Institute of Data and Marketing (IDM) Derek Holder Dissertation Award winner 2023!

Congratulations to Katy Sercombe, this year’s Derek Holder Dissertation Award winner. Here she tells us about her award-winning dissertation ‘Exploring consumers’ attitudes towards virtual fashion as a sustainable alternative to physical fashion’.

For my dissertation, I investigated the attitudes that young consumers hold towards virtual fashion as a sustainable alternative to traditional fashion that is proving significantly harmful for the environment, particularly from the proliferation of fast fashion. Annually, the fashion industry is responsible for the emission of 4-5 billion tonnes of CO2 globally, which amounts to 10% of all pollution. Furthermore, the overuse of water amounts to 79 trillion litres (20% of worldwide water waste), chemical pollution in water (20% of total industrial water), and 190,000 tonnes of oceanic plastic pollution. These statistics clearly call for a different approach.

Combining my passions for fashion, technology and sustainability, I explored if and how immersive technologies could facilitate a more sustainable future in fashion and if that were something that young people would embrace or resist. I also sought to understand how consumers view virtual environments such as metaverse and augmented reality as a potential space where virtual fashion could be consumed and if that represents a more sustainable alternative.

I conducted 11 semi-structured interviews, sourcing participants through purposive sampling under the criteria that they hold prior knowledge and/or experience with virtual fashion. The data was analysed through manual coding, enabling the identification of running themes.

The research findings revealed that whilst concerns about the fashion industry’s environmental impact existed, other salient factors affected consumers’ attitudes towards virtual apparels.

The key ones that stood out are the following. First, many expressed apprehensions about excessive digitalization, emphasizing its negative effect on their mental health, such as the concern that digital fashion would place further emphasis on online personas and vanity, consequently leading to feelings of inadequacy. Secondly, consumers reported that they value wearing physical apparel because of the memories they evoke from the experience of their acquisition or in wearing them. Nevertheless, despite these hesitations, the participants reported a strong inclination towards embracing “phygital” shopping experiences, such as those demonstrated in augmented reality, for instance, virtual mirrors due to their enhancement of the physical shopping experience, or digital apparel overlaying images (as demonstrated in Figure 1). Finally, the adoption of virtual fashion by consumers is predominantly contingent upon social norms rather than individual benefits. Thus, consumers acknowledged that they would be more likely to adopt virtual fashion if it became more mainstream and their peers would be engaging with it.

Overall, this research showed the complexity that underpins younger consumers’ attitudes towards virtual fashion. I hope that my research will encourage marketing professionals to acknowledge consumers’ apprehensions regarding digital fashion practices, allowing the fashion industry to respect both the environment and consumer preferences in future.

The news of being honoured with the Institute of Data and Marketing’s Derek Holder Dissertation Award for my thesis came as a wonderful surprise, adding a meaningful and rewarding conclusion to my undergraduate studies. This would not have been possible without the help of my supervisor Ana Javornik whom I am most grateful for.

The Marketing degree program at the University of Bristol has effectively prepared me to navigate the challenges of the modern technological marketing environment, providing me with essential skills and knowledge for my future marketing career.

An example of one method of virtual fashion by The Fabricant, overlaying digital apparel onto images of the consumer to give the illusion that they are wearing it.

Digital Iridescent Dress (The Fabricant, 2022).

Katy Sercombe studied BSc Marketing at the University of Bristol Business School, her dissertation supervisor was Dr Ana Javornik, Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing.

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