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Do Consumers Shop More Sustainably When They Know More about it?

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Hello everyone,

I’m a guest blogger today whilst Ismay enjoys a well-deserved Christmas break!  My name is Philippa Crommentuijn-Marsh and I’m a researcher in the field of sustainable fashion. What interests me particularly are consumers and what they think about sustainability and whether their knowledge positively affects their clothing behaviour (or not!).

I did some research into this area a couple of years ago and discovered that generally there was low awareness about some of the major issues affecting the fashion industry.  Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the issue that people had most knowledge about was the exploitation of clothing workers in terms of low pay and bad working conditions. These are issues that have probably appeared the most in the media.

The least known issue was the diminishing Aral Sea. Have a look on Google Images and see how this inland sea has dramatically shrunk over the years, by over 80%, mainly due to water being diverted to irrigate the cotton crop.   It’s a startling image and is a good demonstration of what environmental devastation the fashion industry can cause. Yet it seemed to be little known then. Given that this inland sea is in Uzbekistan I strongly suspect that a lot of people (including me) wouldn’t be able to find Uzbekistan easily on a map!

When events are happening far away in a country most people aren’t familiar with it is harder to find out what is happening. For the people taking part in the research when they heard more about the ethical and environmental costs of the fashion industry, there were some positive indications of potential behaviour change.  Fast forward to today and since I completed my research there is noticeably much more information coming from the media about the fashion industry and sustainability.

Just last year I was pleased to see the Aral Sea being featured on the BBC programme Stacey Dooley Investigates Fashion’s Dirty Secrets (unfortunately the episode doesn’t seem to be available on the BBC anymore though you can watch a short clip showing the Aral Sea in its current state).(1)  There have been more TV programmes highlighting the exploitation of garment workers throughout the world and almost every week there seems to be an article in the media about some aspect of sustainability.

Recently I noticed two sustainable issues affecting the current party season. Firstly, sequins, which were highlighted recently as being bad for the environment. They are mostly made out of plastic which don’t biodegrade for hundreds of years as well as containing microplastics which can harm aquatic life.  Though there has been some encouraging progress towards producing more sustainable sequins this will take time. (2) Sequinned clothing is popular at this time of year for party outfits and according to a recent survey the average person will spend £73.90 on a Christmas outfit that for some people won’t be worn again. Within this season alone this adds up to £2.4 billion pounds on clothes that are hardly worn. (3) This may partially explain the overall UK spend in 2018 on clothing being a whopping £60.4 billion pounds. (Statista.com)

Apparently the spend on clothing is on an upward trajectory meaning that fast fashion is still hugely popular, and consumers don’t seem to be changing their behaviour despite the plethora of information about sustainability.  If you are interested in dressing more sustainably, the charity Hubbub behind this research gives tips on how to dress for the party season (4) and the BBC have also recently produced an article on companies that offer clothing for hire which seems to be a growing area and becoming more popular (5). Will all this information and new fashion services change consumer behaviour? I look forward to finding out more!

1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bn6034
2. https://www.standard.co.uk/fashion/sustainable-sequins-ecofriendly-party-dressing-a4299196.html
3.https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2019/dec/16/uk-will-spend-24bn-on-christmas-clothes-that-barely-get-worn-hubbub-survey
4. https://www.hubbub.org.uk/tips-for-dressing-more-sustainably-at-your-party
5.https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-50627492

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