Organizations as toxic sponges: Decontaminating second-hand clothes from the ‘unholy trinity’ of stigma, taboo, and disgust

Stephanie Schreven*, Kristina Auxtova, Lucy Wishart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Using insights from the sociology of fashion, this paper develops a theory of organizations as toxic sponges, seeking to deconaminate their products from what we term the ‘unholy trinity of aversion’, namely stigma, taboo, and disgust. Based on field research undertaken in charity shops, the paper focuses on the reuse of clothes as an alternative to buying fashion and, especially, what is now known as fast fashion (e.g., Bhardwaj & Fairhurst, 2010; Barnes & Lea-Greenwood, 2006) whose combined production and consumption are criticized as socially and environmentally unsustainable. However, while wearing of second-hand clothes may be more sustainable than (fast) fashion, reuse of clothing is inhibited by consumer aversion towards what is experienced or perceived as contaminated, tainted, or impure – aversion that is theorized in this paper by distinguishing between stigma, taboo, and disgust. Specifically, we research the relationship between consumer aversion to reuse and charity shops’ decontamination strategies at the intersection with class hierarchies. Thus, we contribute to understandings of sociology of organization by demonstrating how aversion in society is constituted through organizations and specifically the organization and management of clothes and retail space. We conclude by confronting the pursuit of sustainability through second-hand clothes consumption with the ‘ruthless critique of everything’: So what, if ideally reuse became the norm?
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022
Event38th EGOS Colloquium, Vienna, Austria 2022 - WU University, Vienna, Austria
Duration: 7 Jul 20229 Jul 2022


Conference38th EGOS Colloquium, Vienna, Austria 2022
Internet address


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