No to Fast Fashion!


Latest developments in environmental psychology research on clothing consumption and ideas for starting to be more conscious with your clothes.

The fashion industry, especially its fast fashion model of low-cost production and frequent consumption with short time use is a major contributor to global environmental pollution. The ecological consequences result from enormous water consumption, the generation of greenhouse gas emissions, large amounts of textile waste that are burnt or end up in landfills, microplastics resulting from clothes made out of synthetic fibres and the use of chemicals. To counteract these impacts, a rethinking of the fast fashion business model is urgently needed. Alternative approaches include circular economy, waste reduction ideas and the general reduction of production and consumption (Niinimäki et al., 2020).


What about good intentions?

Individuals in their role as consumers can help to reduce ecological problems. One contribution we can make individually is to reduce our personal clothing consumption, and to pay attention to materials and production methods. Therefore, researchers in environmental psychology want to understand what influences environmentally friendly behaviour. This can then inform the design of communication strategies for behaviour change. However, understanding more sustainable purchasing behaviour is not easy. It is often not intentions (alone) that lead to certain behaviours. Depending on what kind of intention one has, what the external circumstances are and how well one can steer purposeful behaviour, intentions translate into behaviour to varying degrees which is sometimes described as the intention-behaviour gap (Joanes et al., 2020).

Scientifically speaking, future buying behaviour can be better predicted by past behaviour compared to intentions. Researchers have found that purchasing decisions are subject to highly automated mechanisms. Since interrupting automatisms is difficult, it is helpful to also identify the psychological aspects that can influence purchase behaviour beyond automatisms (Joanes et al., 2020).


What motivates consumption and its changes?

Consumer behaviour is strongly influenced by social mechanisms. Moreover, the intention to change one's own clothing consumption is often of moral origin. Thus, social and personal norms are strong forces in relation to consumer behaviour. Social norms are generally accepted rules for socially approved and rewarded behaviour. Personal norms, on the other hand, are norms incorporated into one's own value system and create a sense of moral obligation. A personal norm develops as a result of a person perceiving a problem and feeling a sense of personal responsibility. At the same time, actions must be available to solve the problem (Schwartz 1977; Schwartz and Howard 1981). In relation to consumption of fast fashion, a person who watches, for example, a documentary about the pollution caused by fast fashion - such as The Monster in Our Closet - may become aware of the problem and their role as a consumer (Grünzner et al., 2022). If they then ascribe part of responsibility to themselves and alternative action strategies can be implemented (such as reducing consumption, buying second-hand fashion or choosing natural fibres), a sense of moral obligation, or a personal norm, can develop.

Feeling solidarity with people who are spatially and socially distant can also be significant in the drive to consume less clothing. A global perspective is essential, as the impacts of clothing production often take place far from the place of consumption. Nevertheless, in order to promote moral action, it may be important to maintain a certain psychological distance, i.e. a higher level of abstraction, from the people affected (Joanes, 2019). So, identifying too much with them as part of the whole of humanity beyond solidarity may be less advisable. For example, a study suggested that it is more profitable for a charity's fundraising efforts to highlight social differences between donors and those being donated to – for example, by clearly presenting religious, ethnic or national characteristics – and to then appeal to solidarity with fellow human beings, rather than simply highlighting similarities in an attempt to reduce psychological distance (Reese et al., 2015). Other studies in environmental psychology however have shown that less distance has positive effects, so we probably need more evidence to better understand the effect of psychological distance and its nuances.

Research into the above factors is important because scientific findings can inform the planning of interventions and communication strategies on sustainable clothing consumption.


New perspectives

Recent research findings – which are informative, but also need to be interpreted with caution – question the applicability of the influencing factors mentioned above (see Nielsen et al, 2022). They suggest that there is a discrepancy between self-assessment and actual fashion consumption. It has been argued that the psychological factors mentioned above, which have been studied so far, seem to be more related to the distorted self-assessment of one's own consumption. However, actual consumption decisions and the greenhouse gas emissions they cause are relatively poorly predicted by current environmental psychological theories. For the researchers, this is mainly due to the way in which purchasing decisions are asked for in studies. For example, consumption decisions, such as the purchase of shoes and T-shirts, are compared 1:1 with each other, although they result in relatively different environmental impacts. Frequency data are often only inaccurately overestimated by asking participants to categorise their behaviour as occurring "never, rarely, sometimes, often, always". High-impact behaviours that occur infrequently, such as buying special functional clothing, are often excluded altogether. Last but not least, motivations and behaviours are asked in bundles – for example with items such as "I avoid clothing consumption for environmental reasons" – and are therefore possibly artificially linked with each other. Current research casts doubt on whether influences considered to predict behaviour are really as significant as previously assumed and at the same time raises the question of other important influences. Further research aimed at replicating and improving the study design is needed to shed light on clothing consumption and its drivers (Nielsen et al., 2022).

However, from our point of view, we do not want to ignore the influences of marketing psychology and consumer research, as concepts such as impulsive shopping or its urge have been studied quite extensively (see e.g. the meta-analysis by Iyer et al., 2020). Mostly with the aim of encouraging consumers to shop. It is often young adults who shop impulsively, e.g. in 2017 41% of participants from Generation Z and 34% of participating Millennials in a UK survey identified themselves as impulse shoppers (Varella, 2022). We argue that the existing scientific findings on the internal and external drivers of impulse buying can also be used to reduce clothing consumption or the urge to buy new clothes. Therefore, Maja Grünzner at the Environmental Psychology Research Group Vienna will explore the effects of a short intervention targeting fashion consumption in her upcoming study. 

Below are a few more tips for you in case you sometimes make impulsive purchases yourself or if you want to be more conscious about your clothes. While psychological research on the topic is advancing, us consumers – as mentioned at the beginning – always have the opportunity to contribute to a reduction of fast fashion purchases and with that reduce its negative consequences.

For an in-depth look at the fast fashion industry and its consequences, see the following page:

If you want to break your consumption automatism and become active yourself, you can challenge yourself through the following resources:




Bettina Fischer has received funding from the project Mission Zukunft by the ScienceCenterNetzwerk and Maja Grünzner has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 860720. The responsibility for the content in this blogarticle lies entirely with the authors.



Grünzner, M., Pahl, S., White, M., Wyles, K. J. & Thompson, R. (2022, July 5-8). To buy or not to buy? Young consumer views on fashion purchases and microplastics in the UK [Poster Presentation]. 27th Conference of the International Association People – Environment Studies, Lisbon, Portugal.

Iyer, G. R., Blut, M., Xiao, S. H., & Grewal, D. (2020). Impulse buying: a meta-analytic review. Journal of the academy of marketing science, 48(3), 384-404.

Joanes, T. (2019). Personal norms in a globalized world: Norm-activation processes and reduced clothing consumption. Journal of cleaner production, 212, 941-949.

Joanes, T., Gwozdz, W., & Klöckner, C. A. (2020). Reducing personal clothing consumption: A cross-cultural validation of the comprehensive action determination model. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 71, 101396.

Nielsen, K. S., Brick, C., Hofmann, W., Joanes, T., Lange, F., & Gwozdz, W. (2022). The motivation–impact gap in pro-environmental clothing consumption. Nature Sustainability, 1-4.

Niinimäki, K., Peters, G., Dahlbo, H., Perry, P., Rissanen, T., & Gwilt, A. (2020). The environmental price of fast fashion. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, 1(4), 189-200.

Reese, G., Proch, J., & Finn, C. (2015). Identification with all humanity: The role of self‐definition and self-investment. European Journal of Social Psychology, 45(4), 426-440.

Schwartz, S. H. (1977). Normative influences on altruism. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 10, 221– 279.

Schwartz, S. H. & Howard, J. H. (1981). A normative decision-making model of altruism. Altruism and Helping Behavior, 189–211.

Varella, S. (2022, June 1st) Individuals who are impulsive buyers in the UK in 2017 [Infographic]. Statista.