Creative Contributions to Sustainable Fashion Through Racial and Geographic Diversity

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Creative Contributions to Sustainable Fashion Through Racial and Geographic Diversity

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The fashion industry is one of the world’s largest environmental polluters (Ellen MacArthur, 2017). With the climate crisis looming, creative solutions are needed to address this pollution. The industry continues to ideate creative solutions within the same insular, homogenous group (von Busch, 2018; Barber, 2021), but this does not reflect the findings of creativity literature. Homogeneity is the enemy of creativity. Diverse groups bring varied “toolboxes” of experiences and ideas that result in the most creative solutions (Page, 2007). Unfortunately, diversity in the fashion industry is an ongoing problem, with 50% of racial minorities in the fashion industry feeling the industry is not accessible to everyone equally (Council of Fashion Designers of America & PVH, 2021). Racial diversity remains an ongoing issue (Johnson, 2020; Hoskins, 2014), especially in sustainable fashion where the creative impact of diverse lived experiences is most needed. Simultaneously, racial minorities face the brunt of the consequences of the climate crisis globally (Mohai, 2018). Within the United States, harmful practices like redling have geographically segregated minorities into specific zones with poor environmental conditions (Bay & Fabian, 2015). While this causes significant harm to these communities, it also makes these individuals more personally acquainted with the climate crisis. In conjunction with Environmental Deprivation Theory, this may help these individuals produce knowledge and creative solutions that differ from non-minorities or individuals in better environmental conditions. The aim of this thesis is to address this issue head on by understanding how racially and geographically diverse voices creatively contribute to the sustainable fashion conversation. This research uses Amabile’s Componential Theory of Creativity (1983; 2012) and Butler and Francis’s Socially Responsible Consumption Behavior model (1997) to address this aim through mixed methods. The four components of Amabile’s theory are: Creativity Relevant Processes, Task Motivation, Domain Relevant Skills, and Social Environment (2012). These four elements were paired with the four elements of Butler and Francis’s model: Exogenous Stimuli, Environmental Attitude, Apparel Environmental Attitude, and Behavior. Crossover was found between Task Motivation and Apparel Environmental Attitude that allowed the two models to be merged with the hypothesized resulting behavior being Apparel Environmental Creativity.This joint model resulted in four research objectives and three hypotheses. The research objectives were: 1. To understand how racially and geographically diverse voices creatively contribute to the sustainable fashion conversation.2. To determine if behaviors that do not relate to purchase or consumption can be correlated with apparel environmental attitudes. 3. To develop a tentative model for the incorporation of Socially Responsible Consumption Behavior and the Componential Theory of Creativity. 4. To challenge existing siloed research paradigms in order to center and uplift geographically and racially marginalized voices, in keeping with the advocacy and participatory research worldview. Three hypotheses were developed as a quantitative extension of these research objectives: H1: Exogenous stimuli, as measured by a) the Environmental Condition of the ZIP code of an individual’s residence and b) the individuals’s minority race identification, will positively influence that individual’s general Environmental Attitude.H2: Environmental Attitude, as measured by Environmental Stewardship and Environmental Dominion (r), will positively influence Task Motivation, as measured by Apparel Environmental Attitude. H3: Creativity score on a Sustainable Fashion Creativity test will be positively influenced by a) Creativity Relevant Processes, as measured by DAT score, b), Task Motivation as measured by Apparel Environmental Attitude, and c) Domain Relevant Skills as measured by Apparel Eco Knowledge. Two studies were designed and conducted to address these objectives and hypotheses. In the first 118 participants were recruited from Prolific, an online survey platform, to develop creative solutions to two of four fashion sustainability case studies. In Study 2, 93 professional or academic experts were recruited to judge these solutions in conjunction with the Consensual Assessment Technique (Amabile, 1982). Data was analyzed through path modeling using PLS-SEM and thematic and inductive qualitative analyses. H2 and H3b were validated and partially validated, respectively. Quantitative results indicated that scores for creative ideation for fashion sustainability were statistically similar regardless of any identity factor, including race or geographic location. Qualitative results showed that while there was some minor evidence of the significance of geography to an individual's solution generation, it was racial diversity that mattered more. Participants created solutions that often respected or utilized elements of their racial culture. Limitations include the use of race as a social construct within a siloed research paradigm and the current imperfect state of environmental condition reporting by government agencies. Future research should look at smaller subsections of this research and test developing theories in the areas of creativity and environmental justice.


University of Minnesota M.A. thesis. 2022. Major: Design, Housing and Apparel. Advisor: Elizabeth Bye. 1 computer file (PDF); 126 pages.

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Tomfohrde, Paige. (2022). Creative Contributions to Sustainable Fashion Through Racial and Geographic Diversity. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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