The Future of Fashion: How Do We Encourage Sustainable Consumer Behaviour?

There’s no doubt that the dramatic effect fashion has on the environment means the industry needs a serious rethink – but reducing impact also requires consumers to meet producers halfway by altering their purchasing behaviour.

The University of Otago’s Lisa McNeill, an expert in consumer behaviour who has researched the increasing sustainability focus of the fashion industry, notes there’s a gap between people’s attitudes towards sustainability and what their behaviour is.

“Even though somebody might have really strong attitudes towards being more sustainable, when it comes down to a purchase decision there are a whole lot of situational factors and external variables that will have an impact on what actually happens in the buying,” she says.

With recent months causing people’s financial circumstances to shift and concern over the economy prompting risk aversion, that’s likely to affect people’s decision making around products like fashion.

“It could be that the trickle down is really positive because people will make a choice to buy less and to hold onto things for longer,” says McNeill. “On the other side though, it might be that people are having to make choices that perhaps are at odds with their sustainability values or beliefs because they simply can’t afford to make those choices at the moment.”

Associate Professor Lisa McNeill.

McNeill also notes that while we are being urged to purchase products less frequently and instead invest in high-quality, ethically-made fashion, it’s not so easy to simply change our behaviour when we’ve long been conditioned to consume.

“We’ve learnt over time to turn fashion over, to look for new trends. We enjoy it, it gives us that hedonistic buzz when we get something new, something different, something that maybe refreshes our wardrobe or our look,” she says.

“It’s a really, really hard cycle for people to break and neither should everybody feel that they suddenly have to go absolutely bare bones and only own a couple of things, because a lot of people get psychological benefit and enjoyment from the clothing and textile products.”

McNeill says people should come up with their own personal strategies for buying and decide what would be a reasonable shift for them to make.

“For some people it might just be saying I’m not going to buy any more fast fashion because I know that I dispose of it too quickly,” she says.

“For other people it might be thinking, how can I make things last longer? Do I need to upskill myself in the way that I care for my garments? Should I learn the techniques to repair them or seek out local repairers in my community?”


Which Kiwi Labels Are Most Committed to Supporting Vulnerable Workers?

A new report has revealed the extent to which more than 400 fashion brands have taken action to protect vulnerable workers during the pandemic.

The Covid Fashion Report, released by aid and development organisation Tearfund, considers the impact that the pandemic has had on the fashion industry and how disruptions to supply chains have exposed workers to more risk than ever before.

Early this year, Tearfund and partner Baptist World Aid developed six Covid Fashion Commitments aimed at keeping companies focused on protecting workers during the pandemic.

The report considers brands’ efforts at upholding the commitments and ranks companies according to how they performed.

Tearfund’s research found that New Zealand brands performed well when it action taken, with more than 80 per cent of Kiwi companies included in the research able to provide some evidence of upholding the Covid Fashion Commitments.

More than 50 per cent were in the top tier of companies, which included AS Colour, Freeset, Hallensteins and Glassons, Icebreaker, Kathmandu and Macpac.

Credit: Freeset

Overall, the report found that 70 per cent of companies assessed could demonstrate that they had taken at least some deliberate positive actions to support vulnerable garment workers through the global pandemic.

However, 56 per cent of companies were unable to show action across all six of the Covid Fashion Commitment areas.

With the pandemic drastically affecting sales and profits of clothing companies, the impact has been felt most keenly by workers who make our clothes.

Factories slashed production by up to 85 per cent, worker’s salaries decreased by about 40 per cent and over a million workers in Bangladesh lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19.

Tearfund Education & Advocacy Manager, Claire Gray, says the COVID crisis has exposed areas in the fashion industry that still need vast improvement.

“The pandemic and the disruption it has brought is a chance for the global fashion system to hit the reset button and be encouraged to build back better,” she says.

“The fashion industry was broken long before COVID-19 and garment workers were paying the price.” 

You can read The Covid Fashion Report in full here.