Thereâ€™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 Otagoâ€™s Lisa McNeill, an expert in consumer behaviour who has researched the increasing sustainability focus of the fashion industry, notes thereâ€™s a gap between peopleâ€™s attitudes towards sustainability and what their behaviour is.
â€śEven 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,â€ť she says.
With recent months causing peopleâ€™s financial circumstances to shift and concern over the economy prompting risk aversion, thatâ€™s likely to affect peopleâ€™s decision making around products like fashion.
â€śIt 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,â€ť says McNeill. â€śOn 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.â€ť
McNeill also notes that while we are being urged to purchase products less frequently and instead invest in high-quality, ethically-made fashion, itâ€™s not so easy to simply change our behaviour when weâ€™ve long been conditioned to consume.
â€śWe’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,â€ť she says.
â€śIt’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.â€ť
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.
â€śFor 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,â€ť she says.
â€śFor 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?â€ť