What do we know about sustainable fashion in management?

by Amira Mukendi, University of Strathclyde

What is sustainable fashion? This is a question that many ask as we engage with sustainable fashion for the first time. However, the answer to the question is not so straightforward.  Sustainable fashion is a cross-disciplinary field from agriculture to design to management.

In one of my recent works, my colleagues and I conducted a systematic review of what is known about sustainable fashion in the management literature. We reviewed over 200 articles from consumption to supply chain and found many different approaches to sustainable fashion. For example, we found that much of the sustainable fashion research focuses on incremental sustainable fashion research focused on young women based in the USA or in Europe but sustainable fashion is not limited to just this group of people. Sustainable fashion needs diverse voices so that we can learn, grow, and find solutions that are inclusive and equitable.

Secondly,  more research is needed in how we can change consumer habits around overconsumption and overproduction.  A lot of research focuses on how we can get people to buy sustainable fashion, but is that the whole story? It is one thing for someone to buy sustainable fashion and quite another for us to live in a sustainable fashion. From washing to changes we can make to our supply chains and consumer behaviour to be more sustainable. However, there is a growing body of work that asks how we can transform the fashion system.

After categorising what we know about sustainable fashion, we began to think about what areas could use further development. Throughout the paper many themes arose but here I will just focus on two.  Firstly, sustainable fashion would benefit from appealing to a wider demographic and thinking more broadly around sustainable fashion consumption. For example, much of the disposal, there are many ways we can reflect on our clothing practices and look for opportunities to be more sustainable. For example, the Fashion Detox project is one where those with the means to do so challenge themselves not to buy any new clothing for a period of time. Such projects may help us to rethink how we view our wardrobes.

There is a lot of exciting work being done in sustainable fashion, in practice and in academia, but one thing that is constant is the need to think more widely and broadly about what an equitable sustainable fashion future could look like.

Publication: Mukendi, A., Davies, I., Glozer, S. and McDonagh, P., 2020. Sustainable fashion: current and future research directions. European Journal of Marketing.

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