Progressive sustainable business models as adding value: positioning sustainability to align with consumer ideology

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    Europe has a longstanding reputation for fashion design, with biannual fashion shows from Paris, Milan and London leading world trends. European fashion designers, such as Dolce and Gabbana, Jean Paul Gaultier and Louis Vuitton, are influential creating well-known and distinctively unique luxury garments and labels. Simultaneously, mass-market fashion has evolved with strong fashion brands established in Europe, such as H&M, Zara, Primark and Topshop. These retailers have developed strong fashion brands through developing fast-paced business models of capturing emerging fashion trends which are easily accessible for consumers through reduced lead-times of around two weeks. The restructuring of business models within the fashion industry has brought contradictory advantages and disadvantages. For example, outsourcing fashion production to developing countries has reduced the price of fashion for consumers (Jones, 2006), ensuring that new fashions are affordable for all (Budnarowska, 2009).
    This democratisation of fashion has resulted in a highly competitive market place (Jones, 2006), whereby success relies upon rapid response to emerging trends, coupled with the less expensive products (Allwood et al. 2006; Fernie and Azuma 2004). However, the benefits are juxtaposed with allegations that garment-workers are exploited through insufficient salaries and inhumane working conditions to reduce production costs. Similarly, inexpensive fashion does not reflect the actual cost to the environment, in terms of depleting the soil of nutrients through intensive cotton farming, coupled with the vast amounts of water required to feed cotton plants or that garments are to disposed to landfill after limited wear and emit carbon into the atmosphere (Fletcher, 2008; Rivoli, 2008). Faster lead times, coupled with lower pricing, encourages increased fashion consumption and facilitates a perception of disposability (Friedman, 2010; Majima, 2008); fashions are discarded more frequently (Fletcher, 2008; Jones, 2006) due to the removal of price as restricting consumers desire to purchase new fashion trends. Increased consumption ultimately leads to increased disposal through a variety of routes (Morgan and Birtwistle, 2009), such passing within formal and informal networks, donations to charity stores and ultimately disposal to landfill (Winakor, 1969). Nevertheless, lower prices are also indicative of inferior quality of construction and material, whereby the garments are made to be worn only around ten times (Morgan and Birtwistle, 2009). This means that passing the clothing for further use is unlikely due to wear and tear and much of this unwanted fashion ends in landfill.
    The current culture of consumption is said to be unsustainable, due to the reliance on scarce resources. Csikszentmihalyi (2000) commented over a decade ago that if all global consumers lived like those in the West, another two planets would be required to provide the resources. Consumers are increasingly requested to adopt sustainable behaviours (Yates, 2009), however this is more notable in other contexts, such as recycling household waste and purchasing sustainably produced food, such as organic and Fairtrade. The Centre for Sustainable Fashion (2009) asserts that the food industry has positively positioned sustainable production, consequently consumers understand the benefits from a consumer-use perspective along with the wider societal implications. In contrast, the fashion industry has yet to acknowledge consumer concern for either workers conditions or the environmental impact of fashion production and disposal routes. The aim of this research is to explore consumer perception of transferring sustainable behaviours from other consumption contexts to that of fashion.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2013


    • business models
    • consumer ideology
    • sustainability


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