Sustainable Clothing Survey


Sustainable Clothing
(Prepared for the general public)




        Until the 1950s, the fashion industry only ran on a total of four seasons a year, along with the regular seasons we experience. These fashion designers would spend months in advance to predict the upcoming trends or fashion statements for the next season. Nevertheless, fast fashion brands produce about 52 micro-season a year, which means their stores are always stocking and restocking while their factories are continually creating new collections. With all the different elements of what constitutes fast fashion: low quality, sped up productions, competitive pricing, and a constant replication of trends, the impact on the environment during the production process is not the only impact we have to worry about. Low-quality items equal items that will not hold up after a couple of wears, leading to millions of clothing in the United States alone being thrown away.

Zara, a Spanish retailer under the flagship of one of the largest apparel retailers globally, was forerunners in the 1980s, changing their production to a bi-weekly basis. At the turn of the century, awareness of climate change and the ever-growing population started to rise, but the ever-changing fashion industry demands more. Continuing to be on the uprise and fueled by social media, fast fashion has become the new expected standard of all apparel retailers. Social media influencers tend to need a constant stream of new content to stay relevant and would also take sponsorships from these fast-fashion retailers to upkeep the need to post the next best outfit consistently. In doing so, consumers then go out and buy the hottest trend, but any sort of trend can only last for so long before it dies out. Instead, some of these models should promote sustainable clothing to maintain ecological, social, and cultural diversity. The fashion industry has been receiving much criticism due to the fact that it produces about 10% of all humanity's carbon emission and is damaging the ecosystem; even comparable to air travel and oil companies, therefore the awareness and proper application of sustainable clothing may be able to ease the damage the fast fashion industry has already inflicted upon our environment.

Research Question

The fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity's carbon emissions and is the second-largest consumer of the world's water supply. Therefore we must ask, "Why do consumers buy unsustainable 'fast fashion' clothing over sustainable clothing." We believe this question will help lead our research findings toward more insightful information on our stated problem above. We will be researching specific fashion industry areas regarding production, consumerism, consumer attitude, brand influence, and environmental factors. This question's value will reveal how consumers shape today's market, which influences how products are made, marketed, and disposed of, having numerous long-term effects.

Resources Used / Literature Review 

After reviewing academic literature through the California State University, Los Angeles databases, and outside internet sources, we found various materials related to sustainable clothing and fast fashion. Most of the research cited is from within the last ten years. Articles came from multiple sources such as The Wall Street Journal, The Journal of Cleaner Production, The Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, and other peer-reviewed sources. Through these articles, we were able to gain insights into some aspects of fast-fashion companies and even learn about how some of these companies make efforts to try and be more sustainable.

Many articles focused on the emergence of fast fashion and its effects on various parts of society. Others also focused on emerging trends of sustainable clothing in the industry and how that affects other aspects of our lives with fashion, labor, and supply management. As fast fashion continues to bring inexpensive clothing to markets faster, there are more implications to the environment and exploitation within emerging labor markets. Much of the research results found a lack of sustainability awareness. In the Journal of Cleaner Production, an article investigates how society has become more environmentally friendly. However, the market has lagged in creating ecologically friendly processes (Jacobs, 2018). The results highlight "changing attitudes toward sustainability and a focus on the durability of sustainable clothing and its availability via retail stores (Jacobs, 2018)." It can be recognized that we are still not seeing a variety of retail stores doing this to the extent that they should. With this being said, it is clear that there is still much work that needs to be done in bringing more awareness to consumers, which helps us address a possible answer to our research question.

One article related to the disposal of clothing interviews to determine trends. As fast fashion continues to become an emerging market, the need to focus on production and post-use-related factors becomes more relevant. Creating sustainable markets could involve interpreting consumer habits and trying to develop environmentally friendly methods. While fast fashion is popular, it increases landfill use from consumers' constant clothing changes. 

In the Journal of Sustainability, the article titled "Towards Sustainable Clothing Disposition, Exploring the Consumer Choice to Use Trash as a Disposal Option," a group of twenty-four females provided in-depth interviews answering a set of questions to determine what may influence consumers in the disposal of their clothing. The research findings were that most respondents go through a process of elimination with their clothing when deciding if it should be donated. People often used two methods to determine disposal, mostly based on individual perception, whether the item was used to its life and sometimes if it has been sitting without wear for a certain amount of time. If the clothing were undergarments, they were always discarded in the trash. Other types of clothing were evaluated for donations or recycling.  

There is a lack of awareness of what happens to clothing after discarding it to the trash or donating it to places such as Goodwill and other programs available at specific retailers that encourage recycling their merchandise by sending it back to them. Major retailer H&M encourages customers to recycle any clothing they no longer want. Their site states: "To continue strong growth and simultaneously implement sustainability is the biggest challenge it faces to maintain success in business operations, due to the issues regarding environmental pollution, the impact of the water resource used by the textile supply industry, and unfair treatment of workers in supplier factories" (Li et al., 2014). However, H&M has managed to achieve a sustainable change through its strategic framework of sustainability governance. They realize that even though they produce fast-fashion, making sustainable changes is crucial to their future success.

Qualitative Methodology

One-on-one in-depth interviews were used to collecting data. Giving a total sample size of 18 participants. In qualitative research, in-depth interviews are the most common form of collecting insight. Our goal for choosing this technique is to better identify the potential customer of a sustainable clothing brand. We hope to better understand what motivates or prevents a potential customer from purchasing sustainable clothing through our collection process. One-on-one interviews are effective because they ensure a respondent's answers to be free and spontaneous. The downside of this form of data collection is the lag time associated with analyzing each individual's responses. The decision for only having five questions was based on research that shows that between five to ten questions being asked would be ideal for our qualitative research project as our approach of not wanting to disrupt the interviewee's schedule, which could create unnecessary constraint and change the interviewee's response. Below are our finalized questions:

  1. What does "sustainable clothing" mean to you?
  2. Why do you hold on to specific clothing longer than others? With the clothes you tend to not keep, what do you do with them after?
  3. If the stores you shop at were to begin selling sustainable, eco-friendly apparel, would you purchase it? What if there is a price increase?
  4. Have you ever purchased or considered purchasing second-hand clothing? What were the reasons why you did or did not go through those purchases?
  5. What is your perception of people who use or buy "Sustainable Clothing"?



What does sustainable clothing mean to you? Our interviews showed that this question gave a somewhat varying response. The vast majority described sustainable clothing as quality material that is made of or by describing the environmental impact of its creation and disposal. The clothing materials also characterized most related quality materials to longer-lasting life with consumers, but the quality. Some materials gave better durability or were given a higher price in the retail market. When describing environmental impact, responses considered recycled material could be made of, the environmental impact of creating and distributing, and the impacts of clothing disposal. Most attributed one idea to describing ecological impact, although we did have several that considered the entire product lifecycle. Not everyone is a true believer in sustainable clothing; one response viewed the idea as a "branding gimmick."

Overall, this question's interview results showed that sustainable clothing could have a broad definition, encompassing its entire production life, time used, and how it is put back into the environment. While many may generally think we have the same definition of sustainable clothing, the responses showed that each person has their personal view of what part best describes it. Aside from one, almost all gave positive connotations to sustainable clothing within the industry. As fast fashion becomes significant globally, the impactful areas of sustainable clothing may become more profound. 

When the interviewees were asked the first part of a two-part question, 'why do you hold on to certain clothing longer than others?', the first significant response was that they hold on to clothes that are still of good quality. Around 85% of interviewees responded with quality being the main factor when holding on to clothes longer. Aside from being good quality, many mentioned that they will still keep their clothes so long as it still looks good on them. Another typical response from people was that some clothes have sentimental value to them. We were not overly shocked that this was a reason, but we were somewhat shocked by the number of people that mentioned this in their interview. You would not expect clothing to hold such sentimental value.

            The second part of the question previously asked was, "what do you do with the clothes you tend not to keep?" Although we had various answers to this question, about 95% answered that they donate their clothes. Most people said they take it to a second-hand clothing store or a drop-off station around them. Concerning donating, a couple of interviewees responded that they would usually send their clothes to relatives or even pass them down to their younger siblings. Adding to this, we noticed that a few people mentioned that they first try to re-sell their clothing before donating it. However, there were a few people who answered that they just throw away their clothes. One person, in particular, mentioned that they used to donate due to tax purposes. However, since the tax law changed, there was not much of an incentive anymore. A response by very few that took us by surprise was that they re-purpose their clothes. So, for example, one said that they turn the fabric for home use. Through these responses, we were able to get a better sense of what people do with the clothes that they no longer wish to hold on to.

The interview results show that price or price increase is the main factor in consumers' purchasing decisions. The mention of "eco friendly" or "sustainable" within the interview had shown little effect on consumers; it is considered a "Plus" or positive addition to the purchase. There is a consumer bias present through respondents that eco-friendly, sustainable clothing is more expensive than most clothing. This may stem from personal experience coming across clothing labeled sustainable and always being out of the consumer's current budget. The decision to make a purchase also considers the consumer's financial status; during economic hardship, these types of clothes would not be considered for most respondents. They also stated that the style, look, and feel the clothing provides to the consumer is a factor in determining their purchase, which will affect their decision if priced too high. Interviewees had also mentioned that a higher price means better quality as a justifiable reason for purchase. When one buys a "sustainable" piece of clothing, they feel that they have contributed to fixing the problem.

The next question being have you ever purchased or considered purchasing second-hand clothing? What were the reasons as to why you did or did not go through those purchases? The results from these questions show that the majority of our test subjects do not have an issue with purchasing second-hand products, mainly from thrift stores. While some participants expressed concern about using second-hand clothing, most participants had prior experience buying or receiving second-hand clothing with no issue. What was interesting was the different motivating factors for each participant's answer.

Some participants reported purchasing second-hand clothing from thrift stores because it was more affordable. In contrast, others said they purchased second-hand clothing from designers because they could not afford the product at the retail cost but still wanted to own the said product. One particular participant said they purchase second-hand clothing to refine it. This is something she saw on youtube. The takeaway from these respondents is that very few of them had a perceived issue with buying second-hand clothing. For the most part, if the price is right, our participants would buy.

As expected, the majority of interviewees associate people who shop sustainably as people who "can afford it" due to the usual markup of sustainable items, "environmentally friendly," and "caring" because of the nature of the product. Some even responded positively with admiration and respect for environmental shoppers. Unexpectedly, some interviewees differed and associated negatively with "trying too hard" and "paying an unnecessary premium." However, interestingly enough, those who responded negatively showed a lack of interest or knowledge of sustainable products' benefits.


The implications drawn from this study are that price point is a contributing factor in purchasing sustainable clothing. A study was conducted to point out that consumption processes are different concerning gender, age, education, income, and between adults and young adults. They have different needs, follow different trends, live in other contexts, and have other budgets for their disposal. The primary conclusion was that price was considered a common barrier to sustainable clothing among young adults. The values show that "young adults state more barriers than realizing criteria for their sustainable consumption behavior in the sustainability dimensions of economics and social. The main barriers under the economic perspective are price, time, and laziness. Most barriers are mentioned under ecological perspectives and mainly in the consumption phases of acquisition. The mentioned economic barriers are likewise raised for the consumption phase of acquisition and face the' too high prices' in the consumption area of food and clothing. Barriers in the social dimension are just given for the acquisition of clothing. Here, the main barriers persist in the transparency of the production process, trust in the given information, not fashionable clothing, supply of fair trade products, or the market is not visible enough" (Kreuzer). This concludes that the price point is a contributing factor to consumer purchases around sustainable clothing. Social, economic, and environmental factors do come into consideration when purchasing recycled or eco-friendly clothes, but the price point is the definitive factor in making a purchase. Our research responses affirm that the price of sustainable clothing must be positioned in the market as affordable and with low price elasticity during market trends to gain more market interest and compete against "Fast Fashion."  Although qualitative research does not prove any significant relationship among variables like quantitative research, our data gathered could show a connection between the negative bias of sustainable fashion, their value of premium pricing, and the interviewee's knowledge of the industry's impacts and sustainable fashion.



There are three significant limitations in this study that could be addressed in future research. First of all, we were only able to target Cal State LA students between the ages of 18-25 as our sample group, and we also kept a relatively small sample size. The sustainable friendly audience is more likely to be aged 45 or older; on the contrary, younger and unmarried people tend to have opposing opinions. Therefore, we do not have a full representation of both target markets; it will be challenging to define significant data relationships.  Our second limitation was consumers' bias; some participants had a negative bias over sustainable products. Therefore, by limiting the sample group to those without prior bias of sustainability's legitimacy, we would be better prepared to avoid perceptual bias in our research. The last limitation we came across was in our measures; in finding students willing to participate over the internet during the COVID19 pandemic. Our results are based on limited responses given online instead of in-person interviews that could provide us with a better insight into the interviewee's intentions in their responses. In retrospect, there were also interview questions that could have helped address issues that emerged later on and give us more information.



         Fast fashion has revolutionized the way people consume, and retailers bring out new clothing styles every other week. However, as we briefly mentioned, this overproduction of clothing has significant damaging effects on the environment. For this reason, we felt it was important to dig deeper into why consumers buy fast fashion over more sustainable options. The insight that we were able to gain from this study made us see consumers' different viewpoints and the reasons behind their consumption behavior of fast fashion. We will be better equipped to affect transformative changes in how the sustainable industry is marketed, produced, and priced. Moreover, although this research question was a good starting point, it is essential to continue doing studies to understand how we can change our consumption behavior to benefit the environment because of methodological and biased limitations.

In conclusion, the sustainable clothing industry has to start pricing sustainability with a value-based strategy instead of charging a premium price to attract consumers. Sustainable education is the next necessary step toward a sustainable future; we need a change in organizational culture. The educational curriculum needs to start educating the masses on the effects of climate change to become aware of what steps they can take every day to limit their carbon footprint in the world.


  •  Jacobs, K., Petersen, L., Hörisch, J., & Battenfeld, D. (2018). Green thinking but thoughtless buying? An empirical extension of the value-attitude-behaviour hierarchy in sustainable clothing. Journal of Cleaner Production, 203, 1155–1169.
  • Laitala K, Klepp IG, Henry B. (2018). Does Use Matter? Comparison of Environmental Impacts of Clothing Based on Fiber Type. Sustainability. 10(7):2524.
  •  Kreuzer, C., Weber, S., Off, M., Hackenberg, T., & Birk, C. (2019). Shedding light on realized sustainable consumption behavior and perceived barriers of young adults for creating stimulating Teaching–Learning situations. Sustainability, 11(9) doi: