23
3.3.2 Questionnaire 24
3.3.3 One-To-One Interviews 24
Chapter 4: Analysis & Findings 26
4.1 The Meaning of Sustainability in Fast Fashion 26
4.1.1 The Neglection of Sustainability in Clothing Consumption 28
4.2 Attitudes Towards of Sustainable Initiatives in Fast Fashion 30
4.2.1 Attitudes Are Influenced by Suspicion 32
4.3 Attitudes Are Shaped by Motivation to Consume 35
4.4 Attitudes Towards the Future of Fast Fashion 39
4.4.1 Reflections related to the paradoxicality arising from fast fashion 41
Chapter 5: Findings in Perspective 44
5.1 Recommendations for Future Research 48
References 50
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Chapter 1: Introduction
In recent years, consumers have been bombarded with unnerving news of climate
experts calling for immediate action to fight climate changes in order to avoid
irreversible consequences (e.g. Fountain, 2019). As a response to the global
concerns, The United Nations (n.d: 1) has positioned themselves at the forefront of
the global battle against climate changes and requires both consumers and retailers
to act to limit their impact. Focusing on the consumers, Trudel (2018: 85) notes how
consumers’ consumption is inherently linked to sustainability and the cumulative effect
of current consumption trends is devastating. The message is clear: “If we don’t act to
change our consumption and production patterns, we will cause irreversible damage
to our environment” (United Nations, n.d: 1). As a consumer, the change in
consumption patterns implies considering sustainable options and assigning further
considerations to the individual buying process (United Nations, n.d: 2). While
consumers’ concerns for the global climate issues are argued to be on the rise (e.g.
Lorenzoni & Pidgeon, 2006: 86), researchers have identified a huge gap between
consumer awareness and their willingness to adequately respond with the necessary
action (e.g. Carrigan & Attala (2001); Bray et al. (2011)).
An evident example of the missing link between consumers’ recognition of the need
for sustainability and willingness to adequately respond can be found in the clothing
industry. In fact, consumers continue their massive demand for low-priced stylish
clothing and as a consequence breathe new life into a global fast fashion trend (Barnes
& Lea-Greenwood, 2006: 260). The fast fashion term is used to refer to “the readily
available, inexpensively made fashion of today. The word “fast” describes how quickly
retailers can move designs from the catwalk to stores, keeping pace with constant
demand for more and different styles.(Bick et al., 2018: 1). This trend is argued to
have a devastating nature by conditioning the consumers to feel a need for a constant
stream of new cheap clothing items, and as a result, this trend might have potentially
serious consequences for the planet (Nguyen, 2020). Although environmental experts
vigorously advocate for increased reusing and recycling of clothing items (Ekström &
Salomonson, 2014: 3), this disposable clothing trend is only growing in size. In fact,
sales in the clothing industry have seen a dramatic rise in recent years (Remy et al.,
2016), while the amount of times a piece of clothes is worn has decreased significantly
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within the same time frame (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017: 18). This development
is largely facilitated by the fast fashion business model which is argued to encourage
consumers to devalue their clothing (Bick et al. 2018: 2). The rise in sales suggests
that consumers are either ignoring or tolerating the social and environmental costs of
their fast fashion shopping habits (Remy et al., 2016). As a result, the industry is now
responsible for ten percent of the global carbon emissions which emphasizes the
magnitude and relevance of the problem (United Nations, 2019).
The paradoxicality arising from the increase in fast fashion consumption in an age of
significantly increased focus on sustainability appeared intriguing to us. Our review of
literature related to fast fashion and its implications towards sustainability emphasised
how there was only limited academic research done related to understanding how
consumers articulated their attitude in this regard. As a result, the problem statement
guiding this paper is:
How do fast fashion consumers articulate their attitude towards this type of
consumption in a society with an increased focus on sustainability?
To establish clarity for the reader of this paper, it is considered pivotal to define
important terms with any likelihood that readers will not interpret them as intended
(Creswell, 2014: 43). For this reason, it is considered relevant to stress the meaning
of ‘attitude’ and ‘sustainability’ as these are central to the problem statement. Firstly,
attitude is used to denote how the consumers relate to the phenomenon under
investigation. Secondly, sustainability is used as an umbrella term to refer to both
social and environmental effects caused by this type of consumption.
By taking a consumer perspective to the above stated paradox, the aim of this
research is to provide useful theoretical insights in an under-researched area of
consumer attitudes towards the relationship between fast fashion and sustainability.
By using a mixed method approach to gather knowledge, we seek to triangulate the
findings with the purpose of reaching a deeper understanding of the consumer
attitudes in this regard. According to Bamossy et al. (2006: 8), firms exist to fulfil
consumers’ needs and are only able to fulfil these to the degree that consumers are
understood. This highlights the importance of this paper from which marketers will gain
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a significant insight related to the attitude of fast fashion consumers. As noted by
Bhardwaj and Fairhurst (2010: 172), further empirical understanding of consumers’
characteristics within fast fashion is needed to make marketing strategies more
effective. Thus, this paper is adding to the body of knowledge that can enable
marketers to communicate more effectively about the issues addressed. While
marketers to a great extent have used consumer insights from research to strategically
make marketing aimed at driving people to consume more, it can be argued that
marketing for a long time has been the antithesis to sustainability (Trudel, 2018: 93).
Therefore, it is assessed timely to conduct this research to help marketers gain further
insight into consumer attitudes and plan their marketing efforts accordingly with
consideration of the current global sustainability issues.
Also, the reader of this paper should note some critical boundaries of this research.
Firstly, this paper is delimited to a consumer-based approach to the phenomenon
under investigation. Secondly, since qualitative methods are predominant in this
research paper, the reader should be aware that the knowledge is largely context
bound. In addition to this, it is important to also note the researchers’ own role in
conducting this paper since it inevitably has influenced how the data has been
interpreted. To limit potential issues of this nature, this paper contains a short
introduction to our underlying assumptions as well as a thorough methodology chapter
devoted to outlining all steps taken in conducting this research.
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Chapter 2: Theoretical Framework
In this chapter, the theoretical framework guiding this research paper is presented.
Firstly, this includes an introduction to our philosophical stance as researchers. This
is considered essential because it has influenced all decisions in regard to conducting
this research paper. Secondly, a review of current studies and theories related to our
problem statement is presented in order to establish the theoretical background
underlying this paper. Ultimately, the aim of this chapter is to stress the relevance and
contribution of this study (Daymon & Holloway, 2010: 39).
2.1 Philosophical Assumptions
At the outset of this chapter, we would like to inform the reader about the underlying
research paradigm that has guided this study. By stating our ontological and
epistemological beliefs, our intention is to enable the reader of this paper to gain a
deeper understanding of the underlying thoughts guiding this study. As researchers,
Social Constructionism is the meta-theory that best reflects our own ontological belief
and assumptions about how knowledge is developed in the world. The fundamental
idea underlying this theory is that: reality is socially constructed” and one “must
analyse the process in which this occurs” (Berger & Luckmann, 1966: 13). As Creswell
(2014: 8) notes, meanings are negotiated socially and formed through interaction with
others. As a consequence of our ontological belief, our epistemological belief is thus
that we need to get involved with our participants in order to understand their
relationships and the phenomenon in their context. In addition, Berger & Luckmann
(1966) state that the individual lives within a web of human relationships(p. 36). This
implies that one must think of the individual as embedded in countless relationships in
everyday life in which reality is continuously co-constructed (Overgaard et. al., 2017:
13). This way of thinking about reality and knowledge naturally influences the process
of how we, as researchers, investigate how individuals account for the world that they
live in (Gergen, 1985: 266). Consequently, our ontological and epistemological beliefs
have logically guided our further research process from methodological choices to the
subsequent methods applied (Grix, 2002: 180). Due to our philosophical standpoint as
social constructionists, we as researchers are the main tool in the research process
(Creswell, 2014: 8). That is, our findings rely on our subjective interpretation of the
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phenomenon and are influenced by our ‘’own background, personality and
understanding of the subject’ (Daymon & Holloway, 2010: 20). Further reflections on
implications related to our own role in the research are presented and elaborated in
the methodology chapter.
2.2 Theoretical Background
This next section is devoted to outlining the theoretical background underlying this
study. Firstly, this includes a brief introduction to corporate communication with the
purpose of determining the relevance of this study in relation to the field. Secondly,
the following subsections contain a review of current studies and theories related to
our problem statement.
The study of corporate communication has seen a steady growth in interest amongst
research scholars (Christensen & Cornelissen, 2011: 384). According to van Riel &
Fombrun (2007), corporate communication can be defined as the set of activities
involved in managing and orchestrating all internal and external communications
aimed at creating favourable starting points with stakeholders on which the company
depends(p. 25). The range of disciplines within corporate communication is wide and
includes fields of studies such as advertising, mass communication, public relations,
organisational communication, and marketing (Mazzei, 2014). In relation to the latter,
insight into consumer behaviour is considered an inseparable part. As Bamossy et al.
(2006) note companies exist to respond to consumers’ needs and are only able to do
this to the degree that consumers are understood. In addition to this, Sheth (1985)
argues that the history of consumer behaviour is largely intertwined with the history of
marketing. Thus, one could argue that consumer behaviour research has been
naturally following the different eras of marketing (Chrysochou, 2017: 409). As this
paper aims to provide a new perspective to the body of knowledge related to
understanding consumers, we will further expand on the recent development within
consumer behaviour research in the following.
2.2.1 Consumer Behaviour and Attitudes
This section is devoted to outlining a brief overview of the development within
consumer behaviour theories. According to Bamossy et al. (2006: 6), the field of
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consumer behaviour is extensive and covers the study of how people come to select,
purchase, use and dispose products to satisfy needs and desires. Throughout the
history of consumer behaviour research, a large part of research within this field has
been concentrated on understanding the relationship between consumers’ attitudes
and behaviour. In most consumer behaviour research, an attitude is said to be
composed by the following three elements: affect, behaviour, and cognition (Bamossy
et al. 2006: 140). According to Bamossy et al. (2006), the components include the
following: “Affect refers to the way a consumer feels about an attitude object.
Behaviour involves the person’s intentions to do something with regard to an attitude
object. Cognition refers to the beliefs a consumer has about an attitude object.” (p.
140). The attitude object refers to anything that the individual has an attitude towards
(Bamossy et al., 2006: 140).
Early research assumed that attitude determined behaviour. However, the
development in research on attitudes has pointed to a consumer conundrum in the
sense that one’s attitude can be contradictory and might not always guide actual
behaviour (Bamossy et al., 2006: 140). One influential scholar to shed light on
inconsistencies in attitudes is Leon Festinger (1957) who introduced ‘The Cognitive
Dissonance Theory’. The idea behind the theory was that if individuals experience
dissonance through two contradictory cognitions, this will lead to an unpleasant state
of psychological discomfort, and thus individuals will strive to achieve consonance by
closing the gap between their attitude and behaviour (Festinger, 1957: 3). Although
the relevance of Festinger’s work has been questioned in more recent research (see
e.g. Vaidis & Bran, 2019), this early exploration of inconsistencies in consumers'
attitudes and behaviour established the foundation for further research in the field.
This gave rise to a new school of thought consisting of scholars trying to predict
consumer behaviour based on different variables of an individual. Fishbein & Ajzen
(1980: in Gold, 2011: 383) are among the most influential scholars trying to predict
consumer behaviour in their Theory of Reasoned Action. The idea behind this theory
was that by examining intentions, which are argued to be constituted by attitudes and
subjective norms, researchers would be able to gain an understanding of whether or
not consumers will perform a certain intended action (Gold, 2011: 383). Few years
later, Ajzen (1985: in Ajzen, 1991: 181) added to the knowledge with The Theory of
Planned Behaviour, again trying to show the link between consumers' beliefs and their
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behaviour, and this time included the variable of perceived behavioural control to
address issues related to limitations of the original model. This new variable
encapsulated behaviour over which people have incomplete volitional control” (Ajzen,
1991: 181). Although this work related to attitude and behaviour has been highly
influential in the field of consumer behaviour, the theory has also received criticism for
having limited validity due to its static nature (Sniehotta et al. 2014: 2). In general,
predicting consumer behaviour has proven difficult as multiple researchers have found
that consumers' attitudes are often conflicting with their own consumption behaviour.
This has been labelled with terms like ‘attitude-behaviour gap’, ‘words-deeds gap’ and
‘intention-behaviour gap’ which are all used to denote the same situation of
consumers’ intentions not reflected in their actual consumption behaviour (Carrington
et al., 2014: 2759). Such a gap is shown to be particularly conspicuous within research
related to consumer attitudes in relation to sustainability, which will be further
discussed next.
2.2.2 Exploring Sustainability in Research
Central to our problem statement is the concept of sustainability and its increasing
importance on a global scale. In today's modern language, the word ‘sustainability’ is
commonly used in many different contexts with variation related to the meaning of it
(Salas-Zapata & OrtizMuñoz, 2019: 153). According to Grober (2007: 7), the concept
‘sustainability’ originated in Germany back in 1713. Since then, the concept has
undergone numerous modifications and has been present in much literature both in
corporate and consumer contexts. In 1987, the term ‘sustainable development’ was
introduced by Brundtland (1987) in the following way development that meets the
needs of the present generations without compromising the ability of the future
generations to meet their own needs” (p. 43). The Brundtland Report is argued to have
made the concept ‘sustainability’ become significantly popular (e.g. Alhaddi, 2015: 1).
In the corporate context, John Elkington’s Triple Bottom Line has been heavily
influential and has caused companies to think of and account for sustainability in terms
of people, planet and profit i.e. considering social, environmental and economic
aspects (Elkington, 1994, in: Grant et. al, 2017). This is argued to be increasingly
important as a result of alarming news about corporate scandals which have increased
consumers’ awareness of the need for sustainability (Arvidsson, 2010: 339). As
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argued by Arvidsson (2010: 339), companies have taken action to meet the need for
more information related to their sustainable activities, and this sharing of information
related to sustainability can be referred to as corporate social responsibility. Research
has found that companies are likely to get positive responses from stakeholders when
communicating externally about their corporate social responsibility efforts (CSR)
(Maignan et al., 1999). However, some scholars have stressed the complexity of
companies working with CSR by arguing that although consumers are interested in
CSR initiatives, the consumers are found to become suspicious about the motives
underlying the initiatives if a company is focusing too intently on promoting their CSR
efforts (Du et al. 2010; Brown & Dacin, 1997). Thus, consumer attitudes can be argued
to be highly influenced by corporate communication.
In a consumer context, sustainability is argued to be inherently linked to consumption
in the sense that: every decision of what to buy, how much to buy, how much to
consume, and how to dispose has a direct impact on the environment and future
generations” (Trudel, 2018: 85). In the early stage of consumer research related to
sustainability, focus has been on identifying individual characteristics of the “green”
and “ethical” consumer (Trudel, 2018: 87). The goal of this research was often to
enhance the foundation for making managerial decisions such as segmentation
(Trudel, 2018: 85). After this, research into sustainability with a consumer perspective
began to focus more on consumer decision-making in regard to sustainable
behaviours. The increased societal focus on sustainability has made it a hotly debated
topic which can potentially evoke strong attitudes (McNeill and Moore, 2015: 215).
Therefore, the notion of ‘social desirability bias’ has often been used in this context to
describe a tendency of consumers in qualitative research to report exaggerated ethical
behaviour by seeking to give the right answer” (Clavin and Lewis, 2005: 185 as cited
by Bray et al. 2011: 600). Such bias is argued to have notably contributed to the
previously mentioned conspicuous gap between attitudes and behaviour in research
related to sustainability and ethical concerns (e.g. Carrigan & Attalla, 2001). Also,
subjective and social norms have been argued to influence the gap and refer to “the
perceived social pressure to perform or not to perform the behavior(Ajzen, 1991:
181). As a result, some research has been devoted to understanding what facilitates
this gap (e.g. Bray et al. 2011). While many studies have explored an attitude-
behaviour gap related to general consumption habits, the gap has also been found to
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be highly present within clothing. Sudbury & Böltner (2011) have argued that
individualisation is significant in maintaining the gap within clothing fashion as this has
led to consumers favouring cheap fashion at the expense of ethical alternatives. In
addition, Carrigan and Attalla (2001: 577) have claimed that in the future the gap will
perhaps become smaller as consumers will not only think more ethically, but also start
to change their consumption behaviour accordingly. In their paper, it is noted how
price, quality and value will always be at the centre of consumer decisions, but at some
point in the future good ethics might be equally important to consumers. Next, we will
go further into describing what has historically driven decisions within fashion
consumption specifically.
2.2.3 Fashion Consumption
In addition to this paper’s focus on sustainability, the other part of the paradox in our
problem statement is related to fast fashion consumption. Before locating studies
related to this specific type of fashion consumption, we have considered it essential to
first outline what has been written about fashion consumption in more broad terms.
When delving deeper into the etymology of ‘fashion’, it becomes clear how the
understanding of the term fashion has developed from being something one did, unlike
now, where fashion is something one wears (Barnard, 2013: 8). This contemporary
understanding of fashion as being an asset shows how fashion and consumption are
interrelated in today’s society. Early influential research on consumption highlighted
that reasons to consume go beyond the functionality as people are often also
assigning personal and social meanings to their purchases (Levy, 1959: 119). This
finding has been confirmed to be particularly relevant within clothing consumption,
which is at the centre of this paper. Berger and Heath (2007) found that especially
clothing is highly affected by the individual’s desire to express meanings about oneself.
Thus, clothing consumption choices can be argued to function as a means of personal
communication to others (Gwozdz et al., 2017:1). Also, other studies have stressed
how fashion is perceived as something signifying symbolic meanings and was
characterised by some degree of mutual social understanding (Bly et al., 2015: 126).
Thompson and Haytko (1997: 38) argue that such mutual understanding and desire
to construct individual identities through fashion clothing is socially negotiated based
on social norms present in society. In addition to this, McNeill & Moore (2015) note:
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Given the importance of identity construction to many consumers, drivers to be
fashionable often outweigh drivers to be ethical or sustainable(p. 212). Thus, the
foundation for a paradox is present within fashion. In general, other factors such as
price, a company’s brand image and trends have been argued to be particularly
important to consumers clothing consumption (Solomon & Rabolt, 2004: in McNeill &
Moore, 2015: 212). The latest research related to fashion consumption has argued
that consumers buy impulsively and more than ever before due to an increasing need
to stay trendy combined with cheap prices offered by fashion retailers (Joung, 2014:
689) This development has been argued to have caused the fashion industry to evolve
and change dramatically within the past 20 years (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst, 2010: 165).
This has led to the emergence of the concept of fast fashion which will be presented
next.
2.2.4 Fast Fashion
In the introduction, fast fashion was described to be concerned with “the readily
available, inexpensively made fashion of today” and the word ‘fast’ denotes the short
time from catwalk to the retailers’ stores (Bick et al., 2018: 1). The term fast fashion
was first coined by Schiro back in 1989 in an article in the New York times (Schiro,
1989). In this article, Schiro used the term as a means of delineating the ever-changing
nature of trends in the fashion world, and in particular how fashion giants in the clothing
industry are constantly renewing their stock each week in order to satisfy demands of
consumers. In recent years, Schiro’s (1989) fast fashion concept has emerged and
manifested itself in the fashion vocabulary. Until now, the majority of research related
to fast fashion has been concerned with a company perspective (e.g. Barnes & Lea-
Greenwood, 2006). From a company perspective, fast fashion is described as a
business model based on creating cheap, disposable clothing at very low prices
enabling the companies to have a large number of seasons in contrast to the two
traditional collections per year (Remy et al., 2016). Governing texts with company
approaches is a prevailing economic interest in the fast fashion trend as retailers are
argued to “grasp every device to increase sales(Birtwistle and Moore, 2007: 210).
Thus, the company perspective is often concentrated on utilizing the trend to improve
the economical aspect of a company’s bottom line. Also, researchers have discussed
companies' role in facilitating fast fashion. Some argue that fast fashion companies’
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business model is simply a response to consumers “insatiable demand for newness
(Barnes & Lea-Greenwood, 2006, p. 269). On the other hand, other studies have been
critical towards the fast fashion business model as they argue that it is centred around
planned obsolescence (Bly et al., 2015: 2). The characteristics of the business model
are argued to foster these insatiable consumer demands and make consumers view
clothing as disposable (Bick et al., 2018: 2). Reading research with company
approaches has improved our understanding of how the fast fashion trend has
emerged.
Yet, the current state of research with a consumer-based approach to fast fashion and
sustainability is limited and argued to be an under-researched area (Bhardwaj &
Fairhurst, 2010: 170). However, the growth in interest among scholars into a more
consumer-driven approach to fast fashion has increased significantly, substantiated
by a great deal of recent articles within the field. Among researchers to take a
consumer-driven approach are Birtwistle and Moore (2007) who found that most fast
fashion consumers actually have a high degree of scepticism towards fast fashion.
According to their study, consumers felt that fast fashion encouraged them to often
replace their wardrobe, resulting in a throwaway culture” causing the products to lose
their value (p. 214). In addition, Joung (2014) found that fast fashion consumers may
participate in such throwaway culture due to the reason that they may not see the
necessity of recycling due to the quality of fast-fashion products” (p. 689). Further, the
latest development related to consumer-based approaches within fast fashion has
pointed to consumers recognizing a need for change. This has led to the introduction
of ‘Slow Fashion’ which was originally coined by Fletcher (2007) who stressed the
need for a change in consumer behaviour related to clothing towards valuing quality
over quantity. Watson & Yan (2013) have explored differences between fast and slow
fashion consumers and found that major differences pertained to resources, values,
motivation and attitude. Fast fashion consumers favoured large quantities of
inexpensive, trendy and disposable clothing as opposed to slow fashion consumers
who are more willing to invest in quality clothing to build a long-lasting wardrobe
(Watson & Yan, 2013: 156).
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Relevance of This Study
The establishment of the theoretical background enhanced our ability of locating how
this study could provide useful knowledge related to consumer attitudes in a fast
fashion context. Since most current studies have employed either quantitative or
qualitative methods, it is considered relevant to illuminate the phenomenon by taking
a mixed method approach. Furthermore, by taking a consumer perspective to
investigate the paradox arising from fast fashion consumption in a society with an
increased awareness of sustainability, this research paper is set out to provide useful
theoretical insights into an under-researched area.
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Chapter 3: Methodology
In this chapter, the underlying methodology and methods applied for conducting this
body of research will be thoroughly elaborated. This includes a justification as to how
the methods applied in this study serve to gain relevant knowledge related to our
problem statement. Ultimately, the intention with this chapter is to make the research
design transparent and thus enable other researchers to follow our decision trail in
detail (Daymon & Holloway, 2010: 336). Please note that all appendices are uploaded
to wiseflow in a separate file.
3.1 Research Approach
Based on the problem statement being addressed in this study, we have made some
crucial decisions related to the research approach, which will be described in the
following sections. At this point, it is important to note that this research has been
divided into three stages of data collection combining both qualitative and quantitative
methods.
3.1.1 Mixed Method Approach
This paper has been conducted using a mixed method approach to examine the
problem statement. According to Johnson et. al. (2007), mixed methods research can
be defined as:
“(...) research in which a researcher or team of researchers combines elements of
qualitative and quantitative research approaches (e.g., use of qualitative and
quantitative viewpoints, data collection, analysis, inference techniques) for the broad
purpose of breadth and depth of understanding and corroboration” (p. 118).
This research began with a qualitative online document analysis, followed by the
quantitative method of a questionnaire and subsequently returned to the qualitative
method of one-to-one interviews. Thus, this single empirical study has combined
approaches with the intention of gaining a better understanding related to the problem
statement than either one approach could have provided single-handedly (Creswell
and Plano Clark 2007: 5). Using a mixed method approach has gained popularity and
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acceptance among many scholars and is now being referred to as a third major
research approach equally with qualitative and quantitative research (Creswell, 2014:
3). Also, researchers combining approaches need to decide on what part of study to
give more weight or attention depending on the aim with the research (Ivankova et al.
2006: 4). Consequently, our position as social constructionists and the nature of our
problem statement has guided our priorities and hence the qualitative data has been
given more weight in this study. Despite the argued affordances of a mixed method
approach, Daymon & Holloway (2010: 351) argue that combining two approaches is
complex and often time-consuming. These issues have been taken into consideration
by scheduling a large amount of time for both data collection and analysis. Also, some
previous researchers have argued that the epistemological differences are
fundamentally incompatible when combining qualitative and quantitative methods
(Symonds & Gorard, 2008: 3). However, Guba & Lincoln (1994: 105) state that
researchers may employ both qualitative and quantitative methods and use these
appropriately within any research paradigm. To justify the use of multiple methods
within a single study, the notion of triangulation has been introduced (Symonds &
Gorard, 2008: 3). Accordingly, the next section is devoted to explaining how the
interplay of the different approaches employed has advanced this study by forming the
foundation for a more robust analysis.
3.1.2 Methodological Triangulation
As mentioned above, this study has been carried out using a mixed method approach.
There are several implications for performing such research in relation to ensuring the
validity and quality of the findings derived. Hence, this section is devoted to outlining
how the concept of triangulation has been implemented throughout our research
process. The concept of methodological triangulation has received a great amount of
attention in the world of research. According to Greene et al. (1989: 256), all methods
have their own distinct limitations and biases which can be addressed by illuminating
the phenomenon under investigation from different perspectives through triangulation.
In addition, it is noted how triangulation is often used in research that employs two
different approaches, i.e. uses a mixed method approach (Heale & Forbes, 2013).
Furthermore, Erzberger & Kelle (2003 in Östlund et. al, 2011: 371) argue that using
triangulation as an approach to mixed methods research is a tool that can allow
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researchers to identify linkages across the different levels of theories employed in a
study. This can prove beneficial particularly in mixed method studies like ours, as
Tashakkori & Teddle (2003) further outline how ‘’the combination of findings from two
or more rigorous approaches provides a more comprehensive picture of the results
than either approach could do alone’’ (as cited in Heale & Forbes, 2013: 98). Below,
we present a visual overview of how the triangulation has been performed in our study.
Next, the content of the figure will be elaborated.
Figure 1: Illustration of the methodological triangulation in this study
Figure 1 illustrates the interplay between the qualitative and quantitative
methodologies applied in this study. Stage 1 of the research process included an
online document analysis of consumers discussing the relationship between fast
fashion and sustainability. This was conducted to form an initial impression of
consumers’ attitude towards fast fashion in a sustainability context. The findings from
our online document analysis guided the content of our questionnaire in stage 2. This
questionnaire was conducted to form an impression of whether the attitudes online
were also prevalent among general consumers in our specific context. For this
purpose, the questionnaire was highly appropriate as it allowed us to collect a large
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quantity of data and form a general impression. Lastly, the responses from the
questionnaire were analysed and the findings were subsequently incorporated into the
creation of an informed semi-structured guideline that was used for one-to-one
interviews in stage 3. This was done to allow participants to elaborate and reflect on
the themes derived throughout the research process to develop a deeper
understanding of how fast fashion consumers articulate their attitudes towards the
paradox under investigation. As a result, the concept of triangulation serves as a
means of enhancing trustworthiness of our findings as it has allowed for us to identify
linkages across both quantitative and qualitative methods for a more nuanced
empirical understanding of the phenomenon under investigation.
3.2 Collection of Data
This section outlines the strategy employed for collecting data to gain knowledge
related to our problem statement. This includes an elaborated discussion and
justification of all choices made in the process of collecting data. This is considered
important to create transparency for the reader and allow for further researchers to
follow our research design in detail.
3.2.1 Online Document Analysis
Since our problem statement is concerned with how fast fashion consumers articulate
their attitudes towards this type of consumption in a society with an increased focus
on sustainability, an online document analysis was considered an appropriate tool for
starting our data collection. According to Bowen (2009: 27), a document analysis is:
‘’a systematic procedure for reviewing or evaluating documentsboth printed and
electronic (computer-based and Internet-transmitted) material. (p. 27). In this study,
the document analysis has been conducted on electronic documents in the form of
texts from comments available online. A reason for this pertains to how the
technological development of society has borne with it an increasing importance of
online communication (Rogers, 2019). In fact, more than a billion people in the world
are connected through social media, on which consumers heavily engage with each
other (Cheung & Lee, 2010). Kozinets (1998: in Kozinets, 2002: 1) further points out
that the interaction taking place online impacts many aspects of the participants’
behaviour, including consumer behavior. Thus, the interaction and debates online can
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be argued to both reflect attitudes and behaviour of those participating in the online
discussion.
There are plenty of affordances connected to performing such online research as the
first step in the research process. As stated by Kozinets (2002), an analysis of online
content often enables researchers to obtain ‘’a window into naturally occurring
behaviors of the consumers under investigation’’ (p. 3). In addition to this, Bowen
(2009: 31) argues that one advantage of performing document analysis pertains to its
unobtrusive nature, which implies that the data collected remains unaffected by the
research process, as the researcher’s appearance is comparable to that of a fly on the
wall. Another advantage of the document analysis method can be found in its cost-
effectiveness and the high level of availability of material which is argued to reduce
the amount of resources needed for collecting permissions and accessing data
(Bowen, 2009: 31). Therefore, the online document analysis was considered a suitable
tool for the initial stage of our data collection. More specifically, it was useful for gaining
a brief overview of what was being said about fast fashion in a sustainability context,
as documents were easily accessible and could be retrieved in a cost-effective way.
The online documents used for analysis in this study were collected from different
media channels. Initially, the intention was to sample documents that could be traced
directly to fast fashion companies, such as comments on the official Facebook pages
of HM or Zara. However, this was disregarded as we found these pages to be
somewhat restricted in terms of what type of content that was allowed to be posted by
users. Instead, the denominator for the channels used pertains to their unrestricted
and interactional nature. This implies that individuals are freely sharing attitudes and
thus engage in a co-creation of knowledge, as this is interesting from a social
constructionist perspective. Specifically, the Instagram account ‘’The Sustainable
Fashion Forum’’ and two different blog posts from respectively The Guardian and
Digital Initiative were selected as the main sources of data online. For an overview of
the data collected using this method, see appendix E p. 51. One issue related to the
data derived using these sources is related to the representativeness. This is because
the individuals present on the chosen sources are likely to engage and share extreme
attitudes as a result of their strong opinions (Williams et al., 2002 in Holtz et al., 2012:
5). However, this issue was considered less important as the purpose of this initial
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data collection was to gain insights about users’ attitude towards the relation between
fast fashion and sustainability that would not be biased by the presence of researchers
(Glaser et al., 2002: in Holtz et al. 2012: 5). Another issue related to the data derived
online is its limitation in regard to providing sufficient detail alone related to a problem
statement (Bowen, 2009: 31). Consequently, Bowen (2009: 28) notes how online
document analysis is commonly used with other methods to enhance the quality of the
findings and thus achieve triangulation. This has also been the case in this study, and
the two further methods employed will be described next.
3.2.2 Questionnaire
The second stage of our data collection was conducted through the use of a
questionnaire for gaining further knowledge related to our problem statement.
According to Bulmer (2004), a questionnaire is a structured research instrument useful
for collecting social research data and can be in the form of an online web survey. In
this study, the questionnaire was created using Google Forms and was employed with
the intention to integrate the findings from our online document analysis. The aim was
to see how our initial online findings regarding the opinions towards fast fashion
applied to more general consumers. When conducting a questionnaire, researchers
should always pay attention to the language used and ensure a shared vocabulary
between the researcher and the participants (Bulmer, 2004). Following this, we found
it pivotal to make a brief introduction to the questionnaire explaining the meaning of
fast fashion in order to ensure that our participants had a common foundation for
understanding what was being referred to when using the term. To further secure that
the language conformed to a shared vocabulary, the questionnaire was pilot-tested on
five different individuals prior to publication to counter potential issues arising from
misunderstandings. Also, the pilot tests were useful to refine the wording of the
questions with the purpose of enhancing the quality of our data.
After the pilot-tests, we ended up with 12 questions in the questionnaire which were
all considered relevant for gaining knowledge related to our problem statement. The
questions varied in form and content and were intended to encapsulate different
aspects of our participants’ attitudes. In addition to this, three questions were
developed following the principles for measuring attitude put forward by Likert (1932:
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In McLeod, 2008). The Likert scale is the most widely used scale for measuring
attitudes and allows for responses on a continuum from strongly agree to strongly
disagree (McLeod, 2008: 1). Thus, our participants were asked to indicate how much
they agree or disagree with particular statements that were formulated by ourselves
to capture patterns derived from our online document analysis. Also, the questions
were grouped in different categories prior to publication, depending on which specific
aspect of our problem statement they were related to. This was done in order to
enhance our ability of discovering prevalent opinions within the population in relation
to the key aspects of our problem statement. For an overview of all the questions and
an elaboration of their purpose, please see appendix B, p. 3.
The sampling for our questionnaire was conducted using a convenience sampling
technique, which involves sampling individuals within the researcher’s network who
are available to participate in the study (Dudovskiy, n.d.). Specifically, Facebook was
used as a channel for recruiting participants. Using Facebook as our channel of
recruitment was found appropriate as it allowed us to utilize our network and collect a
large amount of data with very little intervention (Nosek et al. 2002: 9). As noted by
Nosek et al. (2002: 12), using online platforms such as Facebook to sample
participants may result in an exclusion of a part of the population. This could potentially
lead to missing out on some interesting insights into the minds of the excluded
consumers. However, the advantages of this type of sampling have been the decisive
factor for our choices.
According to Allen and Roberts (2015: 100) some of the most important considerations
in conducting online questionnaires are related to anonymity, confidentiality and
privacy. Consequently, we placed great emphasis on maintaining complete anonymity
and confidentiality of the participants. As noted in chapter two, research related to
sustainability is often subject to social desirability bias in participants’ responses.
Again, complete anonymity helps address such bias. This is emphasised by Lelckes
et al. (2012) who argue how facilitating complete anonymity for participants may yield
‘’more accurate data by minimizing social desirability pressures’’ (p. 1). Consequently,
all participants were informed of their anonymity prior to the questionnaire, with the
purpose of preventing or minimizing any potential social desirability biases in the
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responses, as these are argued to have a negative impact on the validity of a
questionnaire (Huang et al. 1998: 526).
3.2.3 One-To-One Interviews
For the third and last stage of our data collection, one-to-one interviews were
employed for gaining further knowledge related to our problem statement. Since we
are social constructionists, this method has received most weight and attention in our
research design. As previously described, the last method in this study was employed
in order to gain depth on the findings from stage 1 and 2 and relate the themes
specifically to a context of fast fashion consumers. For this purpose, one-to-one
interviews were assessed as the most appropriate tool. This is because such
technique is useful when researchers seek an understanding of the constructs that the
participants use for articulating their attitude towards a particular phenomenon
(Daymon & Holloway, 2010: 222). Also, focus groups were considered as another
potential method for exploring the co-created social constructs of our participants.
However, as noted in chapter two, McNeill and Moore (2015: 215) argue that
sustainability is a hotly debated public topic, which can potentially evoke attitudes that
some individuals would be reluctant to share in groups. This may increase the potential
for social desirability biases in responses, as participants may seek to give what they
perceive to be the correct ethical answer. Keeping this in mind, one-to-one interviews
were ultimately employed to limit these potential issues.
The interviews all followed a semi-structured interview guide with some prepared
questions informed by the findings of the two first stages of our data collection. The
aim of such a semi-structured guide is to understand the perspectives of participants
and in collaboration create a meaningful account related to our problem statement
(Daymon & Holloway, 2010: 226). Consequently, the inclusion and sequencing of
questions was not the same for each participant due to this semi-structured nature.
Although some would argue that the lack of consistency in the questions being posed
is an issue to this research (Turner, 2010: 755), our worldview as social
constructionists means that we assess it to be a strength. That is, the flexible nature
allowed to cover some general areas of interest stemming from prior data collection,
but still allowed freedom for the participants to elaborate further on topics of decisive
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nature to their particular attitude (McNamara, 2009: in Turner, 2010: 755). Since this
paper is using a mixed method approach, the semi-structured interviews are further
considered a useful tool to add depth to the findings of our other approaches (Adams,
2015: 494). According to Adams (2015), semi-structured interviews are useful in terms
of exploring “puzzlesthat emerge after other methods such as surveys (p. 494), which
is the case for the research design present in this study. According to Creswell (2014:
8), social constructionist researchers should focus on asking open-ended questions,
and thus we designed the questions accordingly to allow for the desired in-depth
answers from our participants. Additionally, to ensure that all questions in our guide
were easily understood, we pilot-tested the interview guide once using our network.
The feedback allowed for the guide to be refined with small adjustments before
conducting the actual interviews. According to Dikko (2016: 521), doing such pilot-test
of research instruments ensures validity in any research.
For the full interview guide, please see appendix C p. 5.
For sampling, a convenience strategy has been employed by asking readily available
contacts in our network (Dudovskiy, n.d.). To ensure that these individuals from our
network were qualified candidates for the interviews, we decided on certain criteria in
the sampling process. This implies that the selection of participants followed some
specific criteria guided by the aim of the research (Daymon & Holloway, 2010: 245),
which in this study was to examine how fast fashion consumers articulate their attitude
towards this type of consumption. Therefore, we used criteria to ensure that our
participants could be characterized as fast fashion shoppers. Firstly, the participants
should be regularly shopping in either H&M or Zara, which are considered the biggest
companies within fast fashion (Remy et al., 2016). Also, this was considered important
as these two companies were used in the interview questions in order to give the
participants something specific to relate to when speaking of fast fashion. Secondly,
another criterion was related to the frequency of shopping. All participants should be
shopping at least monthly in order to ensure that they were currently tapping into the
fast fashion trend. Lastly, the participants should be in the age span 22-26, and this
criterion was based on our questionnaire findings in which this was the predominant
age group. Although Morgan & Birtwistle (2009) suggest that the paradox under
investigation is most prevalent among young females, we found no reason to exclude
either men or female consumers. This is because there was an equal distribution of
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the genders represented in the questionnaire with interesting answers regardless of
their gender. As a consequence, our sampling for the interviews consisted of two male
and three female consumers.
In order for us to analyse the data from our in-depth interviews, we asked all the
participants for permission to audio-record the interviews. The audio-recordings were
pivotal in order to capture the exact use of words and expressions by participants while
enabling us to concentrate on what was said rather than taking extensive notes
(Daymon & Holloway, 2010: 233). The use of an audio-recorder was stated in the
opening by the moderator of the discussion which allowed for verbatim and full-text
transcriptions of our interviews as advised by Daymon & Holloway (2010). How the
data was subsequently analysed will be described next.
3.3 Analysis of Data
At this point of the chapter, we would like to present a thorough description of how the
collected data was subsequently analysed. This is done with the purpose of creating
transparency along with delineating the different and distinct contributions of each data
collection method.
3.3.1 Online Document Analysis
As presented above, the data collected for the online document analysis was
comments in the form of text retrieved from Instagram and two blog posts. The process
of analysing this specific form of data was conducted in accordance with the framework
put forward by Labuschagne (2003: in Bowen, 2009: 28). He argues that the analytical
procedure encompasses finding, selecting and making sense of data in the
documents. Therefore, the researchers should organise the data into major themes by
analysing the content. Following this, the initial step was concerned with gaining an
overview of the data collected from the online discussions on the blog posts and the
Instagram account. To do so, we firstly placed all of the data collected into one single
document. From here, we openly coded all of the various comments in this document
in order to get an initial sense of the content. This initial and open coding process
entailed using simple codes. After briefly grouping the data, the next step of our
analysis was concerned with performing a more thorough and detailed coding. The
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purpose of this was to identify recurrent codes that could be organised into larger and
more overarching themes. In that way, we were able to gain deeper insight into the
data at hand. The identification of recurrent themes then established the foundation
for deriving knowledge from our online document analysis, which could then be
transferred to the next stage in our research as a part of the triangulation process. For
an example of the coding process, please see appendix F p. 59.
3.3.2 Questionnaire
The questionnaire conducted in the second stage of our research yielded 112
responses. In order to make sense of the vast amount of data derived from the
questionnaire, it was considered important to firstly organize the data, before
thoroughly analyzing and interpreting it. As mentioned under the data collection
section 3.2.2, the questionnaire consisted of 12 questions that were all related to the
problem statement. In this connection, it is important to note that only 11 of these were
of quantitative nature, whereas one of the questions was open-ended and allowed
participants to express their perception of sustainability in relation to shopping using
their own words. The latter has been considered in our final analysis, as it has
enlightened us with the consumers’ perception of sustainability in purchasing
decisions, but it has not been analyzed quantitatively. By using the affordances of
Google Forms, we created a visual overview of the distribution of responses in the
form of diagrams and charts. The creation of such visual artefacts simplified the
process of identifying the most prevalent opinions of our population in relation to each
of the key aspects of our problem statement. Both charts, diagrams and percental
distributions of responses have been utilized and commented on in chapter 4. Once
the most prevalent opinions were identified, the remainder of the analytical process
was concerned with comparing and assessing the fit between our findings from the
questionnaire and our findings from the online document analysis. Ultimately, the most
prevalent and interesting patterns derived from this assessment were integrated in the
interview guideline. This was done with the purpose of allowing fast fashion consumers
to elaborate upon these patterns in detail, as a part of the triangulation process.
3.3.3 One-To-One Interviews
In the final stage of our data analysis, we analysed the five one-to-one interviews. As
previously mentioned, these interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed
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verbatim. This was considered essential to perform a detailed analysis of the
interviews. The conduction of a verbatim transcription of our interviews left us with a
vast amount of data to process. Thus, the next steps of our analytical procedure was
concerned with organizing, structuring and deriving meaning from this data, as this is
indeed the overarching aim of performing qualitative data analysis (Daymon &
Holloway, 2010: 301). For full interview transcripts, please see appendix D p. 6.
In order to organize the data collected, the data was coded as this is considered a
central and important working tool within the framework of qualitative analysis (Morse
& Richards, 2002: in Daymon & Holloway, 2010: 306). The initial step in the process
of coding our data involved labelling the different pieces of data with topic codes. The
labelling of the data was carried out using a mix between themes derived from stage
one and two of our research process and additional new subjective topic codes.
Through using codes derived from stage one and two of our research, we enabled
ourselves to explore possible linkages in the data collected across all three
approaches, in correspondence with our aim of performing methodological
triangulation. Additionally, any new knowledge derived from the interviews was
assigned subjective topic codes, which are argued to be useful for encapsulating any
underlying themes that are not explicitly expressed in the data (Daymon & Holloway,
2010: 308). This process was considered a pivotal element in the pursuit of identifying
which prevalent and recurrent themes that appeared in the data. This initial step in the
analytical procedure yielded a large variety of topic codes, which were then written
down in an excel document. Subsequently, we started counting how many times each
code appeared in the data, to get a sense of recurring themes. From here, we were
able to identify the most prevalent codes, which were then grouped into larger
categories based on an assessment of commonality of content. For an example of the
coding process see appendix A p. 1. In that way, we have utilized analytic procedures
to process the data collected in order to derive valuable knowledge that provides us
with a deeper understanding of the paradox under investigation (Gibbs, 2007 in
Daymon & Holloway, 2010: 301).
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Chapter 4: Analysis & Findings
In this chapter, we will present the findings of the data collected throughout the
research process. Our position as social constructionists have naturally influenced our
examination of the data, which consisted of an interpretive coding process, from which
interesting and recurrent themes were extracted. Since this study has employed three
different data collection methods, we have cross-referenced between findings from the
different data collection methods to emphasise the recurrent nature of specific themes.
Please note that the full interview transcripts are found in appendix D p. 6 and all the
material collected from the online document analysis is found in appendix E p. 51.
Since our problem statement is concerned with fast fashion consumption in a society
with increased focus on sustainability, we were interested in analysing whether this
increased societal focus on sustainability also applied to consumers within fast
fashion. Across all our interviews, the participants expressed a significant increase in
their general awareness of sustainability in recent years, and there was agreement
among our participants that sustainability was becoming increasingly important to
them (see e.g. appendix D, p. 7, l. 16. or p. 17, l. 18). The increased awareness of
sustainability was articulated to be the result of a general societal development (see
e.g. appendix D p. 25, l. 25 or p. 39, ll. 22-24). The fact that the fast fashion consumers
in our interviews described an increased focus on sustainability amplified the paradox
under investigation. Through this analysis, we will present findings on how our
participants articulate their attitude towards their own conflicting fast fashion
consumption behaviour. To gain a better foundation for understanding this behaviour,
we first identified the meaning of sustainability in purchasing decisions to our
participants, which will be presented next.
4.1 The Meaning of Sustainability in Fast Fashion
As noted in chapter two of this paper, there is general ambiguity related to the meaning
of sustainability which is argued to be caused by an inconsistency in terms of what it
entails in different contexts (Salas-Zapata & OrtizMuñoz, 2019: 153). To establish the
foundation for examining how the consumers in this study articulate their attitude
towards fast fashion in a society with increased focus on sustainability, it was
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considered pivotal to first analyse the meaning our participants assigned to
sustainability in this particular context.
We began our online document analysis searching for the consumers’ different
connotations related to the concept of sustainability in a fast fashion context. Early in
the process, it became evident how the online users assigned a variety of meanings
to the word sustainability in a fast fashion context (Appendix E, p. 55, ll. 14-15, p. 56,
ll. 3-6 and p. 56, ll. 24-30). As a result, it was considered important for us to further
investigate the connotative meaning of sustainability related to consumption.
Therefore, we asked an open-ended question in our questionnaire related directly to
the meaning of sustainability in purchasing decisions and again found that the
meaning varied much across the sample. For some, the meaning of sustainability was
purely related to the environmental aspects such as polluting emissions. Others
focused on other parts of the supply chain like social aspects such as fair production
conditions. Some of the participants included both social and environmental aspects.
Also, many participants explained how they associated sustainability in purchasing
decisions with the use of quality materials that were able to last for a long period of
time. (An example of answers to this open-ended question is provided appendix G, p.
60) Consequently, this finding confirmed the previously described common ambiguity
related to the concept of sustainability. Therefore, we asked our interview participants
to elaborate what sustainability meant to them in purchasing decisions. This ensured
a common ground for understanding the further discussion in the interviews.
Throughout the five interviews, we experienced how our participants also perceived
sustainability differently. When asked to describe the meaning of sustainability in
purchasing decisions, the most prevalent themes were related to quality materials,
social, and environmental aspects as in the questionnaire (see e.g. appendix D, pp.
25-26 ll. 31-2 or p. 40, ll. 4-5). When asked to elaborate on quality, P1 and P3 explicitly
expressed how this pertains to the durability of the product, which could be achieved
by using high quality materials (Appendix D, p. 8, ll. 8-10 and p. 26 ll. 3-4). When
elaborating on the social and environmental aspects, P1 and P5 explained how they
perceive a product as sustainable based on the transparency of the company's
production. In their opinion, the transparency pertains to both the conditions under
which products are produced and openness in regard to their carbon emission footprint
(Appendix D, p. 8, ll. 5-8 and p. 40, l. 3).
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4.1.1 The Neglection of Sustainability in Clothing Consumption
When considering the different meanings that our participants assigned to the notion
of sustainability in a fast fashion context, it would perhaps seem natural that these
meanings were reflected in their clothing consumption behavior. However, an
interesting finding of this study pertains to the apparent neglection of sustainability in
clothing consumption. Our online document analysis indicated that fast fashion
consumers did not really take sustainability into account when it comes to clothing
consumption (Appendix E, pp. 51-52, ll. 31-4 and p. 51, ll. 6-9). Therefore, we asked
the participants in the questionnaire to indicate the degree to which sustainability then
influenced their behavior when shopping clothes specifically and below are the results:
Figure 2: Pie chart over distribution of responses in question five in the questionnaire
As seen in figure 2 above, the participants in our questionnaire also indicated that
sustainability had low influence on their clothing consumption. The fact that
sustainability was indicated to only have low influence on clothing consumption was
elaborated during the interviews. Here, price was argued to have an overshadowing
influence. Elaborating on the importance of low prices, some participants argued how
price overrules sustainability in their clothing purchasing decisions. As P1 stated:
“Price matters the most despite the fact that I am aware of sustainability’’ (Appendix
D, p. 8, ll.19-20) and P2 further supported this by saying: You would like to buy
sustainable clothing, but in the end, it is just outweighed by the price…’’ (Appendix D,
p. 17, ll. 20). Furthermore, P5 pinpointed the effect of other influences in the following
manner:
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It sounds nice to say that you are very concerned about sustainability and all that (...)
but in regard to something like clothing, although I want to devote myself to it, there
are just other more prominent factors (...) that I take into account before taking things
like sustainability and environmental awareness into the equation(Appendix D, pp.
41-42, ll. 28-1)
These statements are examples of how an otherwise positive attitude towards
sustainability was frequently being undermined by the influence of price in the
interviews. In that way, price is articulated as an important element in our participants’
continuous consumption of fast fashion products.
Moreover, the online document analysis revealed how some individuals expressed a
degree of acknowledgement of sustainable initiatives made by the fast fashion
companies (Appendix E, p. 57, ll. 21-22 and p. 57, ll. 7-8). Therefore, the participants
in our questionnaire were asked to indicate if it was important to them that fast fashion
companies made sustainable initiatives. Below are the results:
Figure 3: Pie chart over distribution of responses in question six in the questionnaire
As shown in figure 3 above, the vast majority of our participants agreed that it was
important to them that fast fashion companies made sustainable initiatives. This
finding appeared paradoxical in the light of a previously described attitude, in which
the majority of our participants expressed that sustainability had only little or no
influence on their clothing purchasing decisions. The occurrence of this paradoxical
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pattern was of particular interest to us and hence we seeked a deeper elaboration of
this through our interviews. During the interviews, P2, P3 and P5 all expressed a low
level of influence of sustainability on their clothing consumption (see e.g. appendix D,
p. 19, ll. 31-32, p. 24, ll. 17-18 and p. 40, ll. 16-17). However, the same participants
also indicated how they found it important that fast fashion companies make
sustainable initiatives. For example, P3 expressed that fast fashion companies should
make sustainable initiatives by stating: ‘’I think it is super important that they take
responsibility. These companies are huge and have a lot of customers. I also believe
that they attract a lot of different age- and social groups” (Appendix D, p. 27, ll. 8-11).
Thus, P3 expressed how she felt that companies carried a social responsibility for
making sustainable initiatives due to their size and possibility to influence a lot of
people although such initiatives were unlikely to significantly impact her clothing
consumption.
4.2 Attitudes Towards of Sustainable Initiatives in Fast Fashion
Through our analysis, it became evident that the way our participants articulated their
attitude towards their own fast fashion consumption was influenced by their awareness
of and knowledge about fast fashion companies’ work with sustainability. In the
following, interesting insights in this regard are presented.
Due to the channels used for collecting data for our online document analysis, it was
anticipated that the participants would have a strong interest in the relationship
between fast fashion and sustainability. Therefore, it was not surprising that the
participants of the initial online document analysis expressed a high level of
awareness. One component of their awareness pertained to a continuous
acknowledgement of sustainable initiatives in fast fashion (Appendix E, p. 54, ll. 4-5,
p. 57, ll, 7-8 and p. 57, ll. 21-22). As a result of the findings derived online, it was
considered of significant interest to examine to what degree our interview participants
were aware of sustainability in fast fashion, and how that might influence the way they
articulated their attitude towards their own consumption.
In the interviews, it became clear how three of the participants articulated a high
degree of awareness and knowledge about sustainability within fast fashion, whereas
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two of the participants expressed a low degree of awareness. The high degree of
awareness among some of the participants was emphasised by their ability to recall
specific campaigns and initiatives. As P3 stated when considering H&M initiatives
specifically: “I really like H&M’s Conscious collection” (Appendix D, p. 27, ll. 11-12).
Also, P5 addressed how he was becoming increasingly aware of H&M’s sustainable
initiatives through their marketing efforts (Appendix D, p. 46, ll. 11-13). As exemplified
in P3’s statement above, the awareness of sustainability in a fast fashion context was
accompanied by an acknowledgement towards fast fashion companies current work
with sustainability. In addition, P1 acknowledged other sustainable initiatives such as
brands limiting their amount of yearly collections to two or shutting down their
businesses on Black Friday (Appendix D, p. 11, ll. 6-8). This finding indicated that a
part of the fast fashion consumers were indeed highly aware of sustainability within
fast fashion. Through the acknowledgement of the companies’ work with sustainability,
it became evident how the participants articulated that their knowledge of sustainable
initiatives affected their attitude towards their own consumption in a positive way. This
finding could serve as a means of understanding why these particular participants find
it meaningful to maintain their fast fashion consumption. As mentioned above, two of
our participants expressed a low level of awareness of sustainability throughout the
interviews. In this connection, P4’s low level of awareness was exemplified by the
following statement related to fast fashion companies working with sustainability: ‘’I
really do not have a clue if they do or not. If I was asked on the street, I would not be
able to answer. My general impression is that if they do, I do not know about it’’
(Appendix D, p. 16, 8-10). The low awareness of fast fashion companies’ work with
sustainability did not have a significant impact on their attitude towards fast fashion,
which may again indicate a neglection of sustainability in clothing consumption. P5
argued that the media coverage played a part in shaping the attitudes due to the fact
that the media only covered scandals and not the positive stories, and thus left
consumers unaware of sustainable initiatives (Appendix D, p. 45, ll. 19-21). Thus a
history of scandals in fast fashion seemed to have a negative effect and led to a sense
of suspicion towards fast fashion companies’ work with sustainability, which will be
further elaborated next.
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4.2.1 Attitudes Are Influenced by Suspicion
Although a part of the findings pointed to an acknowledgement of current sustainable
initiatives in fast fashion, we also identified a certain level of scepticism towards these
same initiatives. In our online document analysis, it became evident how there was a
high degree of suspicion towards sustainable initiatives from fast fashion companies
which was expressed by the participants by means of different examples (Appendix
E, pp. 52-53, ll. 31-2, p.53, ll. 6-8 and p. 54, ll. 25-26). More specifically, the underlying
mistrust of some online users pertained to the foundational structure of the fast fashion
business model, which was exemplified through the following statement:
Even if fast fashion companies make these (sustainable, red.) efforts, fast fashion has
been built on speedy manufacturing and consumerism. Their values already are not
sustainable. If they truly want to change, they would have to change their entire values
(Appendix E, p. 53, ll. 14-17).
Furthermore, the suspicion manifested itself in a general misbelief about the true
nature of the fast fashion companies’ intentions behind these sustainable initiatives.
As one user wrote in this regard: “They want maximum praise for doing minimum
effort’’ (Appendix E, p. 53, ll. 10-11). In order to uncover if this general suspicion also
applied to more common consumers, we utilized our questionnaire to ask the
participants if they generally believed that fast fashion companies cared for
sustainability. A visual representation of the distribution of answers is provided below
in figure 4.
Figure 4: Pie chart over distribution of responses in question eleven in the questionnaire
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As figure 4 shows, the majority of our participants either disagreed or remained neutral
in this regard. The distribution of responses indicates a general tendency that most of
our participants did not believe that fast fashion companies care about sustainability.
This attitude that fast fashion companies do not care about sustainability may stem
from a general lack of awareness about the sustainable initiatives made by fast fashion
companies. Furthermore, it could also indicate that the participants of our
questionnaire have formed a negative image of the industry, based on the history of
scandals related to fast fashion companies, as was the case for some users online.
Interestingly, P5 in the interviews elaborated on the influence of scandals by stating:
I feel the scandals have been there the last couple of years, whereas the positive
story is missing” (Appendix D, p. 46, ll. 1-2). In addition to this, some users shared how
their misbelief in the companies’ intentions was rooted in a perception that fast fashion
companies only work with sustainability due to underlying economic reasons. One
online user directly critiqued the companies in this regard by stating: this alluring
system of planned obsolescence for maximum profit is capitalism at its best(worst)”
(Appendix E, p. 51, ll. 20-21). Consequently, we asked our participants in the
questionnaire to respond to the following statement: “I believe that fashion companies
are only promoting sustainable initiatives for economic reasons". The distribution of
answers to this question is visualized below in figure 5.
Figure 5: Pie chart over distribution of responses in question 12 in the questionnaire
Remarkably, figure 5 above shows how the majority of our participants either agreed
or strongly agreed. Again, this finding showed that the consumers to a large extent
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shared the belief expressed online. As this suspicious attitude towards the fast fashion
companies’ sustainable initiatives was recurrent in stage one and two, it was
considered of high interest to allow our interview participants to elaborate further on
this finding in stage three.
During the interview, a suspicious attitude towards the companies intentions with
sustainable initiatives also became apparent. As P3 stated: I think my impression is
perhaps that it is symbolic statements(Appendix D, p. 28, ll. 22-23). Furthermore, P5
shared this impression by articulating his lack of trust in the companies’ intentions with
sustainable initiatives by comparing it to a job interview. In such a situation, the
candidate sometimes uses all the right buzzwords to say the right things and thus ends
up with the reversed effect of lacking trust (Appendix D, pp. 42-43, ll. 31-10). P5 further
encapsulated his suspicion towards fast fashion companies’ work with sustainability
by stating: “It appears like they use sustainability and environmental consciousness,
ahmm, as a marketing stunt even though they might not be as devoted to it as they
express” (Appendix D, p. 40., ll. 29-31). Further, P1 recalled a specific sustainable
campaign by H&M in which they used plastic bottles to produce dresses, but still
questioned whether such sustainable dress was also produced under sustainable
conditions, which again points to a lack of trust in the companies (Appendix D, pp. 13-
14, ll. 26-3). Interestingly, the finding related to how fast fashion companies are only
believed to promote sustainability for economic reasons became evident multiple
times in our interviews. When discussing fast fashion brands’ motives for working with
sustainable initiatives, P4 said:
I think it is more to maintain their customer segment rather than to save the planet.
That is, I do not know if they do it by heart, but my best bet would be that they do it for
the bottom line” (Appendix D, p. 35, ll. 16-18).
In addition to this, there seemed to be a general consensus that the fast fashion
companies used sustainability a lot in their marketing efforts, but again the suspicion
was apparent. Intensifying the finding related to the suspicion among our participants
was that P2 articulated fast fashion brands’ use of sustainability claims in their
marketing as a trap for the consumers, as she said: ‘’I am one of those who gets caught
in the trap...well if they write it, it must be like that!’’ (Appendix D, p. 19, ll. 9-10). By
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describing the sustainability claims as a trap, P2 indicates that she feels misled and
further uses this to reflect upon her own naïveté. The suspicion that occurred as the
interviews evolved seems somewhat paradoxical in comparison with the fact that
some participants initially acknowledged the fast fashion companies’ work with
sustainability. Interestingly, despite articulating a suspicious attitude towards
sustainability in relation to fast fashion companies, the impact was insignificant as the
participants of our interviews still maintained their fast fashion consumption. In the light
of reflection, this finding emphasises the previously stressed attitude in which
sustainability does not have much value in relation to fast fashion consumers.
4.3 Attitudes Are Shaped by Motivation to Consume
In order to understand how our participants articulate their attitudes towards fast
fashion consumption in a time of increased societal focus on sustainability, it has been
considered essential to analyse their underlying motivation for consuming fast fashion
products. The main rationale behind this was found in the fact that investigating
motivation can help understand the underlying processes that guide people to behave
in a certain way (Bamossy et al. 2006: 90). The data at hand revealed interesting
knowledge in regard to motivational aspects that shaped the attitude of the participants
in this study. That is, throughout the research process, it was indicated how the
individuals’ participation in the fast fashion trend was highly interrelated with their
motivation to consume.
In the initial online document analysis, we experienced how a part of the discussion
was centred around the underlying mindset which drives the consumption of fast
fashion products. This resulted in a variety of different drivers of motivation being
discussed on the online spaces under investigation (see e.g. Appendix E, p. 56, ll. 8-
9 and p. 53, ll. 18-19). Hence, we decided to construct possible motivational factors
on the basis of the drivers discussed online to see if these applied to consumers in
general. We did so by asking our participants to provide us with their motivations for
buying a new piece of clothing. Here, they had the ability to either choose from our
pre-established options or add additional motivational factors themselves. From this,
our participants’ main motivational factors became evident, and the distribution of
answers is visualized below in table 1.
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1. Replacing old clothing
77 respondents (68,8 %)
2. A specific event
71 respondents (63,3%)
3. Enjoyment
51 respondents (45%)
4. Staying on trend
50 respondents (44%)
5. Social Media
30 respondents (26,7%)
Table 1: Motivational factors for buying clothes, ranked.
As seen in table 1, the responses from our questionnaire expressed a great variety in
motivations to consume a new item of clothing. Therefore, we used the interviews to
ask our fast fashion participants to reflect and elaborate on their particular motivations
to consume. This was done to establish the foundation for uncovering the underlying
aspects that constitute the participants' motivations to take part in fast fashion
consumption.
From our interviews, a number of key insights occurred. It became evident how some
of the motivational factors expressed by our participants from the interviews aligned
with those expressed in the questionnaire. One example of this pertains to how the
interviews uncovered that some participants seemed to construct a reality in which
their participation in fast fashion could be a result of a societal pressure of staying
trendy. This pressure of staying trendy, and its impact on our participants’ attitudes
towards their own fast fashion consumption, was emphasised repetitively throughout
the interviews (Appendix D, p. 6, ll. 17-19, p. 24, ll. 12-13 and p. 47, ll 10-13). In specific
terms, three of our interview participants expressed how being perceived as trendy
was a key element in regard to the clothes they buy and ultimately wear. Furthermore,
P1 and P5 expressed how their choice of clothes is a pivotal aspect for them in their
pursuit of constructing their desired identity. For instance, P1 stated the following,
when reflecting on the amount of attention, she paid towards her looks:
‘’It’s probably because your clothes reflect your identity in some way. So, if I go out in
an outfit that I do not think fits together, I would feel uncool. In some way, it would be
as if I had not understood what was trendy or cool’’ (Appendix D, p. 6, ll. 17-19).
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Through articulating the considerations in regard to clothing in such a manner, our
participant implicitly adds an interesting meaning to her clothing. More specifically, it
is expressed how our participant perceives her clothing style to have a significant
impact on how she is perceived by the rest of the society. Furthermore, our interview
participants also indicated that social media has played a pivotal part in creating this
sort of culture, in which an individual feels the pressure of living up to certain norms in
order to be perceived as cool or trendy. As pointed out in table 1, social media was
also highlighted as a key motivational factor in our questionnaire. Thereby, it was
interesting to make our participants elaborate on this in the interviews by allowing them
to reflect on the role of social media in relation to their motivation for consuming fast
fashion products. P1, P3 and P5 all expressed how they were often influenced or
inspired to purchase clothing through their use of social media platforms (Appendix D,
p. 6, ll. 23-25, p. 25, ll. 1-2, and p. 39 ll. 8-10). Particularly, the social medium Instagram
was repetitively mentioned throughout the interviews. For instance, P1 pinpointed how
this impacts her attitude in relation to clothing consumption habits (Appendix D, p. 6,
ll. 23-25). In addition, P3 reflected upon Instagram’s particular influence on her
motivation and stated: “I definitely believe that Instagram has intensified the need for
it (staying trendy, red)” (Appendix D, p. 30, ll. 31-32). In that way, she articulates how
social media has reinforced her need to stay trendy, a need that was previously
expressed as a motivation behind her participation in fast fashion.
Another theme derived during our online document analysis stemmed from a
discussion of fast fashion consumers' underlying mindset. In relation to this, it was
indicated that fast fashion consumers currently were driven by impulses and hence
ended up assigning insufficient consideration to their clothing consumption (Appendix
E, p. 51, ll. 12-13 and p. 54, ll. 10-11). As a result, we aimed to encapsulate this finding
of assigning little consideration to clothes from fast fashion companies in a statement
in our questionnaire. We asked the participants to decide upon to what degree: “I like
it, I buy it” described their clothing consumption behaviour. The answers to this
simplified description of the buying process was intended to give us an idea of whether
consumers generally attributed more meaning and reflections when consuming
clothes than simply buying whatever they like.
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Figure 6: Pie chart over distribution of responses in question 10 in the questionnaire
As figure 6 shows, more than half of the participants in our questionnaire either agreed
or strongly agreed to this statement and thus subscribed to this attitude. This may
indicate a low degree of consideration amongst some of our questionnaire participants
in relation to clothing consumption. Still, however, almost a fourth of the questionnaire
participants either disagreed or strongly disagreed which on the other hand indicates
that some actually do put in more consideration when shopping clothes. Although we
did not address this directly during the interviews, some indications of this ‘’I like it, I
buy it’’ mindset became apparent through statements provided by our participants. P1
made this line of thinking evident, when asked about what drove her motivation to buy
a new piece of clothing, as she said:
That I like it (the clothes, red.), is the most important thing - is it my style? Then I begin
to compromise with my other beliefs. If I believe a shirt from Pieces (a fast fashion
company, red.) is nice, I buy it even though it is not sustainably produced - also
because I can get it cheaply(Appendix D, p. 9, ll. 23-26)
By making this statement, P1 discloses this mindset of assigning only little value to the
clothes. Furthermore, she adds the elements of style and price as motivational drivers
for her fast fashion consumption, which is indeed in line with previously highlighted
findings of this study. Furthermore, there were clear indications pointing to how
impulses were also a main driver in the decision making of some of our participants.
In this regard, P2 expressed how she had never really asked herself about the
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underlying aspects of her clothing consumption (Appendix D, p. 19, l. 19). When
reflecting on this statement, it becomes evident how P2 was mainly driven by
spontaneity. These findings emphasise how some of our participants articulate an
attitude in which the importance of sustainability is diminished by the desire for
achieving personal benefits and again stress the low level of consideration in their fast
fashion consumption.
4.4 Attitudes Towards the Future of Fast Fashion
Another interesting theme derived from this study was related to the future of fast
fashion. When participants reflected on the paradoxicality arising from their own
consumption in a society with increased focus on sustainability, they articulated a need
for change which led to some interesting insights. These will be presented next.
A large part of the online data analysis was related to a discussion on what the future
might bring for fast fashion. The discussion online was centred around a doubt as to
whether fast fashion consumption will ever fit into a society with increased focus on
sustainability (Appendix E, p. 52-53, ll. 31-1, p. 54, ll. 17-19). The doubts were primarily
rooted in a belief that making fast fashion fit with current sustainable trends would
require fundamental changes from both consumers and companies. On the one hand,
a massive change in consumer mindset was argued to be required in the future
(Appendix E, pp. 51-52, ll. 31-4). On the other hand, some online users expressed
doubt that the fast fashion business model will ever comply with sustainable
requirements since the model is argued to encourage increasing levels of consumption
(Appendix E, p. 53, ll. 24-25). Interesting in relation to this discussion online was the
prevailing split in attitude amongst consumers about who should make the first move
towards making fast fashion consumption more sustainable. In fact, a lot of interesting
viewpoints were discovered, and thus we decided to boil the discussion down to a
single question in order to include this theme in our questionnaire. Thus, the
questionnaire included a question about who has the main responsibility for ensuring
a more sustainable future within fast fashion with the intention to analyse the attitude
of general consumers towards changes in the industry. Below are the results:
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Figure 7: Pie chart over distribution of responses in question 7 in the questionnaire
As figure 7 shows, there was a split in attitudes in relation to this question. However,
the majority felt that the companies had the main responsibility while only a minority
answered that the consumers had the main responsibility for change. However, it
should be noted that because of the particular affordances of a questionnaire, the
responses to this question were only perceived to be a very simplified indicator of the
participants’ attitude as they did not have the ability to reflect and elaborate upon their
answers. For this reason, the foundation was laid for having the dispersed attitudes in
this regard further elaborated in the interviews.
Consequently, we asked our interview participants to express their attitude on how the
industry will become more sustainable in the future in order to add more nuances to
this finding. Interestingly, our participants indicated a high degree of complexity
towards changes within fast fashion. This became apparent as they were able to view
the problem from both perspectives and highlight a mutual dependency between
consumers and companies in this regard. Common for the discussion about what
created this mutual dependency was an understanding of the influence of the
relationship between supply and demand (Appendix D, p.8, ll. 31-1, p. 20, ll. 21-22, p.
48, ll. 1-3). In this connection, it was interesting to see how our participants articulated
an understanding of why changes did not happen by arguing that the situation seems
to be stagnated. P4 expressed this line of thinking in the following manner, as he said:
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“As long as companies can live off how people buy on a large scale, you can not blame
them for doing it, but it could be nice if more obvious alternatives were presented to
the consumers (...) I think it is fair to say that it (the responsibility, red.) lies in both
places. If no one buys it, then it does not matter that they are presented to it.’’
(Appendix D, p. 35, ll. 27-32)
From this statement, it became evident how P4 assigned a degree of complexity to
the discussion of this particular issue, as he underlined that one party cannot change
the situation single-handedly. Further, it was interesting to see how P4 believes that it
is pivotal that consumers start considering sustainability in their clothing consumption
before changes can occur, as he believes that fast fashion companies base their
business models on the demands of consumers. Both P1 and P5 supported this line
of thinking (Appendix D, pp. 8-9, ll. 31-3 and p. 43, ll. 17-18). P5 further outlined how
he on one hand generally believed that a lot of businesses could take more
responsibility and act more sustainably. On the other hand, however, he emphasised
that driving a business is about making money, and thus consumers must display a
larger interest for sustainable clothing to create an incentive for the companies to
change their business models (Appendix D, p. 46, ll. 17-24). By reflecting on the future
of fast fashion in such a way, it may be argued that a situation of deadlock is
articulated. As the interviews went on, the discussion focused on how to break this
deadlock, and the participants’ reflections in this regard are presented next.
4.4.1 Reflections related to the paradoxicality arising from fast fashion
As the interviews progressed, the participants began reflecting on the paradoxicality
arising from their fast fashion consumption in a society with increased focus on
sustainability. The reflections pointed to a need for change. However, finding a solution
to the problem was articulated to be rather complex, as reflections pointed to a current
situation of deadlock. When reflecting on their own fast fashion consumption, the
participants in our interviews realized the paradoxicality as they recognized that their
current clothing consumption behaviour is inconsistent with the society’s increasing
focus on sustainability. P2 expressed this sort of recognition in the following way:
“Also, the clothes become more expensive if it should be sustainable and that makes
me disregard it, although I know that I probably should buy that instead of the t-shirt
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costing 30 DKK on sale. (...) You should probably do something else…” (Appendix D,
p. 19, ll. 10-14).
Further, P1 used the phrase: It is so stupid when reflecting on the inconsistency
between her own clothing consumption choices and the societal need for sustainable
solutions (Appendix D, p. 8, ll. 17-18). The reflections that took place during the
interviews seemed to make an impact on the participants and was encapsulated by
P2 who stated: ‘’Damn I sound terrible… I get like a bad conscious...’’ (Appendix D, p.
19, ll. 26-27). Thus, by articulating their attitude towards fast fashion in such a way,
one could argue that this points to a sense of guilt among some of our participants.
As previously described, there seems to be a gap between our participants’ attitude
and behaviour. The reflections that occurred in the interviews indicated that the
participants actually reflected on this gap themselves. In connection to this, it was
argued that this could perhaps stem from a lack of focus on the fashion industry’s
negative impact on the environment. In relation to this, P3 highlighted how other
industries like food and transport have been labelled as ‘’climate sinners’’ in a
sustainability context, whereas the clothing industry has gone a bit under the radar
(Appendix D, p. 29, ll. 10-12). P1 also addressed this issue and explained how she
thought sustainability issues related to clothing had perhaps become ‘’old news’’ and
thus did not receive extensive media attention (Appendix D, p. 14, l. 28). In
continuation, P1 and P4 also discussed the need for political and legal intervention in
order to facilitate changes in the industry, and P1 specifically said in this regard: I
think it is a collective responsibility that should be driven by the government who
represents all consumers” (Appendix D, p. 11, ll. 4-5). Further, P4 articulated a low
belief in his own ability to actively change his consumption habits and expressed how
it was necessary for the government to impose a tax on unsustainable products to
facilitate changes (Appendix pp. 33-34, ll. 31-4). In addition, P1 further requested more
clear boundaries for what could be termed sustainable (Appendix D, p. 13-14, ll. 32-
1).In this way, our participants articulated how they perceived the facilitation of
changes in the industry as a complex. In this connection, it was interesting to see how
increased media attention towards fast fashion’s impact on the environment and
governmental intervention were mentioned as instruments for initiating changes in the
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industry. This may further imply a sense of powerlessness amongst some of our
participants, as the issue was articulated too large for any individual to deal with alone.
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Chapter 5: Findings in Perspective
In this final chapter, the findings are summarized and continuously discussed in
relation to relevant findings of other scholars within our area of research. This is done
with the purpose of interpreting and describing the significance of our findings in light
of what is already known in relation to our problem statement. The aim of this research
paper was to provide insight into the following problem statement: How do fast fashion
consumers articulate their attitude towards this type of consumption in a society with
increased focus on sustainability? By employing three different methods, this research
has triangulated the findings in order to gain deeper knowledge related to the problem
statement.
Firstly, it was found that the fast fashion consumers' attitude towards their own fast
fashion consumption was influenced by the great variety of different meanings that
these individuals assigned to the word sustainability. In addition to this, all our
participants expressed that sustainability had become significantly more important to
them in general. However, the findings in this paper also highlighted how this highly
expressed interest in sustainability seemed neglected when relating it to their attitude
towards clothing consumption. The reason for their attitude not reflected in their
behaviour was mainly argued to be substantiated in economic reasoning. The low
prices offered by fast fashion retailers were articulated as something that affected their
attitude in the sense that they were willing to compromise with their attitude towards
sustainability. When considering this finding in relation to the previously introduced
findings of Bray et al. (2011), the high levels of reported interest in sustainability by the
consumers in this study may be a result of a present social desirability bias in this
context. As noted in the review of theory, other researchers have found that a gap
exists between consumers' ethical attitudes and their subsequent behaviour (e.g.
Carrigan & Attalla, 2001; Sudbury & Böltner, 2011). Our findings point to a similar gap
due the neglection of sustainability in clothing consumption. Such a gap between
attitude and behaviour may pose further critical considerations towards the static and
predictive view of human decision making proposed by Ajzen (1991). As noted, the
gap in this study was mainly caused by the overruling effect of price, which conforms
with the previously introduced influential work of McNeill & Moore (2015). However,
the reason why our participants did not take sustainability into account when shopping
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for clothes may also reflect consumers' ignorance of sustainable practices as noted
by Joung (2014). The review of theory related to the attitude-behaviour gap also noted
how Carrigan and Attalla (2001) argue that at some point in time sustainability will be
equally important to consumers alongside other factors such as price and quality. Our
findings, however, indicate that sustainability is far from equal to these other factors
and therefore the gap is still very much present at this point in time. Thus, it may be
argued that future marketers would benefit from creating marketing focused on
educating the consumers about the societal benefits of sustainable consumption. This
should be done with the purpose of diminishing the importance of other factors in
consumer purchasing decisions. Also, the ambiguity stressed related to the meaning
of sustainability in fast fashion requires attention from marketers who will need to be
clear in their communication whenever employing this term to create transparency for
the consumers.
Secondly, the analysis emphasised how the fast fashion consumers were aware of
sustainability within fast fashion in the sense that they knew about different initiatives
put forward by fast fashion companies. This awareness affected their attitude towards
their own consumption as it was argued that the participants acknowledged fast
fashion companies for reacting to the increased societal focus on sustainability.
Although the participants acknowledged the initiatives, they were also found to be very
suspicious towards these initiatives. It was argued that this suspicion was rooted in a
feeling among our participants that the companies only used sustainability
symbolically to promote underlying economic motives. Even though the participants in
this study expressed an attitude of scepticism towards fast fashion companies’ work
with sustainability, this was not reported to have any significant impact on their attitude
towards their fast fashion consumption. This again indicates a very low degree of
consideration of sustainability related to their clothing consumption. Part of the findings
related to the impact of companies’ work with sustainability on consumer attitudes
conform with prior literature. More specifically, some of our participants expressed how
their attitude was positively influenced by their awareness of fast fashion companies’
sustainable initiatives, which conforms with the previously introduced work of Maignan
et al. (1999). As noted, they found that companies are likely to receive a positive
response from stakeholders, when communicating externally about their CSR efforts.
Furthermore, the finding related to consumers’ suspicion about sustainable initiatives
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serves to underline the previously introduced work of Brown & Dacin (1997) and Du
et al. (2010). This pertains to how ensuring that consumers obtain the right reception
of CSR communication remains a complex issue for companies. The suspicion
articulated related to the fast fashion companies’ work with sustainability may be a
result of increasing cases of ‘greenwashing’, which refers to companies providing
misleading information about the degree to which their products are environmentally
sound (Kenton, 2020). In addition to this, Bick et al. (2018) claim that ‘greenwashing’
is a big challenge in the fast fashion industry. They state that due to blurred lines for
what can be marketed as green in the industry, it is possible for companies to capitalize
on the emotional appeal of sustainable products without adhering to specific criteria
(Bick et al., 2018). Thus, it can be argued that these findings point to a need for
marketers to focus on reducing consumer suspicion and ensuring that future
sustainable initiatives are perceived as credible. A step in this direction could be to
display openness by embracing more critical discussions on their official pages (e.g.
Facebook), unlike now, where the critical consumer generated content seems to be
censored.
Thirdly, it was found that the participants in this study found it meaningful to maintain
their fast fashion consumption, despite the increased societal focus on sustainability,
due to different motivational factors. One prominent finding in this regard was that the
fast fashion consumers felt obliged to continue their fast fashion consumption to
conform with social norms. Furthermore, it was argued that social media intensified
this type of consumption by encouraging the participants to consume and buy more to
keep up with the latest trends in society. Lastly, it was explored that the fast fashion
consumers may assign little value to their clothes as some participants disclosed an
underlying ‘’I like it, I buy it’’-mindset which was driven mainly by impulses. The findings
in this section highly conform with findings of prior literature. The fact that our
participants made references to how clothes were a part of a desired identity
corresponds well with the previously introduced work of Berger and Heath (2007), who
pointed out how clothing consumption in particular is driven by the human desire to
express oneself. Therefore, it may be argued that the participants in this study view
clothing as a means of personal communication in accordance with Gwozdz et al.
(2017). In this regard, our findings further support the previously introduced work of
McNeill and Moore (2015) in the sense that our interview participants expressed how
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their desire to construct an identity that is perceived to be trendy or fashionable often
outweighed their sustainability concern. Furthermore, our findings conform with the
work of Thompson and Haytko (1997) as participants seemed influenced by social
norms in their clothing consumption and argued how these norms were based on a
socially negotiated understanding of what was cool. In this relation, it was argued that
social media was heavily influential on our participants' fast fashion consumption,
which confirms with the findings of other scholars stressing the dominating influence
of social media on attitudes and consumption (Lin & Lu, 2011). Lastly, these findings
tap into the latest development within fashion in which consumers are argued to be
highly driven by impulses due to an increasing need to stay trendy as noted by Joung
(2014).
Fourthly, the last finding in this paper was related to our participants' reflections on the
paradoxicality stemming from their own fashion consumption in a society with
increased focus on sustainability. The participants identified a need for change in the
future but also implicitly characterized the current situation as a deadlock. This
became apparent as the participants articulated that neither companies or consumers
seemed incentivized to change. Common for this way of thinking was a high degree
of understanding of the relationship between supply and demand. In addition to this,
there was general consensus among our participants that political intervention was
required to progress into a more sustainable direction in the future. When putting this
finding into perspective, it becomes evident how the current literature is constituted by
divided opinions about whether fast fashion is consumer or company driven. On one
hand, some research argues that fast fashion mass production is a result of companies
responding to consumer’s insatiable demand for newness” (Barnes and Lea-
Greenwood, 2006: 269), and therefore, it can be argued that changes in fast fashion
rely on the consumers. On the other hand, other research has argued that fast fashion
companies are responsible for changing their business model as it currently “thrives
on fast cycles” and thus relies on increasing levels of consumption which is considered
antithetical to sustainability (Joy et al. 2012: 275). This sort of difference in opinions
was also reflected in the findings of this study, as our participants’ reflections in relation
to a more sustainable future of fast fashion were rather ambiguous. The pronounced
reflection on the relationship between supply and demand as well as the requested
need for political intervention among the participants in this study may indicate a line
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of reasoning embedded in the capitalism ideology. According to Scott & Harvard
Business School (2006: 1), a fundamental component of capitalism pertains to how
the market should be largely self-regulating based on an equilibrium between supply
and demand. Despite the liberal nature of capitalism, it is also noted how governmental
intervention is necessary in order to “modernize market frameworks in a timely way
(p. 28). Thus, when comparing our findings to those of Bhaduri and Ha-Brookshire
(2011), who also emphasised how consumers feel the need for governmental
intervention, it is arguably relevant to consider whether it is about time for such
modernization of the fashion market to take place in order to break the indicated
deadlock.
5.1 Recommendations for Future Research
Since this study has used a mixed method approach including qualitative methods
with relatively small convenience samples, the findings are not to be considered
generalizable to wider populations. Nonetheless, interesting findings have been
explored and discussed in relation to existing literature and thus the foundation for
future research is present. In order for future researchers to expand on the findings
from this paper, researchers could consider employing focus groups as the main
method for qualitative data collection. The interactional nature of such setting
encourages a co-creation of knowledge which can potentially allow for other
interesting insights to occur. However, researchers who opt for employing focus
groups to investigate this phenomenon should pay extra attention to the notion of
social desirability bias and its implications. Furthermore, future research could possibly
be enriched by including other demographics such as including a different age group.
It would be interesting to investigate whether new themes will emerge from this.
However, researchers deciding to do this are advised to show consideration to the
sampling process in order to tailor it accordingly. Further, since a major theme in this
research pointed to the impact of societal norms, future researchers within this field
could consider applying a sociological perspective to the phenomenon in order to get
a deeper understanding of how and why the underlying societal structures may guide
individuals to act in a certain way. Lastly, since this study has used a mixed method
approach with most weight given to the qualitative methods employed for data
collection and analysis, future researchers are recommended to make a more
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extensive analysis of the quantitative data by making use of software programs like
SPSS to explore further linkages.
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