There are many intrapersonal and interpersonal factors that drive the fast fashion industry. These are the six most important factors that I believe contribute the most to our current fast fashion consumption patterns:
1) Values: materialism and hedonism
Materialistic values drives our need to acquire material items and accumulate wealth. Materialistic values, fashion interest and clothes shopping are inextricably linked. The rise of materialistic values in industrialised societies has contributed to the growth in popularity of fast fashion, particularly in wealthy Western societies. Hedonism focuses on seeking pleasure and self-indulgence. Hedonic values help to drive fast fashion because consumers tend to seek pleasure. Fashion could be a means to which people find pleasure as they find clothes that look good, allowing them to feel good about themselves. Fast fashion, with its fast turnover and diverse trends, allows consumers to mix and match many outfits until they find one that makes them feel good.
2) Normative influences
We cannot overlook the power of social media in today’s society. Social media can help to shape social norms by showing us the images that the public deems the most popular. Social media feeds our materialism, and popular social media influencers are the epitome of consumerism and materialism. Influencer marketing is a growing trend, where popular social media users promote certain brands in exchange for remuneration or free products. For example, there are YouTubers who regularly upload ‘haul’ videos that feature large amounts of clothing purchased from various fast fashion brands. Their large fan-bases could desire to emulate their consumerist lifestyles and fuel the fast fashion machine. These social media influencers sometimes even provide discount codes to entice their followers to purchase from these select brands to further entice their followers to buy from these brands.
3) Competitive prices
Fast fashion is undeniably cheap – prices go as low as S$10 for a blouse. Meanwhile, sustainable fashion brands are much more expensive. A similar blouse from a sustainable fashion brand could cost up to S$124. Consumers are hardwired to be always on the lookout for better prices. The steep prices from sustainable fashion brands will be off-putting as consumers do not like expensive clothes. There is also the problem of ability as people who are strapped for cash simply don’t have the choice to buy sustainable clothing even if they wanted to.
4) Emulating an ideal
People associate certain brands with particular stereotypes. Luxury brands and high fashion attire are coveted, but hard to attain because they are simply too expensive. Those who are able to afford these luxury brands are usually put on a pedestal. They are idolised for their wealth and perceived prestige. Fast fashion helps to bridge this gap by providing replicas of trendy runway-style clothes at affordable prices. This gives people a chance at social mobility. Purchasing the replicas produced by fast fashion brands could help people emulate wealthier people and at the very least, achieve a façade of their ideal life.
5) Perceived obsolescence: a culture of disposability
Fast fashion encourages a culture of disposability. Clothes are produced at lightning speed and are consumed equally fast. They are produced at just the right moment, with just the right amount. That way, retailers can always satisfy consumer demand by constantly churning out new clothes to replenish out-of-stock products. There is a catch: Even though we get many different styles of clothes in practically half the time, these clothes are typically poorly produced and are built to fall apart. As a result, consumers who subscribe to current trends would be enticed to shop more while those who don’t are still forced to buy new clothes as their current wardrobe all but disintegrates.
6) Betrayed by our brain
Our shopping habits could be dismissed as a result of the need for instant gratification, but new research suggests a much deeper link between shopping and unconscious processes in our brain. Researchers from Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined fMRIs of test subjects who were presented products and had to decide whether or not to buy them. The study found that when shoppers were deciding whether or not to buy clothes, their brains were forced into a “hedonic competition between the immediate pleasure of acquisition and an equally immediate pain of paying”. Usually, consumers avoid excessively expensive products to avoid the pain and guilt of splurging. However, the cheap products sold in fast fashion stores cause our brain’s pleasure centre to light up like a Christmas tree without the pain generated by hefty price tags. Fast fashion augments this pleasurable consumer experience by providing extremely low prices. The cost-benefit analysis our brain reacts to the absence of the pain of paying, and we want to buy things just for the enjoyment of getting what we perceive to be a good deal. This entices us to just buy, buy, and buy from fast fashion shops to keep enjoying this pleasure.
One of the major theories used to predict environmental behaviour is the Theory of Planned Behaviour. In the Theory of Planned Behaviour, behavioural intentions are preceded by the attitude towards the targeted behaviour, subjective norms (details on how other people engage in the targeted behaviour), and perceived control (the ability of one to engage in the behaviour). If we want to understand what’s hindering people from going for fast fashion alternatives, we can apply this model by putting some of the above puzzle pieces together. We can see that if the targeted behaviour is the consumption of sustainable fashion:
- Attitude: Studies have shown that there is an increase in concern for environmental causes, so we can say that there are positive attitudes towards environmental causes. However, our materialistic values may come into conflict with these positive attitudes and may weaken the pro-environmental attitudes.
- Subjective norm: Materialistic lifestyles, as encouraged further by social media
- Perceived behavioural control: Low, since fast fashion is a lot cheaper than slow, sustainable fashion
The resultant behaviour is that people will continue consuming fast fashion in spite of pro-environmental attitudes. ):