student profile: Ms Lisa Heinze


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Thesis work

Thesis title: Fashioning sustainability: Understanding the dynamic practices of sustainable fashion

Supervisors: Natalya LUSTY , Elspeth PROBYN

Thesis abstract:

In today’s environmental climate, sustainability initiatives target multiple aspects of everyday life, including fashion. Yet despite the increasing number of anti-consumerism campaigns and the increase in sustainable fashion labels entering the market, mainstream fashion practices remain environmentally unsustainable. In addition, fashion supply chains remain notoriously opaque and lengthy, often hiding exploitative and dangerous production practices. As an active member of the sustainable fashion movement, I occupy the position of activist-researcher to examine fashion and sustainability in Australia. This position provides access to the industry and movement but also allows the critical distance necessary to identify interconnections and insights regarding fashion’s complex sustainability considerations. Specifically I challenge the reliance on consumer behaviour change tactics that dominate sustainable fashion activism and argue for a more holistic approach to fashion and sustainability. Drawing on Elizabeth Shove’s (and colleagues’) social practice theory, which positions the dynamics of social practices – not people – at the heart of sustainability solutions and social transformation, this thesis considers fashion not simply as a “lifestyle choice” but as a socially and culturally dynamic practice. In order to effectively address the “unmaking of unsustainability” of fashion, the co-existing practices of fashion – consisting of design, production, retailing, media and consumption – must be interrogated as a fashion practice complex, including the interactions between and amongst the practices to understand how they have co-evolved to their current unsustainable state. The imbrication of these fashion practices is understood by drawing upon empirical data gathered via a number of qualitative research methods including in-depth interviews and participant observation with Australia’s sustainable fashion movement; in-depth interviews with leading sustainable fashion labels and mainstream fashion companies engaged in sustainability initiatives; and an ethnography of fashion shopping conducted with “fashion lovers” consisting of participant observation, in-depth interviews and wardrobe examinations. My data and analysis highlight how existing campaigns addressing fashion and sustainability neglect the complexity of fashion practices, particularly in terms of placing excessive responsibility with consumers to change unsustainable industry practices that are out of their control. I argue that industry must overcome a number of obstacles to transition to a sustainable mode of production and the practice of sustainable fashion entrepreneurs may provide a roadmap toward more creative solutions to sustainability if issues of scale and emotional labour can be addressed. I also argue that consumers are more aware of fashion’s sustainability issues than is often assumed, although they can be confused by contradictory or unsubstantiated messages used in sustainable fashion campaigns. Instead, unsustainable fashion consumption practices have evolved through a range of factors, including everyday life considerations, concerns around identity and social codes, the navigation of emotional needs and states, the lack of access to sustainable fashion, and the ease and ubiquity of fast fashion choices. In other words, the practice of fashion consumption is already layered before issues of sustainability are considered. This thesis therefore asks how the fashion industry and the sustainable fashion movement might more effectively co-evolve fashion practices toward sustainable outcomes and highlights the potential for the fashion industry to channel its creativity toward sustainability measures.

Note: This profile is for a student at the University of Sydney. Views presented here are not necessarily those of the University.