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Sustainable Fashion Consumption: What is it and Why Aren't we Doing it?

The fashion industry accounts for 10% of global emissions and 20% of water waste. “Fast fashion generated more CO2 than aviation and shipping combined” - Earth, 2022. According to Greenpeace every day about 200 tons of daily textile waste are dumped and burnt at landfill sites. Not only does fast fashion pollute in a very visible way but also through micro-plastics.

“ Garments are a huge source of microplastics because so many are now made of nylon or polyester, both durable and cheap. Each wash and dry cycle, especially the latter, sheds microfilaments that move through our sewage systems and end up in waterways. We estimate that half a million tons of these contaminants reach the ocean each year.” – Earth, 2022

It is clear that we need to stop consuming fast fashion the way we currently are and find an alternative and more sustainable way; sustainable consumption. Surely this isn’t news to most of us, but why do we still continue to buy fast fashion and how can we consume sustainably?

What is sustainable consumption?

First of all it is important to know what sustainable consumption is. Although there is not one absolute definition of it, over the years many have defined it in their own way. Lim states that the Brundtland report says “sustainable consumption should meet current needs and wants at a level and in a form that can be continued indefinitely, without impoverishing the future generations and the planet’s ability to meet those needs and wants.”. The United Nations add to this by stating that sustainable consumption includes the enhancing of life quality, improving efficiency, taking a life-cycle perspective, equity dimension as well as reducing damage on the environment and the human health.

Our attitudes towards sustainable consumption

An individuals attitude towards something is formed through a combination of different things. Consumers form their attitudes towards sustainable consumption based on their knowledge, feelings, and behavioural intention towards the product. Adding to this the consumers cultural and religious background can influence their attitudes towards sustainability. For example Europeans are more focused on environmental issues, whereas Buddhists are more concerned with social equity issues. The consumer’s level of income impacts the attitude they have towards sustainable consumption. With and increasing income comes an increased interest. There’s a strong correlation between the individuals knowledge and feelings when forming attitude. The more knowledgeable the consumer is about sustainability, the more likely they are to be interested in and support fashion brands that are working to be more sustainable.

Why is changing our behaviour so hard?

Seeing as consumers knowledge on the issue plays a key part in forming their attitude and behaviour, it makes sense that the more knowledgeable consumers show a higher interest in sustainable consumption. However it has been found that fast fashion consumers claim to be more informed about sustainable issues than they really are. This leads to an overestimated attitude towards sustainability. Therefore it could be beneficial for a brands to shed light onto issues such as the bad working conditions at factories and the environmental impact. Even though a brand could try to change consumers’ current behaviour by informing them, the issue of the attitude behaviour gap appears.

What is the attitude behaviour gap?

When fashion brands try to encourage sustainable consumption they must take into account that even if consumer’s have intentions to behave and consume in a sustainable manner, there can be factors that change the predicted behaviour to the actual behaviour. This is also known as the attitude behaviour gap. Many consumers do care about sustainable fashion consumption however this does not necessarily mean they will act on it. This can be can occur for several reasons. Usually sustainable clothing comes with a higher price tag. Many people will chose to go for the cheaper clothing especially during the current cost of living crisis. We also tend to find changing our habits difficult, especially when it can involve a higher price tag or giving up the convenience. It becomes easy to drown out the guilt and knowledge of how bad our consumption really is.

Overall it is clear to see that we need to change our behaviour and consume more sustainably. We need to change the way we buy and discard of clothes by matching our knowledge and beliefs with our actions. To learn more about the downsides of fast fashions click here. To help you make a change in the way you consume here are some useful tips on sustainable fashion.


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