Sustainability is becoming a new trend in the global business world. It is even possible to state that corporate social responsibility has a fashion of its own, and companies are trying to stress their focus on sustainable practices. Ironically, the fashion industry sometimes fails to follow this fashion to the fullest. On the one hand, many fashion-related companies and people involved in this sphere try to be environmentally friendly and contribute to community development (Pedersen, Gwozdz & Hvass 2016).
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On the other hand, many businesses do not appear to pay much attention to ethical standards (Okonkwo 2016). The industry is characterized by a high level of consumerism, waste of resources, and unethical attitudes towards workers. This paper explores the degree of responsibility of three major actors in the industry.
Ethical Standards and Key Stakeholders
Before examining the roles of the different stakeholders involved in the fashion industry, it is important to define the central ethical standards and concerns. Some may believe that being environmentally friendly is the highest ethical principle for any manufacturer or retailer. While this component is essential, other areas demand attention as well (Okonkwo 2016). These spheres are associated with the use of child labor, working conditions, animal rights, discrimination, social injustice, and more.
It is also necessary to identify the primary stakeholders involved in the fashion industry. Consumers can be regarded as the primary actors as they represent demand (McNeill & Moore 2015). People who use fashion products have a significant influence on manufacturers. Manufacturers satisfy the demand thus created and provide consumers with numerous products and services. These stakeholders use different resources to produce and deliver their goods. Retailers are also influential actors in the fashion industry (Larsson, Buhr & Mark-Herbert 2013). These key players distribute manufacturers’ products, explore and satisfy the needs of consumers, and influence demand.
It is often believed that consumers are the most powerful actors in the process as they create the demand that manufacturers and retailers go on to satisfy. Some believe that consumers can easily make the fashion industry sustainable in that they simply need to buy from companies that act ethically. However, attitudes towards fashion and sustainability are not all the same (Manchiraju & Sadachar 2014). Kapferer and Michaut-Denizeau (2017) claimed that over half of consumers do not pay much attention to sustainability, and these can be divided into three main groups. Some are conscious of sustainability and buy from responsible companies. Another group does not regard sustainability as an important element of the fashion industry, and the third group of consumers does not have any meaning on the matter.
It is clear that recent trends show promise as many people view non-sustainable practices negatively. Phau, Teah, and Chuah (2015) found that people were likely to avoid buying luxury fashion products that had been produced in sweatshops, and people were also willing to pay more for products that had not been created in sweatshops. Nevertheless, it is important to add that the findings related to luxury products, and the number of participants was quite limited. Therefore, it is doubtful that all consumers will start paying focused attention to sustainability when buying fashion products, especially when it comes to mainstream and affordable items. The culture of consumerism remains strong in many countries.
Many seem to think that manufacturers or rather fashion houses have the most power to make the industry sustainable. These actors produce clothes, and they can make ethical decisions, offering the most effective solution. However, fashion houses are often affected by many forces and are required to address numerous issues. For example, these companies are in competition as they try to make their products attractive to their potential consumers (Larsson, Buhr & Mark-Herbert 2013). Low prices are often one of the most effective tools used to win in a stiff competition. However, lowering prices means less money for sustainable practices.
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Sustainability is often associated with additional costs. For example, the companies that create proper working conditions for their workers are not able to sell at the prices offered by businesses using sweatshops. Manufacturers facing financial issues also suffer limited access to resources that can be regarded as sustainable. At the same time, companies may exploit some consumers’ readiness to pay more for sustainable products. Producers should deliver the corresponding messages when advertising their goods. Fashion houses should contribute to spreading the fashion of ethical practices and sustainability.
Finally, retailers have been influential players for a long time. They serve as the link between the manufacturer and the consumer, often driving the demand as they deliver new items and entice people to buy more products, more often (Larsson, Buhr & Mark-Herbert 2013). Retailers offer prices that make people less conscious about sustainability but keen to consume more. Retailers may seem to be the least responsible actors in the fashion industry while they simultaneously have the most power. However, this power is limited by such factors as demand and supply. Retailers simply transfer goods from manufacturers to consumers. If consumers were to stop buying products that were developed in an unsustainable way, retailers would be unlikely to counteract the trend.
Nevertheless, retailers can choose fashion houses and producers who follow high ethical standards. In simple terms, they can become a bridge between sustainable producers and consumers. Retailers can also demand higher prices, but they should create added value and inform their customers about it. Moreover, retailers should also make sure they are socially and environmentally responsible. They should try to limit waste. By valuing sustainable practices, retailers can actively contribute to community development.
In conclusion, it is possible to note that the fashion industry is not leading in the sphere of sustainability, though some positive changes are evident. People are becoming more concerned about acting in ethical ways. However, achieving the highest standards of sustainability is possible if the primary players contribute equally to developing corresponding practices. It is impossible to identify the most powerful actor in the process as consumers, retailers, and manufacturers each have the power that can be limited by the other two stakeholders. All three players should try to be more conscious about sustainability.
Consumers should be ready to pay more and buy less. Retailers should use sustainable practices and collaborate with fashion houses that pursue high ethical standards. Manufacturers should be ready to invest more in the development of society rather than focusing on profits. It is also necessary to add that another powerful actor is often lurking in the shadows. The media play an important role in shaping public opinion. The internet and social media often reveal the most unsustainable practices, and as a result, consumers will stop buying from unethical retailers or producers.
Kapferer, JN & Michaut-Denizeau, A 2013, ‘Is luxury compatible with sustainability? Luxury consumers’ viewpoints’, in JN Kapferer, J Kernstock, TO Brexendorf & SM Powell (eds), Advances in luxury brand management, Springer, Cham, Switzerland, pp. 123-156.
Larsson, A, Buhr, K & Mark-Herbert, C 2013, ‘Corporate responsibility in the garment industry: towards shared value’, in MA Gardetti & AL Torres (eds), Sustainability in fashion and textiles: values, design, production and consumption, Routledge, New York, NY, pp. 262-276.
Manchiraju, S & Sadachar, A 2014, ‘Personal values and ethical fashion consumption’, Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 357-374.
McNeill, L & Moore, R 2015, ‘Sustainable fashion consumption and the fast fashion conundrum: fashionable consumers and attitudes to sustainability in clothing choice’, International Journal of Consumer Studies, vol. 39, no. 3, pp. 212-222.
Okonkwo, U 2016, Luxury fashion branding: trends, tactics, techniques, Springer, New York, NY.
Pedersen, E, Gwozdz, W & Hvass, K 2016, ‘Exploring the relationship between business model innovation, corporate sustainability, and organisational values within the fashion industry’, Journal of Business Ethics, pp. 1-18.
Phau, I, Teah, M & Chuah, J 2015, ‘Consumer attitudes towards luxury fashion apparel made in sweatshops’, Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 169-187.