Collaborative fashion consumption: You don’t have to own high fashion to own it

By Dr. Fayrene Chieng Yew Leh

Fashion holds much significance in our lives as it is a form of self-expression. We can express our self-confidence through what we choose to wear. In recent years, ‘fast fashion’ has become a new form of success that allows consumers to change their wardrobes continuously with cheaper yet highly fashionable garments.

Today, a fashion item’s life cycle is shorter than before due to poor quality and high demand for wardrobe renewal. In Malaysia, approximately 195,300 tonnes of fabric waste is generated, making the clothing industry the second-largest polluter after oil and gas. Thus, it is important to encourage consumers to share, reuse, and recycle clothes, which in turn is beneficial for preserving the environment.

The rise of collaborative consumption, which is the shared use of a good or service by a group through an arrangement that divides the actual cost or purchase price, has resulted in non-ownership and encouraged the effective practice of sharing, swapping and renting of goods and services.

We can see various collaborative business models in different industries, including hotels (for example, Airbnb), and transportation with the likes of Uber. It has become a norm to use another’s car whenever we jump into an Uber and stay at someone else’s house when we stay at an Airbnb.

Fashion, however, can be quite a different matter. Is collaborative consumption in fashion possible? Indeed, it is. Collaborative fashion consumption, also known as fashion sharing, has brought about a new tendency among consumers to engage in non-ownership approaches to fashion consumption.

One of the key drivers for collaborative consumption in fashion is the shift of society’s values and concerns for the environment and ethical consumerism, particularly amongst Gen Z and Millennials. Having grown up in the digital age, people of these generations are increasingly health-conscious, socially aware, and environmentally responsible. They are willing to share or rent clothing to reduce overconsumption.

In a way, the pandemic has elevated consumers’ focus on sustainability and increased their willingness to pay for a sustainable future, making them look for more organic, local, ethical and responsible fashion options. Fashion-sharing appears to be an ecological fight against waste, and an economical alternative to outright purchases.

Certainly, the world economic situation has contributed to the growth of fashion-sharing. With consumers tightening their belts due to financial concerns, renting high-end fashion for a fraction of the cost of purchasing may be appealing.

A variety of fashion products are available through fashion collaborations, providing a never-ending choice of wardrobe for consumers. Furthermore, through sharing, renting, or swapping fashion items, consumers can derive pleasant feelings from the ‘treasure-hunting’ process, which further fosters positive attitudes towards fashion collaboration.

As a result of smartphone technology and the Internet, there are now numerous fashion apps available for download for this purpose. By utilising these apps, fashionistas have easy access to buy, share and sell their clothes, as well as receive fashion inspiration and advice from their peers.

According to experts, collaborative fashion consumption could rapidly grow into one of the fastest-growing segments of retail in the next 10 years. Despite this, consumer mindsets are slow to change, which is an obvious barrier to fashion collaboration.

We have yet to see a significant shift in fashion consumption in line with the message of collaborative consumption that ownership needs to be replaced by sharing and collaboration. Instilling the value of mindful consumption in society is an important cornerstone of educating consumers about collaborative consumption and its benefits.

Dr. Chieng is a lecturer and Discipline Lead (Marketing & Strategy) of the Department of Management, Marketing and Digital Business at Curtin Malaysia’s Faculty of Business. She holds a Master of Business Administration from Heriot-Watt University and a PhD from Curtin University. Her research interests encompass consumer behaviour, customer experience, tourism marketing and entrepreneurship, and she has received a number of research grants and authored and co-authored numerous academic journal articles and conference papers on related topics. She is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy UK (HEA) and member of the Institute of Marketing Malaysia (IMM), as well as leader the Faculty’s Work Integrated Learning (WIL) Team and member of its Learning and Teaching Committee.