The term “fast fashion” usually refers to low-cost, low-quality, clothing collections that mimic luxury trends and traditionally have been perceived to embody unsustainability [1
]. Reduced production time and costs in the fast fashion manufacturing process has involved the elimination or reduction of some stages in the production, such as product development and quality control [2
]. This has lead in many cases to a decline in garment quality, shorter garment life span before disposal, and even more consumption. In addition, efficient manufacturing practices and increased volumes of consumption have helped to lower prices [3
]. Modern-day fast fashion represents the advent of “disposable fashion”, which drives the attention from product quality to affordability and produces garments that are not long lasting [4
]. Younger fashion followers tend to consume fast fashion and do not expect to keep garments for a long time [5
] and this is fuelled by the low price and quick turnover of current fashion trends. Aesthetics, tastes, styles, design and concepts of uniqueness and newness will also result in a garment being discarded whatever the price or condition [6
]. Although these consumers have low expectations towards the length of time that they would keep a garment, and were satisfied with it at the time of purchase, they were not always satisfied with how the garment performed during use and the durability of the garment particularly to laundering [7
]. When garments are quick to shrink, fade or lose their shape, the bargain no longer seems worth it [8
]. “Key threats to garment lifetimes are fabric failure, component failure, construction failure, accidental damage and colour change” [9
The perception of a product’s quality influences customer satisfaction. Perceived quality of a garment is a combination of extrinsic quality cues (e.g., brand, price, and advertising), intrinsic quality cues (e.g., fit, materials, and manufacturing), credence quality attributes (e.g., ethical production and low environmental impact), and experience quality attributes (e.g., low maintenance, durability, and life span) [3
]. Although intrinsic quality attributes will influence the durability of garment, extrinsic attributes and experiences at purchase contribute more to purchase decisions [10
], as does the context of use [11
]. The experience quality attribute can result in customer dissatisfaction if the garment has unacceptable changes in dimensions, colour, and/or general appearance after laundering. Even if the garment is still wearable, it may be perceived as no longer fit for purpose. This can result in early disposal of the garment [3
Consumers tend to use price as an indication of quality [13
]. In an American survey, 58% of consumers believed that a higher-priced garment was of better quality than one at a lower price, and 78% (male, female, and ages 13–24 years and 35–70 years) believed that “you get what you pay for” when buying clothing. In addition, 59% of 13–24-year-old consumers were of the belief that higher-priced clothing lasted longer compared to 43% of 35–70-year-old consumers [14
]. If consumers are unable to differentiate the quality of two similar garments, price would tend to be used as an indicator [8
]. Quality and durability were perceived as being related by consumers and industry specialists [15
]. Durability, “a measure of how long a product will continue functioning as intended and withstand ‘wear and tear’... before it develops a defect.”, is distinct from longevity (life span), “a somewhat different measure, being partly determined by factors other than attributes formed through design and manufacture” [16
]. Despite increasing consumer interest in environmental matters, extending the longevity of a garment is not perceived to add value and therefore not given priority [17
]. Additionally, a short life span may not be because of dissatisfaction with the garments durability but may result from a loss of the garment’s symbolic value (e.g., no longer meets current fashion trends) [18
Experience quality attributes are difficult to evaluate when purchasing a garment [19
] and functional aspects such as durability and easy to care qualities are generally not considered by consumers at the point of purchase [19
]. Although price may have an influence on perception of quality, it does not always reflect the experience of quality, i.e., durability to laundering. The belief that “you get what you pay for” has been proven incorrect by many studies both in the 1990s and more recent times [8
]. Higher-priced jeans, [21
], did not have the highest performance of durability or colour retention compared to medium- and lower-priced jeans, and only performed marginally better for fit, after one and five laundering cycles. Durability to laundering of 100% white and navy cotton T-shirts from three price point brands (US$
49.50) showed variable results following 20 laundering cycles. Differences were observed between the white and navy T-shirts, and between the brands that challenged the idea that paying less for clothing means buying lower quality [8
]. Quality issues related to laundering include shrinkage or garment growth in width or length, colour fading or becoming dingy [12
], puckering of seams and hems, skewing of side seams, and surface fuzzing and pilling [8
Expectation of quality for the price paid influences customer satisfaction. A lower-priced garment may not have the same level of quality as a higher-priced garment but if the experience of quality matches the customer expectation of quality for the price paid, the customer may be satisfied with the purchase decision [22
]. Consumer expectation is that a lower-priced garment will not remain in satisfactory condition for as long as a higher-priced garment. If the experience of lower quality confirms the expectation of lower quality, consumer satisfaction is attained as the expectation has been met [7
]. Value for money is often the highest-ranked reason given for purchasing a garment [23
Consumers purchasing fast fashion have a higher frequency of turnover of clothing—both purchasing and disposal [7
]. The in-use phase of the garment could be as little as one wear [4
] and up to a target life span of 4.5 years [24
]. Based on 2.1 wears a month [24
] and washing every 2 wears [18
], the expected life span of a T-shirt varies from as little as 2 weeks to 10 ½ months (22 wears; 11 washes) [25
], or 2 years (50 wears; 25 washes) [23
] and up to 3.3 years (83 wears; 41 washes) with the target life span (4.5 years) [24
] being equivalent to 113 wears (56 washes). This may reflect the differing levels of quality and attitudes regarding extending the life span of garments. A range between 1 and 22 wears may be more accurate for fast fashion T-shirts. However, sustainability campaigner, Livia Firth, and some bloggers have encouraged consumers to consider whether they can wear a garment for a minimum of 30 times (approximately 14 months of use) before deciding to dispose of it [26
Increasing the life span of a garment by one-third will reduce the environmental footprint of clothing. However, lower-quality fabric and construction reduce the garment durability and therefore shorten the life span [17
]. Although buying higher-quality, higher-priced products, which are perceived to be more durable, are touted as a sustainability strategy, this can only be successful if paired with changes in consumer consumption patterns and use behaviours [27
]. Consumers are less likely to put designer, higher-priced garments into the rubbish compared to fast fashion garments when considering disposal options, indicating that price does influence disposal practices [28
It is difficult to gauge from this research already undertaken whether judgements of the quality of a garment made on price are justified. Are “fast fashion” garments fulfilling poor expectations of durability over multiple washes? Are expectations of the quality of a garment tied into its price or does the price of a garment determine its quality in terms of durability to laundering? The aim of this research is therefore to explore the relationship between price, perception of quality, frequency of laundering and durability to laundering of a common garment.
A study was undertaken to test physical aspects of garment durability to laundering as well as perceptions of quality and expectations of wear and laundering in relation to the price of a women’s black cotton T-shirt. If the price is low, then it is expected by consumers that the T-shirt will change in colour and shape after laundering, with the majority expecting this to happen between 1 and 10 washes. The physical testing does indicate that price is the predominant factor when considering shape change, although this occurs after more washes than participants expected. Colour did not change a perceptible amount until 30 washes for all the T-shirts. Lower-priced T-shirts (A, B, and C), however, displayed other unacceptable changes after a low number of washes (1 to 6), such as seam puckering, roping of hems, unraveling of seam stitching, twisting of side seams and fabric spirality, which are all indicators of lower quality. Such changes were not observed, or only observed to a small extent, in the highest-priced T-shirts, even after 30 washes. These appearance changes could lead to early disposal of the T-shirt, even if it is still wearable, as it may be perceived by consumers as no longer being acceptable. The highest-priced T-shirt (E: $100) was made of the highest-quality fabric and after 30 machine washes had the least dimensional change, fabric spirality and twisting of seams. In addition, visual assessment of seam integrity was not compromised. However, like the other T-shirts, a colour change would be perceptible after 30 washes. The second-lowest-priced T-shirt (B; $9) was assessed to be made from lower-quality fabric, and exhibited the highest spirality before laundering and after 30 washes, the highest amount of seam twisting, and its seam integrity was comprised after just one wash cycle.
Most participants expected a higher-priced T-shirt to be more durable, and their expectations were consistent with the test findings. They also expected to wear a higher-priced T-shirt more before discarding, but would still be more likely to buy a lower-priced garment. This could be a reflection of the demographic surveyed and their ability to afford an expensive garment. Participants were also much more likely to follow care instructions before laundering of higher-priced garments, therefore possibly increasing the wearable life of the T-shirt.
Based on the survey findings, more than 50% of consumers would discard a low-priced T-shirt (0–$10) after 10 washes. The performance of the two lowest-priced T-shirts that were tested (A: $4 and B: $9) highlight that price is not necessarily an indicator of performance as they responded very differently to laundering. The $9 T-shirt (B) changed the most when laundered. It was also the least well made, with noticeable spiraling, seam twist and poor seam integrity. In contrast, the cheapest T-shirt (A) was more durable with respect to all aspects of durability except width change, where there was no significant difference between T-shirt brands. Seam twist was the same after 30 washes as T-shirts C and D; change in length was less than T-shirt C over 30 washes, and spirality did not change over the 30 washes. Those who purchased the $9 T-shirt would have their low expectations of quality and performance met, but those purchasing the $4 T-shirt would have their expectations exceeded but may discard the garment anyway because the price drives this behaviour in the consumer. However, what is considered an acceptable change in shape by researchers (e.g., decrease in length below 6%) may still be a negative sign to participants that laundering has had an effect and is a signal to discard the garment. For example, T-shirt A ($4) had a mean pre-wash length of 61.6 cm and shrank 4% with laundering. This is equivalent to a decrease in length of 2.5 cm, which may be visible to the consumer and therefore render the garment unacceptable for purpose.
It is possible that Brand A may have higher manufacturing quality controls than Brand B accounting for the noticeable differences in quality between these lowest-priced brands. Brands of T-shirts were not named in the survey because knowing a brand could make a difference to purchasing decisions given that brand was the third largest aspect considered when purchasing a T-shirt, after price and quality. Given that quality is not always easy to assess, price would tend to be the indicator used [8
] along with brand. T-shirt B had the lowest mass/unit area and sett, whereas T-shirt E had the highest mass/unit area and sett and therefore can be considered to be made of a fabric of comparatively higher quality to T-shirt B. This is then reflected in the greater durability to laundering. Therefore, it could be supposed that higher-quality resources were sourced for manufacturing T-shirts for Brand E than Brand B and that this is reflected in the retail price of the T-shirts. In addition, findings indicate that the construction of T-shirt E was of higher quality than for T-shirt B as indicated by the seam twisting and seam integrity results.
A lack of difference in the quality (after five laundering cycles of garments) of similar designer garments purchased at outlet stores (higher priced) and department stores (lower prices) was noted by [10
]. They concluded that a lack of correlation between the durability of these garments to laundering and price was due to these items being made by the same manufacturer. The black T-shirts in the current study were produced in two different countries and an unknown number of manufacturers, were laundered 30 times, and were from 5 different price points. A difference in quality was observed (T-shirt E was more durable to laundering, and T-shirt B the least durable) and this difference did equate to price (T-shirt E $
100; T-shirt B $
9). Fast fashion garments are considered to be made of lower-cost/quality materials, compromising durability and encouraging early replacement [50
]. However, lower price did not indicate low quality/durability in this study, as all the T-shirts, with the exception of B, had measures in acceptable ranges of performance after 5 washes, and in most measures after 30 washes.
From this research, there was some conflict between the judgement of the quality of a garment made on price compared with how a garment in that price range performed in physical durability experiments. Garments that might be considered as “fast fashion” varied in their performance on durability over multiple washes. Price was found to not necessarily be a good indicator of physical performance when it is low. Higher-priced garments performed better as expected by consumers, with better-quality fabric used, better construction and greater durability to laundering. It is likely that the unexpected good performance of the lowest-priced T-shirt may be connected with the brand’s quality control processes. Participants’ expectations were on the whole pessimistic compared to actual performance, especially at the lower-priced points of garments. If consumers base disposal decisions on their expectations of quality and durability rather than actual garment performance, then garments could be discarded and become obsolete sooner than actual quality performance would dictate. This would have consequential impacts on the sustainability of that garment. An additional consideration is the need for increased labelling, certification and consumer education on obsolescence to assist in ascertaining whether a garment is likely to be durable, regardless of cost. This has the potential to then increase garment longevity with associated sustainability gains.