I Shop, Therefore I Am: The Meaning of Fast and Slow Fashion Consumption
The contemporary fashion system is dominated by fast fashion business models that encourage unsustainable production practices and continuous consumption. Resulting environmental and social externalities, such as environmental degradation and violation of workers’ rights, have sparked global interest in sustainable fashion consumption and the new movement slow fashion. However, the tension between the allure of fast fashion and consumers’ concern for environmental and social welfare manifests as inconsistent attitudes and consumption behaviour. This attitude-behaviour gap represents a significant threat to the future of sustainable, or slow, fashion. As consumers engage in fashion consumption that has distinct symbolic and cultural meaningfulness, the desire to construct or convey one’s self can outweigh the drivers to be sustainable.
Therefore, the purpose of this study is to explore the attitude-behaviour gap in sustainable fashion consumption by understanding the meanings consumers attach to fast and slow fashion, and how this can provide benefit to marketing academics and practitioners. To do so, a qualitative research design and an interpretive, phenomenological approach is employed. The methods of semi-structured in-depth interviews and thematic analysis elicit the meanings and articulations of fast and slow fashion, the personal and societal trade-offs consumers consider when adopting sustainable fashion behaviours, and how these reconcile with consumers’ belief systems.
The findings reveal that consumers appropriate aesthetic, symbolic and cultural meanings from fast and slow fashion to achieve self-objectives of connection, self-identity and social identity. However, the way consumers use meanings to achieve self-objectives differs, resulting in competing self-objectives or goals. In turn, consumers use moral disengagement, displace and diffuse responsibility, and carry out fashion consumption behaviour with varying levels of reflection and consciousness. This enables consumers to maintain their sustainable attitudes, and minimise agential connections between their behaviour and their behaviour’s consequences. Consumers also make personal (i.e. decisions that compromise personal values, beliefs and attitudes) and societal (i.e. decisions that compromise environmental and social welfare) trade-offs in order to achieve self-objectives.
This study is significant as it illustrates that meanings are used to define and orientate consumers’ fashion consumption behaviour, and are inherent throughout the decision-making process. By contributing new insights into how consumers continue to behave in ways that are inconsistent with their attitudes, marketing academics and practitioners are better able to understand, influence and predict sustainable fashion consumption. Moreover, new insights benefit more conscious business, marketing and consumption practices.