Self-confidence helps to boost sustainable fashion consumption 

Simone Warnecke

For Generation Z consumers, it is difficult to resist the temptation to buy a new fashion item that will be thrown away after a few months or even weeks. Thousands of influencers are presenting their recently purchased clothes on TikTok and Instagram and criticizing out-of-style fashion. Nowadays something is out-of-style after a few months, and the period is just getting shorter. We are all impacted by the content we view and our social surroundings. We are all contributing to the short-lived trends by supporting them with or likes and comments. By doing that, we are setting the norm: “Buy more, wear less!”

According to previous research, on average, consumers wear a fashion item only 7 times. How can we change this harmful habit? Can we persuade consumers to wear a fashion item at least 30 times? Some of the powerful forces that influence our behaviour are social norms. Social norms are unspoken, shared rules that guide behaviour in a society. We conform to them because we have a need to fit in and to avoid being judged. Conforming to social norms works everywhere: on TikTok trends, in print commercials, and in real-life events. Can a message containing social norms also convince young women to buy less clothing items and to wear them longer? 

Simone Warnecke, the student of Communication Science Department of the University of Amsterdam, studied the effect of social norms and self-confidence on the intention of women between 18 to 30 to wear their clothing items longer. Despite the fact that social norms work in many other situations, they did not seem to convince young women to wear the same fashion items longer. This result can be explained by the fact that their intention to do it was already high. So, we can assume that sustainable fashion has already became a social norm among young women. 

But if we know what’s right and intend to do the right thing, why do we still continue to participate in fleeting fashion trends that lead to overconsumption? The reason is the lack of confidence. The results show that those participants who believe that they have the necessary skills and resources to wear an item longer, demonstrate higher intention to do so. Those who have successfully reused clothes have more confidence in doing it again. 

Based on the results of her experiment, Simone has formulated useful tips for consumers and environmental activists. 

Practical tips for consumers: 

  • Make more conscious fashion choices 
  • When shopping, remember the 30-wear rule: if you can’t wear it at least 30 times before getting rid of it, don’t buy it.
  • Learn about the influence of fashion! You can do so on the FashionForGood website.
  • Participate in workshops that teach you how to create a more sustainable wardrobe.
  • Cosh! includes a list of events in Amsterdam, but it also offers advice.

Practical tips for environmental activists: 

  • Instead of relying on social norms, use communication efforts to increase consumer confidence in reusing clothing items.
  • Offer workshops that let consumers successfully complete the task you want them to implement in their daily lives. For instance, a workshop in which participants successfully upcycle, reuse, and wash their clothes could be a good place to start.

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