Who has to change, to change the fashion industry?

In this third blog post in the four-part series about sustainable transition of the fashion industry, we will strive to design a different transition strategy compared to the last blog post in order to facilitate a change to happen. As explained previously, a sustainable transition within the fashion industry needs to happen. Several previous socio-technical transitions in our society, which has been involved in the creation of modern industry and consumption, have obviously not been sustainable [1], which is only another incentive for encouraging for a transition. In the previous blogpost, a transition strategy for the fashion industry was designed through the theoretical framework of Transition Management, which is about the process of envisioning and to choose the correct actors as frontrunners to define the vision. In order to get a varied perspective on transition of the fashion industry, we will in this blog post try to design a prospectively transition strategy with inspiration from the theory of Arenas of Development (AoD). The starting point of AoD are the actors’  matter of concern, and therefore a possible solution will appear by addressing this issue.

Change is inevitable

As touched upon in the last blogs, several reasons exist for the industry to change and many interventions are already emerging. An investigation made by Deloitte shows that Danes would prefer buying sustainable. Yet, the investigation from Deloitte tells two very different stories. A second article says that there are signs that shows that Danes are not willing to pay for sustainability, while the first article holds evidence that almost half of the Danish population are willing to pay for more for sustainable clothes and the demand for it, is increasing. This makes the picture very confusing. “The majority are stuck in old habits, and many are still only thinking of the price” [2], says Morten Steinmetz. Yet, Steinmetz says that despite the lack of willingness to pay for sustainability, several fashion companies has made sustainability a part of their brand and an opportunity to differentiate themselves. He elaborates by saying that if you as a fashion house have a strong profile in sustainability and social responsibility, you also have an unique story to tell the customers.

Communication wise, several initiatives have tried to inform the general public through campaigns etc. One project, a documentary made by a Norwegian group, tried to emphasise laborers’ working conditions in third world countries, and how they are working below a living wage. The video clip below shows how a group of young western people learning about what it takes to produce, what they might take for granted. The labor conditions are not visible when buying a piece of garment in the store.


The frustration and the emotional angle are difficult not to get caught by, and it is a way of spreading and showing the consequences of our rapid choices when buying clothes – but will it stop the consumer from buying the items next time they are in a store? The group behind the documentary continued their work but realised, like we did, that it is a very complex web to change. This is also explained by Anniken in the video below, that it is very difficult for her herself, to choose and find sustainable and ethical clothing, despite that she has experienced the working conditions of the textile laborers herself.


Another problem we touched upon in the previous blog is the consumer culture and the need for buying new. One of the main challenges described previously is that even though consumers ask for more sustainable clothes, they still buy the fast fashion items. This is due to availability, price and even temptation. This is shown in the videoclip below, which shows a woman, who works with fashion, is actually aware and worried about the consumer culture, but still cannot seem to change the habits of buying. This is also an example of how the change cannot only come from consumers.


How can the fashion industry be changed?

So in order to make a change, a transition strategy can be formed by using the theoretical framework of Arena of Development (AoD). AoD is a theoretical approach to discuss transition. By analysing actors and sectors and conceptualise them as arenas, it is possible to find out what is needed to create a new arena and what approach would work best to make a change. The strength with this approach is that the specific actors are chosen to form and be included in the arena and certain are excluded. This gives the exact preferred arena with perfect interference among actors.

The theory of AoD makes use of Actor Network Theory (ANT), which means it is important to identify the actors within the arena before elaborating an analysis. The actors used in ANT and therefore also in AoD are both human actors and non-human actors. To continue with the same actor team explained in the last blog – it is important to figure out how they can be enrolled in the actions. The main focus is on how we get actors with different interests to contribute to the desired transition. The benefits with different actors are that they work differently and view things from very different perspectives. Yet, this could could result in severe complications and conflicts and could therefore be seen as an obstacle. There will always be competing views, claims and discourses on how transitions should be produced, measured and sustained, and often, competition becomes controversy [6]. It is the way the actors act, which will define what is going to happen. But the actors do not act upon themselves, it is always based on some other dynamics. To link the AoD within the social worlds, every actor will attempt to put order in the world while others are trying to do the same, which might be controverting with others. When using AoD theory, emphasis is put on actors. The actors co-shape the innovation outcome through the protected spaces. By the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion of actors, the space and the project is shaped and consequently, it creates the boundaries of the arena.

Contrary to the MLP, AoD have a more flat approach and do not have the technology or socio-technical arrangement as its main focus. Instead, it focuses on actor constellations, and inclusion and exclusion of these. In AoD it is not the niches that are reason for change, it is the constellation of arenas that is crucial. AoD disagrees with the MLP’s perspective on separate levels, and argues that actors in arenas can move within all three levels at a time.

The actor listed in previous post are as follows:

In the work with AoD it is important to mobilise people, who narrates the good story and to identify the new stories of our societal structures emerge. Compared to MLP presented in the first blog post, the AoD approach to transition analysis is more flat contrary to MLP, which works in a levelled ordering of structures (the three levels: niches, regimes and landscape). In arenas actors operates in networks that involve institutions, technologies, visions and practices [7], which is also illustrated with the actors mentioned above. The boundaries of the arena as well as the constellation are constantly moving and continuously reproduced. The boundaries are based on processes of ordering and stabilisation as well as restructuring.

In the MLP, the starting point is in the strong structural features represented by institutions and technologies as explained in the first post with niches emerging. Instead, the AoD takes its outset in the actor constellations and their collective sense-making activities. In the activities of sense-making, the already existing configurations and institutions are reflected, but the stability of these institutions could be interpreted very differently by actors, which depends on their relationship to the configurations. This could result in multiple interpretations and different strategic actions [8]. Actions could be awareness campaigns, choosing strong spokespersons, facilitate network meetings to promote awareness etc. Further ahead tools for circular economy could be introduced, sustainability would be incorporated into design and becomes the trendsetting. Greater transparency and governmental incentives to support sustainable sourcing of materials and the manufacture of sustainable fashion goods could be implemented.

The use of the AoD approach therefore gives a very varied view, and are very much dependent on who is part of the specific activity and who is part of the arena. If a transition happened in the fashion industry the involved actors would view the transition as complex social and technological transformations that would open up for a variety of perspectives and different sense-making activities. Yet, when establishing the different arenas it is important to remember that actors can only have a partial understanding of the situation in which they are trying to intervene [9].

Arenas in the fashion industry

The above list are the actors mentioned in the previous blogpost about the transition strategy with inspiration from the theory of Transition Management. For a transition strategy to success we would suggest to first map existing arenas and additionally cluster the above mentioned actors and create arenas with them for facilitating a transition.

Some arena does already exist within the fashion industry. Initiatives have emerged where several actors have become a part of an association. Arenas to mention are among others Ethical Trading initiative (ETI) [10] which consist of several actors such as NGOs, unions and companies being among others Burberry, H&M, Inditex and Marks & Spencer. Additionally have Bestseller just published that they have joined the initiative. Other arenas to mention are also the ‘Nordic Fashion Association’  http://nordicfashionassociation.com, mentioned in the first blog and ‘I Prefer 30°’ http://www.iprefer30.eu, a campaign across countries in Europe, to encourage consumers  to lower their temperatures when washing clothes. These are indicators of all the actions and initiatives that occurs right now.

“Denmark as a frontrunner in sustainable fashion”

One arena could be the arena of “Denmark as a frontrunner in sustainable fashion.” This arena would consist of Danish Fashion Institute since they facilitate Copenhagen Fashion Week and has a vision for it to be a sustainable fashion week. Other actors in this arena could be:

  • Fashion network organisations: DM&T, Lifestyle & Design Cluster, WEAR Denmark.
  • NGO’s: Clean Clothes Apparel.
  • Sustainable frontrunners: McArthur Foundation and Cradle to Cradle Denmark.
  • Educational representatives:  KEA, KADK, Kolding Designskole.
  • Other organisation: Euratex (European textile labeling organisation).
  • General industry representatives: Dansk Erhverv.
  • Innovation network: Teknologisk Institut.
  • Fashion company representatives from for example H&M, Bestseller, Neutral, AMOV, Vigga.

Some of them have an agenda of making their brand or the industry more sustainable, others could be influenced.

“Copenhagen as a CO2 neutral city by 2025”

Another arena could be “Copenhagen as a CO2 neutral city by 2025” [11] which involves different actors than the other arena, but who still have a big influence on the fashion and textile industry in Denmark. This arena could have following actors as part of the arena:

  • The municipality of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg
  • The government represented by Danish Ministry of Environment and Food, and The Danish Ministry of Energy and Utilities and Climate
  • Energy companies.
  • Representatives from other industries: Energinet, De Forenede Dampvaskerier, (more industries should be represented).
  • Educational representatives: KEA, KADK, Kolding Designskole.
  • Elektrolux – better clothing care
  • And other companies they are collaborating with to achieve this agenda/goal.

The above mentioned arenas are all pro a sustainable transition of the industry, but there is also several other arenas working against the goal of a sustainable transition, such as the “Arena of growth”. This arena includes the general industry, where growth, increased revenue and turnover, and selling more are in focus. An example on an actor in this arena is H&M, who is actually part of several existing arenas. They will try to be 100 % circular, because they want to be the frontrunners in the fashion industry concerning sustainability and growth [12].

A stable arena is often materialised in institutions, but a seemingly stable and firmly institutionalised arena involves a permanent and costly effort in order to maintain this stability. All arenas are always boiling, and sometimes small interventions can disrupt the balance and produce dramatic change [13]. Arenas can rapidly change and reemerge in a new arena. Jørgensen & Sørensen (1999) puts it this way:

“We are imagining seemingly coherent characters suddenly splitting up into several characters and suddenly regrouping into something else” [14].

This also explains the fluidity and constant risk of changing.

When looking at the fashion industry with the perspective of AoD, it differs from the previous mentioned Multi Level Perspective (MLP). In the perspective of MLP, for the system to undergo a transition, it would require a niche to emerge and become the incumbent player in the regime. This could be done with the conceptualisation of Strategic Niche Management (SNM), where the protection of the niche against hostile selection environments would be crucial. Protected spaces could be made through shielding, nurturing and empowerment, where empowerment could be facilitated by two approaches: 1) fit and conform a technology to an existing selection environment. 2) Stretch and transform the selection environment by supporting the new and discouraging the existing [15].

Sum up

To sum up, there are many things going on in the fashion industry and many actors are trying to do something to make the industry more sustainable. Yet, the transition is challenged due to the lack of consumer willingness and conflicting informations. We have discussed the differences between MLP and AoD and how AoD focuses on actor constellations, and inclusion and exclusion of these. It is not the niches that are reason for change, it is the constellation of arenas that is crucial. The starting point for the actors to make a change is by a matter of concern. We have in the blogpost showed that there already exist several arenas within the fashion industry. We have with inspiration from AoD designed two new suggestions to arena constellations, which can contribute to change the fashion industry to become more sustainable.  The theoretical framework of AoD is useful in analysing the different actors and in the creation of arenas.

Make sure to subscribe to our blog in the bottom of the page, in order to get the next and last blog post in the four-part series of how to change the fashion industry.

Main author of this post: Dorte Mindegaard
Second author of this post: Stine Kolding


[1] (Jørgensen, 2012)

[2] (Steinmetz, 2015) 

[3] (Kleven 2014)

[4] (Kleven, 2015)

[5] (Dietblond, 2015)

[6] (Pineda & Jørgensen, 2015)

[7] (Jørgensen & Sørensen, 2002)

[8] (Jørgensen, 2012)

[9] (Pineda & Jørgensen 2015)

[10] (Dansk Mode og Tekstil, 2016)

[11] (KBH 2025 Klimaplanen, 2012)

[12] (H&M, 2015)

[13] (Pineda & Jørgensen 2015)

[14] (Jørgensen & Sørensen, 1999)

[15] (Pineda & Jørgensen, 2015)

Featured image: Toronto fashion Week Retrieved from: http://www.seetorontonow.com/annual-events/toronto-fashion-week/


Dansk Mode og tekstil. (2016), april 5. Bestseller tilslutter sig Ethical Trading Initiative. Retrieved april 25 from http://www.dmogt.dk/nyheder/2016/04/bestseller-tilslutter-sig-ethical-trading-initiative?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=textuelt&utm_content=textuelt+CID_912f1e981bfe02b1e187e6a774b42502&utm_source=Email%20marketing%20software&utm_term=Ls%20mere

Dietblond (2015, April 20). ON CONSUMER CULTURE | in the fashion industry. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9x2Huv6wA0

H&M (2016). Retrieved april 26, 2016, from http://cover.dk/opsigtsvaekkende-udmelding-fra-hm-baeredygtighed-kan-aendre-modebranchen/

Jørgensen, U. (2012). Mapping and navigating transitions—The multi-level perspective compared with arenas of development. Research Policy41(6), 996-1010.

Jørgensen, U., & Sørensen, O. H. (1999). Arenas of development-a space populated by actor-worlds, artefacts, and surprises. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 11(3), 409-429.

Jørgensen, U., & Sørensen, O. H. (2002). Arenas of development. In Shaping technology, guiding policy: Concepts, spaces and tools. Edward Elgar Publishing, Incorporated.

KBH 2025 Klimaplanen. (2012). Retrieved may 2016 from http://www.kk.dk/artikel/co2-neutral-hovedstad

Kleven, J. (2014, May 27). Sweatshop – Deadly Fashion (Trailer). Retrieved April 20, 2016, from Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SCHfV97D7I

Kleven, J. (2015, June 07) Sweatshop Season 2. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVn-Zv3UEDU

Pineda, A. F. V., & Jørgensen, U. (2015). Creating Copenhagen’s Metro–On the role of protected spaces in arenas of development. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions.

Steinmetz, M. (2015, 15. december). Deloitte. Forbrugerne går uden om bæredygtigt tøj. Mange danskere er ligeglade med, hvordan tøjet er fremstillet. Retrieved April 25, 2016 from http://www2.deloitte.com/dk/da/pages/consumer-business/pressemeddelelser/forbrugerne-gaar-uden-om-baeredygtigt-toej.html 

Dorte Mindegaard

Dorte has a deep interest in contributing to a sustainable transition of the society and also of the fashion industry. Every link of the production chain of clothes has a severe bad impact on human and the environment, which Dorte believes could be reduced by legislation, consumer mentality change and awareness. She is studying an engineering master in Sustainable Design at Aalborg University in Copenhagen and has recently been in Australia at James Cook University to specialize further in sustainable transition.

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