Mode & Designmanagement (B.A.)

Marie Müller-Wusterwitz examines consumer behaviour in sustainable fashion.

An investigation of paradoxical consumer behaviour in the field of sustainable fashion and how companies can influence it through consumer education.

Profil Marie Müller-Wusterwitz

With climate change rapidly advancing and the media spotlighting these news reports, the fashion industry has fallen into blame for a large portion of this and perhaps, rightfully so. In light of this situation, it is with great urgency that the fashion industry has been called upon to focus on a more environmentally friendly approach.

Consumer buying behaviour plays a crucial role in this.
Influenced particularly by the Covid-19 pandemic, consumer behaviour in recent years has already moved continuously in the direction of sustainability. According to a recent survey published by McKinsey & Company, more than 60% of consumers surveyed said that a brand’s sustainability record is an important factor in their purchasing decisions. But every second customer is not sure what sustainability even means in the context of fashion. Which per definition should consider all three levels of sustainability: ecological, economic and social sustainability. Pursuant to this uncertainty and the lack of knowledge of many consumers, a paradoxical consumer behaviour can be observed: Although customers increasingly want to consume more sustainable fashion, they have difficulties transforming this positive intention into actual purchasing behaviour. A discrepancy arises between attitude and behaviour, called attitude-behaviour-gap. In order to positively influence consumer buying behaviour towards sustainability, this gap should be closed or at least reduced. A variety of factors have been found to influence consumption behaviour; however, the literature has already established that there is a positive relationship between knowledge about sustainability and correspondingly more responsible consumer behaviour. Furthermore, it can be stated that the marketing and communication activities of fashion companies have a positive influence on the purchasing behaviour of consumers in this respect. Sustainable consumption is only feasible if consumers are made aware of the urgent need for more sustainable fashion consumption and are sufficiently informed to make better purchasing decisions. Education for sustainable consumption therefore plays a key role here. It imparts knowledge, values and skills that should enable consumers to contribute to positive change with their more conscious purchasing decisions.

How the attitude-behaviour-gap arises, which factors have an influence on human consumer behaviour, and how this gap can be narrowed by implementing consumer education should therefore become the content of the present work. I found that academic research on the attitude-behaviour-gap, especially in the field of sustainable fashion consumption, is still quite underrepresented. Therefore, my aim with this work is to contribute to provide more clarity in this area and to develop sustainable ideas to reduce the attitude-behaviour gap.

The main objective of this paper is to examine the paradoxical consumer behaviour of the sustainably oriented customer in fashion and its influencing factors. The extent in which fashion brands are able to positively influence the consumption behaviour of this green consumer, is shown through the implementation of consumer education.

By looking at three sustainable fashion brands in the context of a case study, the use of consumer education was examined. Therefore, the efforts in the field of consumer education of the German brands Armed Angels, Jan ‘N June and Vaude were analysed and evaluated. Finally, further recommendations for action were made, in which not only companies but also politicians and end consumers must be involved. After the intensive discussion of the topic, it became clear: it takes not just two but three parties to create real change and to make a more sustainable future of fashion consumption possible.

As an informed and sustainably-driven customer, I still sometimes find it difficult to transform my values, especially when it comes to fashion, into buying behaviour. I examined this phenomenon as part of my bachelor’s thesis and developed possible solutions to counteract this deviation, especially through the use of consumer education. By analysing current efforts in this area, I have succeeded in developing recommendations for action for companies , but also for other stakeholders.

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