Exploring perceptions, practices and barriers towards online sustainable fashion using social practice theory

  • Aleksandra Besevic

Student thesis: Master of Philosophy


Sustainability has attracted considerable attention, both academically and in the fashion industry. There is a need for the fashion industry to become more responsible due to the detrimental effect that it causes on the environment and society. Sustainability in the context of fashion industry involves many individuals from consumers to retailers. Consumers are now faced with many purchase decisions on a daily basis and online environments have enabled consumers to interact by sharing experiences. However, consumer practices towards sustainable fashion products online have yet to be fully explored. Often the focus is the act of purchase itself, which underplays the significant role of everyday routine practices on purchase decisions of sustainable fashion products. This research aimed to develop a comprehensive understanding of sustainable fashion practices in an ever expanding online environment and, ultimately, the impact on consumer behaviour. Social practice theory is applied to investigate consumer practices; from attitudes and assumptions which influence behaviour to repeating and maintaining certain behaviours. Consumers are open to constant change and flux as they have to negotiate different lifestyle options. Purchasing online sustainable fashion is not always a solitary act and there is a need to further understand the importance of social encounters with others, especially in an online context. The study consisted of a single focus group at a local sustainable retailer with seven postgraduate females. The focus group revealed that the perceived sense of belonging to a group of likeminded individuals was an important factor in the consumer decision-making process and aided creating a perception of a sustainable consumer. The data generated supports the view that there is still ambiguity amongst consumers about what 'sustainable fashion' actually means and a reboot of the term sustainable may be necessary to clarify the meaning for consumers. The participants described sustainable fashion as a 'complex landscape'. Social practice theory applied to sustainable fashion in online environments indicates that consumer practices can develop into behaviours or habits that promote sustainability. Participants likened spending time online shopping to an escape or a reward. Therefore, it is recommended that further research could be undertaken for retailers to identify means of interacting with consumers to promote the development of sustainable fashion.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorPatsy Perry (Supervisor)

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