Fashion and its Environmental Impact: Fashion Influencers’ Buying Decisions and its perceived Social Impact on Consumer Choices
Over the decades, fashion has evolved as a form of self-identity expression and an integral part of an individuals’ personality. However, seldom do people think about how their fashion choices impact the environment and its inhabitants. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “there is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.” This sentiment aptly echoes in the current discourse around the promotion of sustainable fashion choices. There are several factors that influence an individual’s fashion choices, such as improved access to technology through social media platforms and websites, social norms as a result of socialization, psychological, economic and, aesthetic aspects to name a few.
Sustainable fashion comprises of environmental friendly ways to design, manufacture, distribute, and use clothing. Globally, the unsustainable ways of production by fast fashion industries have played a significant role in the present state of the world with increasing environmental threats posing risk to lives and causing social injustice. Clothing products meeting a primary need have continuous consumer demand from every strata of society but the style they prefer changes consistently due to change in fashion trends driven by fashion influences. For some, the trigger to buy a new cloth can be after their wear is worn and torn and for others it can be at the sight of something new making their existing wardrobe psychologically obsolete. That’s why, fashion phenomenon especially that of fast fashion expedites the psychological obsolescence. The demand for newer clothes tracts the fashion value chain to respond to market demand. More demand for clothes implies more production of clothes, fabric, yarn, fibre and the like. Thus, in the fast-paced competitive fashion world, brands are continuously working towards newer collections throughout the year to meet this high demand and consumption. This result in their choice of fibres and materials, dyes used, low waste design, processes which engage human resources and systems to manage industrial waste. It also implies increased requirements of resources some that are immediately irreplaceable, some that pollutes the water, air, habitat and the entire eco system. Thus, there is a compelling for consumers to alter their fashion consumption as environmentalism and equitable practices are intricately linked.
Fashion brands, though are sensitive to the environmental aspects, tend to be more concerned about their bottom line of profit making. Their acts are termed as green-washing and such measures offer no solutions to climate change, biodiversity loss and other larger environmental issues. Even the so-called sustainable brands are sold at a premium, thus tilting the demand to the brands that are output of unsustainable processes. Consumers are easily lured by cheap prices offered during sale and are seldom aware that these clothes are a result of inaccurate forecasts. In other words, brands inability to dot consumers’ preferences ends up in over production and forced sales. The ones that are unsold with all those efforts end up in landfills and ocean.
A study conducted in Sweden aimed to clarify what sustainable fashion meant for the Swedish fashion industry using the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), to examine raw material extraction, material processing, product manufacture, distribution, use, disposal and recycling. The study found examination of scenarios which reduced the pre-user environmental burden of clothing more feasible. Another study employed the comprehensive action determination model (CADM) to identify psychological factors linked to reduce clothing consumption across five different countries. The study results showed that personal and social norms are key determinants of fashion choices. An increase in perceived personal norms potentially could be reached with focused messages, on the environmental impact of choices and the possibilities to lessen it through own reduced consumption (outcome efficacy). Many studies found that people are more likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviours when the message or context leverages psychological factors such as social influence, habits, feelings and cognition, and tangibility. While businesses shall thrive, the planet must maintain its ecological balance. The responsibility is with the industry to ensure brand transparency so that consumers are better equipped to make more ethical purchasing decisions.