Exploring the motivations and decision making of sustainable entrepreneurs: implications for apparel manufacturing in the United States

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Anne Mitchell (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Nancy Hodges

Abstract: There is a growing interest in sustainability in response to what some consider to be the "throwaway" consumer culture of today (Pookulangara & Shephard, 2013). Sustainability is a growing trend across industries and among consumers, as more people consider the implications of their actions for the future. The goal of this thesis is to understand the role of sustainable entrepreneurship within the apparel manufacturing sector. While consumption passed the point of the earth's sustainability in 1978, it does not appear that this trend will end anytime soon. Indeed, during 2010 alone, 13.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in the U.S. (Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2012). Rather than focusing solely on profit, the notion of sustainable development encourages a focus on what is known as the "triple bottom line" (Elkington, 1997), which combines economic gain with environmental and social value creation (Hockerts & Wustenhagen, 2010). The purpose of this study is to explore the motivations and decision-making of sustainable apparel entrepreneurs and to investigate their business models with regard to the broader implications they may have for U.S. apparel manufacturing as a whole. Using a case study approach, in-depth interviews were conducted with the founders of six sustainable apparel companies headquartered in the Southeastern United States. Interviews lasted for approximately one to three hours in length, and were recorded with participant's consent. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and interpreted thematically. Three conceptual areas of Philosophy, Positioning, and Production resulted from the analysis. Within these conceptual areas, a total of ten themes surfaced and were used to structure the interpretation. Based on the interpretation, four key drivers of motivation and decision-making were identified: (a) Altruism, (b) Self-Definition, (c) Symbiosis, and (d) Blind Impulse. In addition, four key business model attributes were defined: (a) Product Stewardship, (b) Value Alignment, (c) Strategic Partnerships, and (d) the Triple Bottom Line. Based on the findings, several recommendations for potential startups were made, including the following: (a) align goals, (b) allow for mistakes, (c) make the most of resources, and (d) nurture relationships. Because there is a limited amount of research that explores sustainable apparel entrepreneurs, the results of this study provide an in-depth understanding of the benefits and challenges involved in running a sustainable apparel business. Future empirical research is needed to further investigate sustainable apparel entrepreneurship from other angles, such as across cultures and from other perspectives including those of suppliers and customers. Such research would further enrich our overall understanding of what it means to produce apparel sustainably.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2014
Apparel manufacturing, Business models, Sustainability, Sustainable entrepreneurship
Sustainability $z United States
Entrepreneurship $x Environmental aspects $z United States
Clothing trade $x Environmental aspects $z United States

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