SDWatch | Publication

Transition to sustainable clothing and footwear behavior (Personal consumption analysis and policy proposal)

SDWatch transition to sustainable clothing behaviour


This paper highlights the status and impacts of personal consumption of clothing and footwear, and how it is connected to other sustainability issues. It further connects to the idea that one of the important factors that influence the production is consumer demand and proposes how to alter the consumer behavior towards sustainability in order to eliminate the negative impacts of clothing industry and to bring humanity one step closer to save the world.


The population bomb is not stopping until the end of the century. Sustainable development goals targeted until 2030 will see around 8.5 billion people, projected by (United Nations, 2019). The relation to the clothing and footwear industry’s production and the population growth is direct and thus, it seems that there will be expansion in the current business or setting up of the new business models in order to meet the projected demands of increasing by 63%. This increase will have impact on water consumption, energy emission, chemical usage, and waste creation. Thus, the apparel industry does not work alienated and affects several sustainable goals directly and others indirectly, therefore, it requires immediate reaction to settle the deteriorating affair. One of the important factors that certainly influences the production is the taste of the consumer, and if somehow, there is a shift, from traditional to sustainable, in the mood of the consumer, the industry might see a revolution.

Personal consumption and sustainable use of clothing

Sustainability is not merely a concept to be dealt separately; rather it is an idea that involves a person’s way of life, at individual level, and collaboration at societal level. An idea as simple as clothing, just at the stage of its manufacturing can be connected to several sustainability and environmental factors; which would include energy consumption, dyes based on chemical formulations and even waste of raw materials (Niu, Chan, & Zhang, 2017). According to the report of European Environment Agency in 2014, the use of textile product (after the manufacturing and transportation to the user) has an impact of 47.98% and 26.56% on human health and ecosystem respectively. The rest of the impact that is around 42% is towards the resource availability, which is directly associated with sustainability as well. If the population increases to 8.5 billion and the production is to be increased by 63%, the clothing and footwear industry until 2030 is projected to consume; 118 billion cubic meters of water, which is a good 50% increase from 2015, carbon emission to increase by a massive 63%, and produced waste creation of 148 million tons, which is again increase from 92 million tons in 2015 (Kerr & Landry, 2017). Another author reports the same problem in the following words,
‘While these developments have had the positive effect of democratizing fashion, allowing a broad range of consumers to share in close copies of the most exclusive and expensive designers, the fast fashion model has undermined the value of intellectual property belonging to designers, dramatically expanded the industry’s carbon footprint, and promoted a culture of waste.’ (Brewer, 2019)

In addition to this, what is alarming is the growing sales of the clothing since the year 2000 along with the consistent fall in the clothing utilization. This simply means that the person would buy more and then he would not wear it to maximum utility, as broadcasted by the report of World Economic Forum dealing with sales and utilization of clothing for 15 years starting from the year 2000.

‘Globally, customers miss out on USD 460 billion of value each year by throwing away clothes that they could continue to wear, and it is estimated that some garments are discarded after just seven to ten wears. People are acknowledging this as a problem – with, for example, 60% of German and Chinese citizens admitting to owning more clothes than they need.’ (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017)

This is a global phenomenon and not just related to one part of the world. Therefore, the consumption patterns for the footwear and clothing in China has seen a considerable rise in the past decade, rendering data available on CEIC data. Along with the fact that China was facing a population boom and it had its policy to control population implemented. There is a similar trend for USA where after the recession in 2009, the footwear and the clothing industry boomed from 320 billion US dollars to 410 billion US dollars in less than a decade (data courtesy: US bureau of economic analysis). This has not just given rise to the GDP of the country, which is a positive impact, but on other hand, gave birth to externalities, one of them is which is ground waste. According to the council for Textile Recycling, approximately 32kg of related solid waste was created by each consumer on average in the decade ending 2009 (Armstrong, Connell, Lang, Ruppert-stroescu, & LeHew, 2016), the year which marked the beginning of the boom. Therefore, with the economics’ principle at work, supply curve shifts to the left with a new higher price. However, with the economic and social factors in sight, suppliers produced at a breakneck speed to meet the ever-increasing demand at lower prices, achieving economies of scale, also termed as ‘fast fashion’. However, again, this was supposed to come with a cost of externalities and tons of waste. The European Union and even Indian market is not a different case, and as I mentioned earlier, this has become a global phenomenon – ready to turn into a nightmare if taken for granted. Therefore, a recent study suggested that overall an equivalent of a garbage truck is landfilled or burned every second (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017), which is hefty loss to the environment every year, and possibly be controlled. Among other social and sustainability concerns for the environment and the society, the rampant productions and acquisition of clothing has become a direct association with the human rights violations (Armstrong, Connell, Lang, Ruppert-stroescu, & LeHew, 2016).

The involvement of environmental factors and rights associated with the textile production and clothing usage at risk, it requires alterations in terms of production techniques and consumer behavior to ensure sustainability, and halt to the risks involved, because human behaviors – consumption patterns, even as individual consumer or society, partially effects on our environment (White, Habib, & Hardisty, 2019) and also the producer (Pookulangara & Shephard, 2013). Since there has been a wave of sustainable fashion in the industry now, firms have also started to scale themselves sustainably (Prada has signed a deal worth €50m (£43m) with financial services company Crédit Agricole … The five-year sustainability loan, which is reportedly the first of its kind in the luxury industry.), and even embed the said idea into their DNA (White, Habib, & Hardisty, 2019), because people have started to aware themselves to the idea of sustainability, which shows consumer sustainability is of great importance in the cycle of reducing environmental risks through clothing and footwear. Where consumer sustainability is,

‘actions that result in decrease in adverse environmental aspects as well as decreased utilization of natural resources across the lifecycle of the product, behavior, or service.’ (White, Habib, & Hardisty, 2019)

Also, it was suggested by (Castano, Perdomo-Ortiz, Ocampo, & Leon, 2016),

‘Socially Responsible Consumption involves consumer behavior that favors corporate social responsibility practices and the rational consumption of resources and products while recognizing the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle through healthcare.’

However, it is pertinent to mention that sustainability at individual, social, industrial and even governmental level can also help achieve reduction in the environmental degradation through textile production. Therefore, the term has also been identified as green consumption behavior, which elaborates that the term cannot be determined by the characteristics of consumer alone, rather it can also depend on one’s emotional, personal circumstances, or even motivational drivers (Johnstone & Tan, 2015). A great shift has been noticed from the production side as well, which ensured the change in the mentality of the people towards sustainability. It can also be a reversed case. In either case, the report shows that,

‘66% of Global Consumers Say They’re Willing to Pay More for Sustainable Brands—Up 55% From 2014. 73% of Global Millennials Are Willing to Pay Extra for Sustainable Offerings—Up From 50% in 2014.’ (Nielsen, 2015)

Along with the sciences that affect behavior, marketing is an important tool that influences consumption of the people, however marketing offers short-term or even immediate benefits, whereas the idea of sustainability projects long term effects (White, Habib, & Hardisty, 2019), which are more indirect in nature too. However consumers don’t walk what they usually talk, and that is one of the serious concerns for the marketing industry and the producers (White, Habib, & Hardisty, 2019). Also, at the industrial level, it has been suggested that, there should be ‘de-growth’, which points towards economic contraction in order to attain sustainable consumer behavior and well-being (Armstrong, Connell, Lang, Ruppert-stroescu, & LeHew, 2016).

Clothing consumption does not necessarily conclude for the warmth and protection from the natural environment and weather, but also defines a particular class and status in the society (Armstrong, Connell, Lang, Ruppert-stroescu, & LeHew, 2016). It specifically defines certain status in a particular habitus and subsequently fields. Therefore, there is a need of concrete policy at different levels to ensure sustainable behavior towards textile or fashion at consumer end to promote slow fashion in contrast to fast fashion. However, the term includes the word ‘slow’, which does not refer to the element of time, rather it was influenced by the ‘slow food’ movement, to a degree of mindfulness to the needs of its various stakeholders (Pookulangara & Shephard, 2013). Among all the stakeholders in the process, consumer has the ability to shift market trends with its changed behavior and much has been changed due to that. According to the recent study,

‘The retailing sector has evolved in recent years. In particular, apparel retailing has made a critical transition from the push system, designers dictated trends, to a pull system where retailers respond to consumer demands.’ (Pookulangara & Shephard, 2013)

Therefore, in order to pursue effectively the sustainability policy at all stages, it is necessary to mold consumer behavior, which might require some of the actions by the textile industry and the government.


In the light of the statistics, the best possible scenario is turning heads towards sustainable clothing, which is closely associated with slow fashion, and in contrast to fast fashion. After reviewing several authors on the topic, (Johnstone & Tan, 2015) has suggested that attitudes may not be the only factor influencing the pro-environmental purchase, but also; social desirability, competing demands, surrounding of the stores, consumers’ mood, a lack of information, and cynicism can also affect ethical consumption. Therefore, attempting to change only one factor might not serve all. Thus, multiple actions at different levels and in different ways could be suggested to ensure ethical consumption.
Therefore, to encourage reasonable behavior, the following measures could be taken,

a) The first and the foremost factor towards sustainable consumption is conveying the topic to the extent of not considering it applicable on some but all. It should be propagated as a social norm – an approved act on a societal level. It is because that the theory of planted behavior suggests that along with attitude and perceived behavior, subjective norms help in shaping up intentions. Subsequently, these intentions would turn into sustainable behavior. For the idea to become a norm, it should be part of the curriculum at the beginner stage and gradually introduced to subsequent stages. Italy has been the first one to introduce such an initiative, while the rest can follow the lead. Here’s to what the report mentions,

When children return to class in September 2020 after their summer holidays, their annual curriculum will also include 33 hours — approximately one per school week — dedicated to climate change and sustainable development.’ (Orlandi, 2019)

In addition to the social norms at the beginner’s level, those who have passed through education level can be introduced with techniques based on social desirability. It is because people tend to choose sustainable options to make a positive impression on others (White, Habib, & Hardisty, 2019). However, this might not be the case every time, but according to one of the studies conducted in a hotel, where people were pinned with badges, rewarded upon their environmental friendly behavior based on a brief but specific commitment at check – in (Baca-Motes, Brown, Gneezy, Keenan, & Nelson, 2013). Therefore, designers and producers prominently on the apparels or footwear to distinguish pro-environmental purchases from the rest can introduce unique and creative symbols. This would create social desirability and would be conducive to behave in pro-environmental way.

b) The above – mentioned dimension can also be seen in a national lens. While mentioning Francois-Lecompte & Roberts, (Castano, Perdomo-Ortiz, Ocampo, & Leon, 2016) suggests that sustainable behavior (socially responsible) varies based on the dominant values of the area. They reported the following,

‘…being an individualistic consumer is a priority in the US, while in France, a communitarian approach allows for the emergence of other relevant social aspects influencing Socially Responsible Consumption’

Based on this approach, to reduce fabric use, one may find it appropriate to produce backless in European market. On the other hand, in the eastern Muslim market, women can be encouraged to re-use the clothing or swap, since the majority is supposed to cover from head to toe in Burqa or a long veil. Therefore, the national as well as cultural or religious circumstances definitely change the dimensions to approach and bring sustainable result to the same problem dealt in different ways.

c) Considering the fact that we all our humans, but beliefs and faiths, alike nations, do play an important role in our choices. Islam, being the religion followed by 1.8 billion people making up around 24% of the total population (LIPKA & HACKETT, 2017), can also play the role with its teaching. It is one of the fastest growing religions, with teachings related to sustainability to the core. Therefore, if subconsciously, the matter can be addressed throughout Muslim communities, would play an important role in achieving the targets in the upcoming decade. (The teachings related to other religions can also be taken into account in detail as Islam was presented as one of the examples.)

d) One of the factors that halts sustainable behavior is its time consumption and difficulty in carrying it out (McKenzie-Mohr, 2000). The idea is to bring about the facility to buy sustainable clothing at all commercial places, universities and public arenas. Since it has been mentioned earlier that mood and surroundings also set the behavior towards sustainability. In order for the behavior to hold, one must see the sustainable options regularly and readily. Therefore, smooth supply of the sustainable options can help not just set the mood, but also increases the chances to buy. The same idea can be deduced from the hotel study conducted by (Baca-Motes, Brown, Gneezy, Keenan, & Nelson, 2013), that when the people had the opportunity to be sustainable, the number of positive results for the study rose to 40%. Problem with this idea is to bring out a revolutionary change in the production line from traditional to sustainable, since the purpose is to maximize profits. Thus, to enable producers to bring a production shift, it would be worth to provide them with subsidies on sustainable production, and penalties to the non-sustainable production, in order to compensate the price difference.

e) Considering the fact that certain actions are for long term and require one time effort, while some of the others require regular effort to achieve sustainability. The installation of the efficient shower requires one time effort, while taking shorter showers require repeated actions, which would result in a habit formation (White, Habib, & Hardisty, 2019). Since apparel defines status and personality in a certain field or habitus, therefore, eco-labels can be provided additional offers and promotions in order to promote sustainable wear in the events. It is analogical to use of bank cards or mobiles phones instead of cash. (White, Habib, & Hardisty, 2019) has suggested that the messages conveyed to consumers should make statements about future losses than future gains, because consumers respond to the latter.

f) At the point of sale, the customer should be informed through eco-labeling about the type of purchase and its particulars. The customer can also be informed through short messages about their positive / negative impacts on the environment through this particular purchase that they made. This seems quite obvious, but feedback is really important, it thus increases endorsement of self-values, which might lead to greater endorsement of sustainable actions (Sparks, Jessop, Chapman, & Holmes, 2010). This ensures constant connection and leads to habit formation. Subsequently, the chances of positive spillover increases, as (White, Habib, & Hardisty, 2019) suggest that a person is likely to engage in another domain as well if he did engage in one sustainable domain. Therefore, it either can start from clothing or might be led here from another initiative.

g) Since the idea of sustainability is naively related to other than one’s own self. Therefore, it becomes really hard to promote the sustainable product to the consumer while also keeping the interest alive. Therefore, it should hold information not just about the sustainability of the product but should also focus on the functionality of the product to the user. For the apparel, it might include creative designs to use the same clothing in different manners, re-sizing, alteration for benefits, dyeing instructions (if there need be to change the look of the product), and so on. This would create interest of the consumer towards the article over non-sustainable fast fashion.


The idea of sustainability is not new to the first world, but the reaction as per the sensitivity of the situation is upsetting. There is a dire need of upscaling the efforts at the government’s end to change the perception in order to bring about a positive change. This is definitely a circular motion and the victory in one dimension would roll positive impact on other. However, this might also be converted into a negative spillover, if the perceptions are not treated as soon as possible. Sustainability is not just an impression but an ideology and the way of life. I believe, all to their extent should adopt it, if not completely by some. It should be learned through cognitive, behavioral and environmental influences as explained by Albert Bandura, as he has explained,

‘Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do.’ (Social Learning Theory (Albert Bandura))

The traditional view is quite different, where consumer will choose the product based on his own utility and satisfaction. Conclusively, the idea through proposed matter is to put the consumer in a position where they think about self-other trade-off (other living beings and the future generations), rather than giving priority to things that matter to them only. This change of perception will bring forth a positive transformation in the society towards sustainability and progress, where we can save the mother earth.


Armstrong, C. M., Connell, K. Y., Lang, C., Ruppert-stroescu, M., & LeHew, M. L. (2016). Education for Sustainable fashion: Using Acquisition Abstinence to Explore Sustainable Consumption and Life beyond Growth. Journal of Consumer Policy, 417-439.

Baca-Motes, K., Brown, A., Gneezy, A., Keenan, E. A., & Nelson, L. D. (2013, February). Commitment and Behavior Change: Evidence from the Field. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(5), 1070-1084.

Brewer, M. K. (2019). Slow Fashion in a Fast Fashion World: Promoting Sustainability and Responsibility. Laws. doi:

Castano, L. E., Perdomo-Ortiz, J., Ocampo, S. D., & Leon, W. F. (2016). Socially responsible consumption: an application in Colombia. Business Ethics: A European Review, 25(4), 460-481.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2017). A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future.

Johnstone, M.-L., & Tan, L. P. (2015). Exploring the Gapr between Consumers’ Green Rhetoric and Purchasing Behaviour. Jounral of Business Ethics, 311-328.

Kerr, J., & Landry, J. (2017). Pulse of the Fashion Industry. Global Fashion Agenda & The Boston Consulting Group.
LIPKA, M., & HACKETT, C. (2017, April 6). Why Muslims are the world’s fastest-growing religious group. Retrieved from Pew Research Center:

McKenzie-Mohr, D. (2000). Promoting Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing. Journal of Social Issues, 56(3), 543-554.


Niu, B., Chan, L., & Zhang, J. (2017). Punishing or subsidizing? Regulation analysis of sustainable fashion procurement strategies. Transportation Research Part E, 81-96.

Orlandi, G. (2019). Italy introduces mandatory climate change lessons in schools. Euro News. Retrieved January 12, 2020, from

Peter Messerli; Endah Murniningtyas. (2019). Global Sustainable Development Report: The Future is Now – Science for Achieving Sustainable Developmen. New York: United Nations.

Pookulangara, S., & Shephard, A. (2013). Slow fashion movement: Understanding consumer perceptions—An exploratory study. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 20(2), 200-206.

Šajn, N. (2019). Environmental impact of the textile and clothing industry. European Parliamentary Research Service.
Social Learning Theory (Albert Bandura). (n.d.). Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

Sparks, P., Jessop, D. C., Chapman, J., & Holmes, K. (2010). “Pro-environmental Actions, Climate Change, and and defensiveness: Do self-affirmations make a difference to people’s motives and beliefs about making a difference? British Journal of Social Psychology, 553-568.
United Nations. (2019). Probabilistic Population Projections based on the World Population Prospects 2019. Population Division. Retrieved from

White, K., Habib, R., & Hardisty, D. J. (2019). How to Shift COnsumer Behaviour to be more sustainable: A literature review and guiding framework. Journal of Marketing, 22-49.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related publications