Democratizing Fashion Customization: Accessible Alterations, Sustainable Practices and Consumer Needs, Nancy Rhodes

Globally, 80 billion new pieces of clothing are produced each year, an increase of 400% from only 20 years ago. Consumers purchase double what they bought 15 years ago but keep garments only half as long. The fashion industry continues to produce at exponential rates and the average consumer now disposes of 70 pounds of clothing annually; clothing that can take up to 200 years to decompose. Innovative solutions are required to reduce the detrimental effects of the fashion industry to the planet. Fashion apparel brands are increasingly aware of the importance of adopting sustainable practices, however, the cycle of overproduction and overconsumption continues.

The alterations market, a subsection of the fashion industry, can be a viable solution to engender sustainable practices. In addition, through fit and customization, the practice of alterations can increase consumer body-positivity, inclusivity and self-esteem. A “re-fashion” industry can focus on enhancing consumers’ owned apparel and reduce the unsustainable rate of overconsumption and the amount of apparel waste.

In order to inform new strategies and business models, the current study is designed to identify and understand consumers’ and fashion industry professionals’ perceptions, attitudes and reported behaviors regarding sustainability and fashion alterations. Qualitative in-depth individual interviews (IDIS) were conducted with professionals in the fashion industry representing a variety of roles and expertise (N=9). An on-line survey was conducted with consumers to explore perceptions and preferences relating to alterations (N=165). The results of the in-depth interviews revealed that fashion professionals had not previously considered alterations and customization as a sustainable practice and only carried out alterations on an as-needed-basis. The survey findings were similar and also indicated that consumers considered time and convenience as main barriers to carrying out alterations. Findings indicate that raising consumer awareness and developing new business models to increase alteration accessibility are the foundation for reinvigorating the alterations industry.

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