Slower Fast Fashion: A Case Study on the Unsustainability Lock-ins in Fast Fashion

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School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Creative Sustainability
The fashion industry is subject to ongoing criticism for its environmentally unsustainable business practices. A considerable part of that criticism is addressed to what are commonly referred to as “fast fashion companies.” Concurrently, there is an increasing amount of research that aims to understand how industries shift from being environmentally unsustainable to being environmentally sustainable. One notable framework that is used to analyze sustainability transitions is the Multi-level Perspective (MLP). The MLP helps study sustainability transitions by analyzing the lock-in mechanisms that stabilize unsustainable practices, and the levers of change that help push the transition. The purpose of this thesis is to analyze what lock-in mechanisms stabilize the current unsustainable business practices of the large fast fashion brands. Also, this study aims to apply the MLP to an industry where it lacks application, namely the fashion industry. To achieve these aims, the thesis takes a qualitative approach using a multi-perspective intensive study case. More specifically, the study uses available data from media sources, industry reports, and sustainability reports from two commonly perceived large fast fashion companies, H&M Group and Inditex Group. The thesis presents findings throughout all the three levels of the MLP framework. Firstly, it finds two stabilizing forces in the fashion industry (increasing environmental awareness and digitalization) and it finds three destabilizing forces (a slowing global economy, digitalization, and the combination of a growing population and the emerging middle class). Secondly, it finds there are two main unsustainable practices (unsustainable resource use and pollution), and that there are three main lock-ins that stabilize these practices (overconsumption is not addressed, the suppliers are not incentivized, there is a lack of technological innovations). Thirdly, it finds that there are existing niche developments that can enable a transition, such as new business models, and new sustainable materials. The findings on this thesis expand the application of the MLP in the fashion sector and validate an actor-centric application of the MLP. In practice, this thesis also serves different actors in the fashion sector by allowing them to find opportunities that can help break the lock-in mechanisms through economical, legislative, or other means.
Thesis advisor
Patala, Samuli
Fashion, lock-in mechanism, MLP, sustainability
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