A Consumer Perspective on Sustainable Development Initiatives in the Fashion Industry

Kathrine Duch Simonsen & Anne-Mette Buch Spahn

Student thesis: Master thesis


The fashion world is constantly evolving. Initially for Copenhagen Fashion Week this year (2020), it was once again confirmed as the Fashion Week presented their Sustainability Action Plan 2020-2023 (Copenhagen Fashion Week, 2020). The growing focus on sustainability in the fashion industry is creating confusion and mistrust among consumers. First, the changed focus arises from consumer demands and not the fashion industry’s own goodwill. Secondly, it is a distinct part of branding. This could potentially affect consumers’ incentive to move into the fashion brands’ sustainable universe. This thesis sets out to investigate why the fashion industry has initiated sustainable development and how consumers are co-creators of this development through branding. In order to reach an in-depth answer to the above problem formulation, in this thesis we take a starting point in the problem area, and therefore we investigate three research areas of cultural branding, consumers and motivated behavior. These areas of inquiry lead to a number of sub-questions. The thesis will move through six chapters, all aimed at presenting, assisting and answering the thesis's problem and the related sub-questions according to the task's focus areas cultural branding, consumers and motivated behavior through the study of fashion, sustainability and consumption. The theoretical framework for this thesis is based on cultural branding and consumer behavior theory. The theoretical foundation for the investigation is based on Ölander& Thøgersen’s (1995) Motivation, Ability, Opportunity and Behavior Model and Thompson & Hayko (2016), Holt (2002; 2003; 2004) and Wipperfürth’s (2005) theory on cultural branding. The empirical qualitative research includes one focus group interview, 5 indepth interviews and an expert qualitative interview. These insights combined the theoretical framework laid the foundation for the analysis. The findings indicate that the fashion industry has initiated sustainable development to meet the standards that consumers demand. Consumer demands for the fashion industry have been fueled by the increasing power of consumers as emotional consumers of symbols that reflect positively on themselves. The reason the symbols of sustainability reflect positively on the consumer is that sustainability is a reference point of recognition that connects to an ideal through understanding the macro-culture. At the same time, it can be concluded that sustainability is a means to fit in socially. Furthermore, it can be concluded that consumers are dedicated to changes in the fashion industry because they are invested in the iconic symbolism they reflect as consumers of fashion. Thus, there is a circular relationship between the fashion industry as co-creators of consumers’ position in reality, and consumers' co-creation of the fashion industry as sustainable. The reason is that consumers will symbolize that they are sustainable in order to gain recognition. Fashion (industry) and consumers are co-creators of future norms through demands on each other.

EducationsMSc in Business Administration and Organizational Communication, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages127
SupervisorsKim Lilholt Ruggaard