Cardiff University | Prifysgol Caerdydd ORCA
Online Research @ Cardiff 
WelshClear Cookie - decide language by browser settings

Communicating about sustainability in fashion: A construal level theory approach

Lee, Zoe ORCID:, Gordon-Wilson, Sianne, Davies, Iain and Pring, Cara 2024. Communicating about sustainability in fashion: A construal level theory approach. European Journal of Marketing 58 (1) , pp. 313-341. 10.1108/EJM-09-2021-0701

[thumbnail of EJM Communicating sustainability_ACCEPT manuscript.pdf]
PDF - Accepted Post-Print Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial.

Download (1MB) | Preview


Purpose: Communication about sustainability in fashion is complex. Whilst fashion businesses have increasingly sought to manage their sustainability practices, their understanding of how to communicate about sustainability persuasively remains limited. We argue a key problem with a firm’s efforts in communicating about sustainability is that it is a psychologically distant issue for both businesses and stakeholders. We apply construal level theory to explore managers’ construal level in shaping communication about sustainability. Design: The paper used a two-phase qualitative methodology. Phase one undertakes interviews with ten managers in fashion firms addressing communications and sustainability in the UK. In phase two, 16 consumers interpret and reflect on the persuasiveness of communications about sustainability encompassing both concrete and abstract forms of messaging. 2 Findings: We identify the factors driving different approaches to communication (concrete and abstract) depending on the construal levels of managers, the managers’ perceptions of the construal level of target stakeholders, and the perceived authenticity of the sustainability claim. The paper highlights the conditions under which the (mis)match with the brands’ sustainable practices work in crafting communication. We also highlight three main communication strategies in responding to the complexity of the sustainability in fashion ecosystems: amplification, quiet activist and populist coupling. Research limitations/implications: As an in-depth qualitative study, we seek to expose an under-researched phenomenon, yet generalisations both within the fashion industry and beyond are limited by this focus. Practical implications: Fashion managers need to be flexible and evaluate how their communications about sustainability affect stakeholders’ evaluations of their brands. As sustainability in fashion brands grows, concrete and specific sustainability messaging may be necessary to improve sustainable behaviours. Originality/value: Prevailing literature encourages symbiosis between sustainability practices and communications, such relationships are rare, and studies outside the consumer perspective are rare. This exploratory study is the first to understand how managers’ construal level influences decisions around communications about sustainability in fashion and how these messages are perceived by consumers.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Business (Including Economics)
Publisher: Emerald
ISSN: 0309-0566
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 20 November 2023
Date of Acceptance: 19 November 2023
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2024 16:38

Actions (repository staff only)

Edit Item Edit Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics