This thesis explores the process of ethical fashion purchasing through a qualitative research approach, to find insights to improve the provision and purchasing of socially responsible fashion on the UK high street. This was achieved through the investigation of both the consumers that purchase womens wear at a mid market level, but also the retailers who provide the merchandise. The relationship between these two parties was explored, with the communication methods also being investigated. Furthermore, the influence the communication of retailer Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) messages had on the final purchasing behaviour was also a key research area. This distinctive two-sided perspective was utilised to contribute to the creation of new knowledge in the area of ethical fashion purchasing behaviour, and consequently provide new perceptions of how positive, social changes can occur in the fashion industry. Much of the previous ethical fashion purchasing research has been criticized for several reasons including methodological weaknesses, survey instruments potentially overstating the importance of ethical issues, as well as participants having little to no incentive to answer truthfully (Auger and Devinney, 2007). As a result, researchers in this field have suggested that broader, more rigorous data collection tools need to be developed in order to advance this area of research (Dickson, 2011). With this in mind, a mixed method or bricolage approach (Kincheloe and Berry, 2004) was used to not only overcome the methodological issues identified, but to also address the knowledge gaps in a creative and innovative way (Bremner and Yee, 2011). As a consequence of using this approach, the interplay of data collection and analysis has resulted in an iterative process throughout the research undertaken. This iterative nature facilitated a five-stage data collection process, which included an ethnographic style case study with a major high street retailer, a consumer focus group and additional retailer, semistructured interviews. Between each of the five research stages, analysis and reflection took place, facilitating the development of the next data collection method. When addressing the study’s over-arching question: what influences ethical fashion purchasing, several factors were identified from both a consumer and a retailer perspective. It was found that whilst consumers do have a certain level of knowledge regarding social issues in the garment supply chain, they rarely implement this knowledge during their purchasing behaviour. The retailers surveyed, being evidenced in several of the additional interviews with CSR representatives, also identified this. However this lack of cohesion between consumer intentions and actual behaviour was found to be heavily influenced by the communication of CSR information from retailers to their customers. As a result, consumers were found to have a lack of understanding of social issues within the garment supply chain. Thus, it was concluded that the contribution to knowledge that this work makes is that an increase of retailer CSR communication, will aid in the development of a relationship between the consumer and supplier to increase connectivity, understanding and empathy, in order to influence ethical fashion purchasing. However, it is paramount that this CSR information is delivered in a simple way, in order for it to be understood by consumers. This was identified as an important factor due to a fundamental misunderstanding found in consumer understanding of the term ethical, and distinguishing this from closely related sustainable connotations. The approach and methodology utilised in this study was designed to address the problems identified in a new and innovative way, in order to lead to a series of new insights. The study of both the retailer and consumer simultaneously and the utilisation of creative methods attempted to provide a unique approach in dealing with the methodological issues previously mentioned. Due to the nature of the research, it has in the past been approached from a business or marketing perspective, however this study used creative skills and tools commonly used in design research. The value of this research has been evidenced in a results table, where the problems identified were addressed through a series of incremental stages towards change. These have been broken down into long and short-term changes, with the aim to gradually move the industry towards a more socially responsible future.
|Publication status||Accepted/In press - Mar 2015|