Evaluation of consumer perceptions and acceptance of sustainable fashion products made of bacterial cellulose

Ghalachyan, Armine
Major Professor
Elena Karpova
Committee Member
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Apparel, Events and Hospitality Management

Due to tremendous contributions of the fashion industry to environmental degradation, novel sustainable materials and practices are becoming increasingly important. The purpose of this research was to investigate consumer perceptions of fashion products made from bacterial cellulose (BC), a novel sustainable material. Research objectives were to: (a) understand how consumers perceive and characterize BC material based on the senses of touch, sight, smell, and hearing; (b) identify areas for material improvement and potential barriers and motivations for consumer acceptance of products made of BC; and (c) evaluate the acceptability of BC, from a consumer perspective, as a novel material for use in fashion products. For the study, BC material was developed through Kombucha fermentation, then used to design a women’s bag. A new comprehensive framework for Fashion Product Evaluation (FPE) was developed, tested and validated.

Embedded mixed methods research design was utilized to conduct the study. Focus group discussion was the primary method, and sensory evaluation of the BC material was the embedded method. A three-part holistic sensory evaluation method was developed to examine consumer perceptions of BC material. Six focus group sessions were held to collect data, with 33 female participants in total. Descriptive statistic was used to analyze the sensory evaluation data. Priori and open coding methods were used to analyze the focus group data.

BC material was found to be acceptable for fashion accessories (e.g., shoes, bags, belts), but not for clothing. Material texture and novelty were found to be favorable characteristics. Thinness, translucency, unpleasant odor, and skin-like and worn appearance were unfavorable characteristics. Name of the material and lack of consumer knowledge were the barriers for BC adoption, whereas uniqueness, vintage-looking appearance, sustainability, and environmentally- and animal-friendly nature were the motivators. The results present valuable insight for future research directions and further BC improvement. Bio-based materials, such as BC, might help the fashion industry to become less dependent on non-renewable fiber sources and other natural resources and reduce its environmental impact.

An important methodological contribution of this study is the new, holistic sensory evaluation method for fashion products, which is the first in the field to consider the all human senses but taste. As new unconventional and often non-textile materials (e.g., BC, smart textiles, sensors, solar cells) are increasingly being incorporated into fashion products, holistic sensory evaluation becomes essential for capturing and evaluating the total range of sensory characteristics of products and fully assessing consumer perceptions, acceptance, and satisfaction.

Important theoretical contribution of this study lies in the development of the new FPE framework. FPE is the first framework to integrate apparel evaluative criteria into a unified comprehensive classification system with four mutually exclusive and clearly defined dimensions. It can be useful to researchers and businesses for understanding consumer perceptions and evaluation of products and purchase decision processes as well as identifying and addressing gaps between consumer needs and product attributes.