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Keeping up the Momentum Towards Sustainable Fashion Circularity is Great but don’t be Afraid of Consumption Reduction

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Natalie Dukes, Centre for Business in Society

I always find it heartening to hear fashion retailers declaring their commitment to more sustainable practices, at the very least it keeps the issue of responsible consumption in the public eye. Whilst I acknowledge that circularity will help to offset the negative impacts of consumption and I applaud H&M’s enduring commitment to working in a more sustainable way, I believe that buying less is not so much ‘perfectly possible’ but more like ‘absolutely essential’ to achieving sustainability in fashion.

The good news is that a change in the pace of fashion is unlikely leave consumers hankering after the good old days when they could pick up three tops for under £10.

In my doctoral research at Coventry University I am exploring consumer behaviour and the social dynamics surrounding frequent clothes shopping. Unsurprisingly, anticipating, browsing for, choosing, buying and wearing clothes provides women with a great deal of happiness. However when asked whether they felt that they would miss out on anything if they were to buy fewer garments, almost all of the 30 women I interviewed said they would not feel any loss. Turns out that they seem to be buying in volume because they can rather than because they have a particular desire for the product in question and this lack of attachment to what they are buying as well as the low cost makes it especially easy to dispose of these garments after little wear. I have heard rumbles of discontent about ubiquitous cheap styles across many retailers restricting the opportunity to find the perfect item despite shoppers being prepared to invest time and money in finding the garment that makes them feel ‘just right’. So don’t be frightened of consumption reduction we might well find that there is a ‘win win’ situation available whereby people buy less, pay a little more but get greater value and enjoyment from their clothing whilst achieving a more sustainable way of consuming.

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Coventry University