The aim of this pilot study was to study the level of inclination of Indian millennials towards eco-fashion and fast fashion in an era of sustainable living. A survey method was used to study in addition to shadowing of 30 respondents and validation of observations through posts on social media used by the same respondents. It was observed that the younger generations lack a certain maturity and knowledge to make more responsible decisions. Price still remains a roadblock and unless sustainable brands can find a way to lower costs, millennials will continue to opt for fast fashion. Though a certain degree of awareness is there, yet millennials are ready to spend more money to look unique while keeping up with trends. There seems to be a void in the sustainability market in India. As a majority of the respondents chose to opt for fast fashion despite being fully aware of its consequences, it brings forth the fact that there exists a gap between consumers purchase attitude and purchase behaviour. The gap was formed as a result of not only consumers but also the brands that cater to them.
In a 2019 article titled 'Millennial perceptions of fast fashion and second-hand clothing', Katelyn Sorenson and Jennifer Johnson Jorgenson explored how the psychology of millennials is trending towards more conscientious decisions in terms of the products they buy, and the self-awareness of the social and environmental implications behind them. Conversely, fast fashion companies provide consumers with the latest trends available in stores, weeks after they have appeared on the runway. These designs are copied and mass-produced at cheap prices in countries with weaker labour laws (Yang et al. 2017). Fast fashion retailers have implemented systems to improve the standard of sustainability that their brands are associated with. These include recycling programmes and launching collections with eco-friendly fibres. However, such brands still continue to encourage consumers to dispose of untrendy clothing more frequently with every collection they release, putting natural resources at risk (Elrod 2017; Yang et al. 2017).
Various studies have identified that this generation has the desire to pay for sustainable products, but they, on an average, have the lowest ratio of discretionary income to cost of living at any point of time. This makes it difficult for them to follow their beliefs, and as a result, millennial values and expectations contradict each another when it comes time to act (Elrod 2017; Yang et al. 2017).
As there are limited studies in the Indian context on the attitude and behaviour of millennials towards eco-fashion, the aim of this pilot study is to study the level of inclination towards eco-fashion and fast fashion in an era of sustainable living with special emphasis on the Indian audience.
Review of literature
While Oeko-Tex reports state that 60 per cent of millennials are interested in making sustainable purchasing decisions, they also found that only 37 per cent of them actually make their purchases in accordance with this philosophy. A lack of availability of affordable product and effective marketing strategies by brands seem to be key issues (Luna Petersen, 2018).
The fashion industry is failing to provide millennials with sufficient sustainable fashion choices that also meet the most important criteria for making a purchase: ease of purchase, price and value as 95 per cent of millennials view these to be the key drivers for making a purchase (LIM College). Sustainable fashion brands at present are so few, yet the vast majority of these brands do not offer the scale or variety of sustainable fashion items to meet millennial demands, expectations or tastes. Very few consumers will ever actually take the time to visit a brand's corporate sustainability page or read a sustainability report, as a few even do not know of the existence of such checks and balances. Sustainability information needs to be clear, visible and easily accessible both in store and online to cater to the short attention span of millennials and increasing awareness among those who are aware of the option of sustainable decisions. Similarly, giving e-commerce consumers the ability to filter products by their methods of production or material quality, much like they filter products based on price, brand or colour, could sync with millennials' desire for ease of use.
An article titled 'Millennials' Eco-Fashion Purchase Behaviour' published in the Athens Journal, describes millennials, born between 1981 and 1999, as the generation that is most self-aware of the variety of social problems plaguing the society. Their purchasing decisions are influenced by issues such as child labour, low wages and problematic working environments; unlike their predecessors, they are statistically more willing to correct those wrongs (Lu et al. 2013).
In 2017, millennials spent $600 billion, and the amount of money millennials are expected to spend annually over the succeeding five years is more than thrice the amount they were spending then (Kestenbaum 2017). Products with eco-friendly features or sustainable production are among the top five categories where millennials are willing to pay more (Gibbs and Hungerford 2016).
Millennials are socially and environmentally conscious; they are world-minded and have greater awareness of sustainability issues. They are young and are still in a developmental stage in which lasting beliefs and mindsets are formed (Brosdahl and Carpenter 2011). As categorised by Austrian psychologist Frietz Heider, a person's behaviour can be attributed to two kinds of influencing factors. A person either acts in a certain way because of her personality traits, motives, and beliefs, or behaves in a particular manner because of the situation he finds himself in. This study demonstrates that the social consciousness of millennials has a more significant impact on their willingness to pay more for eco-fashion when their need for variety is high rather than low. Social issues are less likely to catch individuals' attention because such issues like poor regulation of child labour or low wages are related to ethical issues and have no significant influence on many people.
For most, fashion is a decision that falls more on the emotional spectrum than a rational one. Aspects of sustainability and look are weighted consciously against one another; ethical aspects usually end up coming to mind last when making purchasing decisions (Susanna Koelbin, 2018). An astonishing number of people are not interested in taking ethics into consideration when making purchases.
There is simply no data showing that consumers put their money where their mouth is. For instance, millennials rank everything else, such as ease of purchase, price, uniqueness and the brand name, over sustainability. Money is the foremost deciding factor for this generation's decisions (Fashion Law 2018). Consumers are not willing to pay more for sustainable fashion and would rather pay more for style, quality and fashion which gives them value for money as quoted by Susanna Koelbin, business development manager, textiles, with the Eastman Chemical Company in 2019 in her posts. New York City-based LIM College professors Robert Conrad and Kenneth M Kambara found that millennials care much more about a product's brand name and uniqueness than its actual sustainability.
The issue is not all about money either, researchers found similar trends with luxury brands as well. According to a 2017 report from Deloitte, just 2.6 per cent of surveyed millennial luxury shoppers said that a brand's ethical standing was a consideration for them. Circular economy expert Paula N Luu said in a 2018 article that fashion plays into our neurological pathways by not only giving us the pleasure from the act of looking for clothes, but also the pleasure of getting a good bargain. Furthermore, millennials are exposed to peer pressure when it comes to fashion choices. If their peers are not paying for ethically-sourced clothes, they are likely to do the same and the global situation may influence their beliefs.
Even though designers or fashion professionals are generally much more aware of design and production processes of the fashion system, they are also fashion consumers themselves.
There are two main obstacles in Turkish university students making ethical choices; first, despite being one of the most important clothing suppliers to European countries by 1970s, Turkey has recently started to develop a sustainable design and consumption culture. Turkey is grounded in sustainable textile and clothing culture due to local values and crafts based in Anatolian culture. Nevertheless, the development of the fashion industry in terms of design, production and consumption pattern has not developed in a way to reflect a sustainable fashion culture. The second obstacle is the need for knowledge and maturity among consumers to adopt an ethical and responsible consumption attitude, which renders young consumers vulnerable to a lack of knowledge and interest in ecological fashion (Kipoz and Enes). Therefore, the aim of this pilot study is to find out the level of inclination towards eco-fashion and fast fashion in an era of sustainable living among a group of Indian millennial students.
A focus group was formed with five people in the age group of 20-23 years in October 2019. The participants were interviewed using a structured open-ended questionnaire. The questions were pre-tested. The responses received from the focus group were used to design a close-ended questionnaire that was used to study the attitude among millennials. The respondents were students from Indian metro cities enrolled in fashion courses.
The survey questionnaire consisted of 13 questions. The first set of questions was designed to study the individual purchase patterns and purchase intentions. This was followed by another set of questions pertaining to a sustainable living. This was circulated to 30 respondents in the age group of 20-24 years. Twenty respondents completely filled out the questionnaire. The 20 completed responses were analysed to study attitude. A separate study was conducted to correlate the attitude with the behaviour of the respondents. Additionally, shadowing of the respondents known to the researcher for four years and having daily interactions with them was also undertaken to study the attitude-behaviour gap. The data observed through shadowing was further verified through posts on social media used by the same respondents. Convenience sampling was done to facilitate the study where shadowing has been done by the researchers on 20 people. The sample size was kept small as the researchers shadowed these 20 respondents. The limitation of the study was the limited sample size.
Indian millennials are well aware of the importance of sustainability and actively advocate eco-friendly alternatives for products and services. Fifty five per cent of the respondents believe in leading a sustainable lifestyle, out of which only 27 per cent of them claim to make it a priority while shopping. Forty per cent of the respondents, although aware of the implications of fast fashion, admitted that they do not consider sustainability when it comes to clothing in spite of advocating for a green environment. Even among the respondents who consider sustainability as a purchase criterion, 55per cent give in to the price and 45 per cent to the trend. This becomes very evident as almost 90 per cent of the respondent wardrobes consist of brands that are major fast fashion brands, including H&M, Zara, Forever 21 and Shein as observed during shadowing.
Forty five per cent of the respondents paid attention to the quality of a garment while purchasing. This might be due to the fact that trend trumps quality and comfort for most. Due to influence of social media (Instagram, Facebook) and e-commerce (Jabong, Myntra, Koovs, Ajio, Flipkart, Amazon, Forever 21, H&M), cheap and trendy clothing has become a click away in India, thereby increasing the demand for quick fast fashion items among the respondents.
Trend cycles are a lot more volatile these days and 60 per cent of the respondents prioritise keeping up with trends over choosing sustainable alternatives. This could be due to one of the two reasons; either the lack of sustainable brands that meet their trend requirements or the price points. In fact, 10 per cent of the respondents discard garments that go out of trend. For 20 per cent of millennials, price takes precedence over comfort as the shelf life of their garments is under 12 months. Thirty per cent of the respondents also shop at export or retail surplus stores that prevent the rejects from being sent to the landfill. It was observed that although a majority of the respondents claimed not to have a problem with price when it came to fast fashion, they faced a problem when it came to sustainable fashion. Millennials would choose multiple cheaper products than one good quality product whose price was equivalent to the sum of the cheaper products. Quantity clearly takes precedence over quality.
Sixty per cent of millennials shop on a monthly basis and spend an average of ₹1,000 to ₹3,000. Apart from shopping based on needs and occasions, 35 per cent of the respondents are impulse buyers. Online stores and brick-and-mortar fast fashion stores entice their footfall to at least buy one clothing item unplanned. Findings show that there is an increase in the number of people opting for second-hand clothing. Twenty per cent of the respondents visit vintage stores. Apart from this 15 per cent of the participants being fashion students, are able to up-cycle their worn out clothes to create new garments or products and the remaining 85 per cent donate them to charity or pass it on to someone else.
When asked how many articles of clothing owned by each respondent were sustainable, the average count was 5 out of an average of 250 items in their wardrobes. They admitted that none of these items were completely sustainable, but only in certain aspects like growing of raw material, use of natural dyes or made of recycled fibres. It is clear that millennials are slowly starting to take a step in the sustainable direction in terms of their purchase pattern.
Millennials are aware of the repercussions of fast fashion in this age of sustainability in the Indian context. India being a hub for export and retail manufacturing, one may believe that the fashion culture has not evolved in terms of sustainable production and consumption. As a result, there is severe lack of brands that offer sustainable garments in its true sense, thus failing to meet the requirements of millennials. It was observed that the younger generations lack a certain maturity and knowledge to make more responsible decisions. To amend this, implications of fast fashion should be made clear and sustainability information must be easily accessible for each brand.
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