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Why Environmental Marketing is Unlikely to Encourage Consumers to buy Sustainable Fashion

Environmental marketing from top brands is not always enough to convince shoppers to consider buying sustainable clothing, a new study shows.

Research by University of Hull Masters student Mia Porter explored consumer perceptions towards environmental marketing in the fashion industry.

mia johnson

University of Hull Masters student Mia Porter

The MSc Advertising and Marketing student wanted to understand whether consumer perceptions regarding environmental sustainability in the fashion industry altered shoppers’ purchasing behaviours.

For example, do consumers favour fashion marketing which promotes sustainability, and does this alter their purchasing behaviour?

Mia said: “I wanted to know once and for all whether the environmental marketing we are seeing a lot of recently has any effect at all on its audience; the consumer.

“I have always been interested in the rise of fast-fashion and what effects it has had on the fashion industry as a whole and it has been universally known for a long time the vastly damaging effects this linear model of fashion production has on our planet.

“For this reason, I focussed on the fashion industry as I believe it has a long way to go in regards to legitimately adopting sustainable practices. However, I also wanted an insight into the minds of fashion consumers, as they also have a huge part to play in the sustainable fashion movement.

“Consumers drive demand, and in turn businesses react proportionately to this demand. Therefore, if we continue to buy fast-fashion on its current scale we as fashion consumers are just as culpable as the large corporations we blame.” Mia Porter

Using interviews, Mia was able to gain an in-depth understanding of consumer perceptions when discussing environmentally unsustainable fashion, identify how important the current fashion sustainability movement is to consumers and answer her research question.

A mini-task was also presented to participants post-interview. This compared two fast-fashion brands marketing surrounding sustainable fashion. These were chosen specifically as they were deemed vastly different attempts by brands to promoting sustainable practices.

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Do consumers favour fashion marketing which promotes sustainability, and does this alter their purchasing behaviour?

Participants had to compare their two sustainability webpages and two TV adverts. This helped determine whether consumers favour fashion marketing which promotes sustainability.

The results showed that:

  • Consumer perceptions when discussing environmentally unsustainable fashion were largely negative
  • All participants preferred marketing which heavily promoted sustainable fashion
  • The current fashion sustainability movement is highly important to consumers

However, despite all this, Mia’s results highlighted this was unlikely to alter shoppers’ purchasing behaviour.

Participants presented little knowledge about the topic of sustainable fashion, and showed they are actually more influenced by the cost, convenience and inclusivity of fast fashion.

In fact, these three factors override many of the negative perceptions shoppers have of fast fashion.

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Mia’s results highlighted this was unlikely to alter shoppers’ purchasing behaviour

It highlighted the existence of what is referred to as an “intention-behaviour gap” – when shoppers’ fail to put words and pledges into action.

This intention-behaviour gap is what stops customers from shopping sustainably despite their positive intentions and perceptions about environmental marketing and sustainable fashion.

Peter Andrews, Senior Marketing Lecturer and Mia’s dissertation supervisor said: “This is an excellent piece of research which highlights one of the biggest challenges related to fast fashion.

“It is clear from this work that whilst consumers want to become more sustainable and live their lives in an environmentally friendly way, their actions often fall considerably short of what their intentions are." Peter Andrews

“Brands have a role not only to sell desirable, low-cost fast fashion, but also to help consumers make the choices which they actually want to make.

“There is a marketing gap which is exciting, as there is an opportunity for brands to overcome some of the negativity related to greenwashing and clearly position themselves as helping consumers make choices which will lead to a more sustainable future in fashion.

“It is excellent to see work of this standard being produced by graduates like Mia from Hull University as we seek to build a brighter, fairer, carbon neutral future for our students and partners.”

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