Communicating about sustainability in fashion : a construal level theory approach

Lee, Zoe and Sianne, Gordon-Wilson and Davies, Iain and Pring, Cara (2023) Communicating about sustainability in fashion : a construal level theory approach. European Journal of Marketing. ISSN 0309-0566 (

[thumbnail of Lee-etal-EJM-2023-Communicating-about-sustainability-in-fashion]
Text. Filename: Lee-etal-EJM-2023-Communicating-about-sustainability-in-fashion.pdf
Accepted Author Manuscript
License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 logo

Download (1MB)| Preview


Purpose Communication about sustainability in fashion is complex. While fashion businesses have increasingly sought to manage their sustainability practices, their understanding of how to communicate about sustainability persuasively remains limited. The authors argue that 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. This paper aims to apply construal level theory to explore managers’ construal level in shaping communication about sustainability. Design/methodology/approach The paper used a two-phase qualitative methodology. Phase one involved undertaking interviews with ten managers in fashion firms to address communications about sustainability in the UK. In phase two, 16 consumers interpreted and reflected on the persuasiveness of communications about sustainability encompassing both concrete and abstract forms of messaging. Findings The authors identify the factors driving different approaches to communication (concrete and abstract) depending on the construal levels of managers, 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 works in crafting communication. The authors also highlight three main communication strategies in responding to the complexity of sustainability in fashion ecosystems: amplification, quiet activist and populist coupling. Research limitations/implications As an in-depth qualitative study, the authors 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 The prevailing literature encourages symbiosis between sustainability practices and communications; such relationships are rare, and studies outside the consumer perspective are also rare. To the best of the authors’ knowledge, 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.