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Sustainable customer contribution in the fashion industry : a country comparison between Germany, Italy and the United States Of America

Habermann, J. (2021) Sustainable customer contribution in the fashion industry : a country comparison between Germany, Italy and the United States Of America.

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Abstract:Fast fashion allowed the textile industry to become one of the world’s largest markets but also contributes heavily to the large waste accumulations of the sector. While only a small percentage of textiles is properly recycled, around 73 percent are disposed in landfills (Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation, 2017). Furthermore, most production processes are executed under unethical working conditions and with the usage of non-renewable or hazardous materials, lots of water and a high energy consumption (Jajpura et al., 2020; Gardetti & Torres, 2013; Roberts, 2003). Given these environmental and social obstacles, a sustainable development within the industry is required to prevent resource scarcity, the exploitation of workers and further damages to our planet. Thus, organizations must produce under eco-friendly and ethical guidelines, while customers need to adapt their purchasing behavior by lowering the consumption and an increased selection of sustainable textile products (Jung & Jin, 2016). As it is uncertain whether customers support the change and act accordingly, the research focuses on the consumer’s attitude and contribution towards sustainable fashion. For the representative sample, the United States of America, Germany and Italy are selected as these countries present important actors of the industry and possess characteristics such as high economic power, a well-developed understanding of the necessity to produce sustainable products and the ability to influence the market by setting trends on a regular basis. Despite that, the sample is limited to individuals between sixteen and thirty years, based on the statement of Goldsmith & Clarke (2009) who argue that younger generations rather purchase fast fashion instead of choosing the sustainable alternative. Considering these aspects, the research concentrates on the question: To what extent do American, Italian and German customers of the fashion industry accept and contribute to sustainable fashion; and how can this be supported by businesses? In order to receive the necessary insights, a mixed method approach is applied. Customers are questioned about their awareness level, contribution and perception on sustainable textiles through surveys, while fashion businesses express their professional viewpoint during semistructured interviews. Both of these methods are based on a literature review and structured around the theoretical framework of the research. The core elements of the framework are represented by the product life cycle stages (pre-)manufacturing, purchase, usage and post-use and thus cover the consumer and business perspective. However, all of these stages are heavily influenced by the macro and meso environment, resulting in the product life cycle stages being aligned with the PESTEL model, the PERVAL framework (Sweeney & Soutar, 2001) and the 10R elements of sustainability (Cramer, 2017) to determine the most influential factors. The findings reveal that majority of the customers of all three countries have a good understanding of the term ‘slow fashion’, are aware of several sustainable brands and seem to be concerned about the workers protection and the sustainable development of the industry. Therefore, it can be stated that the acceptance of eco-friendly and ethically produced textiles is for all three countries relatively high. Focusing on the customer’s contribution, the following key aspects need to be highlighted: Germans are on average willing to spend 25 percent more on sustainable produced items, while majority of the Italian and American consumers only tolerate a price increase of 10 percent. However, almost half of the research’s population engaged in sustainable purchases in the past and thus supported the right trend. These purchase decisions are motivated by the environmental concerns and the desire to prevent the exploitation of workers and animals. In contrary, fast fashion purchases are by all three countries explained through limited availability and designs, expensive prices and the difficulty to determine sustainable textiles; resulting in the customers requesting additional advertisement, designated areas within stores and on websites, lower prices and sustainable clothing lines of larger brands. When focusing on the usage and post-use of textiles, Germans tend to have the most sustainable mindset among all participants, as they wash their clothes the least frequent and prefer recycling / repairing activities over the disposal of damaged fashion items. Considering the similarities of all contribution stages among the United States of America, Italy and Germany, it must be stressed that even though no significant differences between the countries are identified, Germans contribute the most to the sustainable movement, followed by Italian and lastly American customers. Furthermore, the expert interviews underline that also businesses face obstacles that need to be overcome. Several experts indicate that the initial stage of creating a business is extremely challenging as it entails the search for partners who share the same values, the realization of reasonable production costs and the achievement of receiving crucial insights which is typically hampered by the missing trust and transparency within the entire value chain. Additionally, the experts argue that the industry can only then become more sustainable when all involved parties contribute equally to the change. Existing companies need to stop producing non-sustainable textile items; governments should provide further support through regulations focusing on the prevention of greenwashing activities and protection of workers, as well as initiatives that motivate businesses to operate in a sustainable manner; and customers need to adapt their purchasing behavior. Even though the last aspect mainly targets the consumers, the contribution of businesses plays an important role as it is their responsibility to increase the attractiveness of the sustainable textile industry and thus influence the customer’s purchasing decision. Such influence can be obtained by awareness raising activities to not only educate about the fast fashion problematic but to also underline the true price of a product. Despite that, initiatives such as collaborations with local stores and larger businesses enable brands to bring sustainable clothing closer to the customer and providing a greater availability. Moreover, designated areas specifically for eco-friendly and ethically produced textiles could result in the industry becoming more attractive to customers as it is easier for them to differentiate between fast and slow fashion. However, the ultimate improvement is represented by a sustainable marketplace which incorporates several brands and thus offers an increased design variety.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:85 business administration, organizational science
Programme:Business Administration MSc (60644)
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