Call for focus group participants interested in fashion and sustainability – £40 reward

Do you care about fashion and sustainability? Do you sometimes ask questions about products, brands, the industry or anything else connected with fashion, and look for answers? Would you be able to attend two face-to-face meetings in Bristol in weeks beginning 5th and 12th December?

It is important to us to hear the experiences and views of a diverse range of people, particularly those who are underrepresented in this context.

Check our requirements below then complete our brief (3 mins) online form by 28th November to apply.

The ‘Sust’ project (as ‘I Didn’t Buy’ is now called) received funding from the University of Bristol’s Brigstow Institute to extend its research concerning a digital platform for empowering consumers to shop sustainably. The team includes Fiona Spotswood and Jennifer Daniel (UoB), and Tim Kindberg (matter II media). Our new project focuses on fashion. It is investigating ways by which the platform will enable users to crowd-source information about the sustainability of fashion products and brands; information which the platform can supply to help others.

We are already working online with Fashion Revolution’s global network to co-design the crowd-sourcing facility, and are looking to recruit additional local participants who could take part in early evening focus groups in central Bristol, to the same ends.

We’ll be running two 90-minute focus groups in the weeks beginning 5th and 12th December and would like participants to attend both. We’re offering £20 in shopping vouchers per focus group to say thank you.

What will happen?

In the first focus group, we’ll ask about the sorts questions you have about fashion and sustainability (e.g. when making purchasing decisions), how you go about finding answers, and the challenges. We’re interested especially in how an online tool that encourages people to act collectively and crowd-source answers could help.

In the second focus group, we’ll show you the web-based tool we’ve made, which we would like you to help us develop. We’ll run some ideas by you for developing the tool, and ask you to brainstorm with us on themes of power, trust and value, to create other ways the tool could help. We will listen to your ideas and experiences to help us empower people to make more sustainable fashion choices .

Details and how to sign up

To apply, complete our brief (3 mins) online form by 28th November. The form will ask you to confirm that you meet the requirements:

  • You ask questions about fashion and sustainability, and set out to answer them at least sometimes
  • You can attend both 90-minute focus groups in central Bristol: Group 1 at 6-7:30pm on Mon/Wed 5th/7th Dec; Group 2 at 6-7:30pm on Mon/Wed 12th/14th Dec.

We will choose from among the applicants according to our research criteria – which include diversity of backgrounds

This project has been approved by the University of Bristol School of Management ethics committee. For any queries or concerns, please email For other questions regarding our project, please contact

Image from wikimedia commons, licensed under creative commons.

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Research assistant required for online fashion sustainability project

The ‘Sust’ project (as ‘I Didn’t Buy’ is now called) has received funding from the University of Bristol’s Brigstow Institute to extend its research concerning a digital platform for empowering consumers to shop sustainably. The team includes Chris Preist and Fiona Spotswood (UoB) and Tim Kindberg (matter II media). In a recent project we carried out user research and built a prototype for providing consumers with information related to the sustainability of products and brands as they shop online. This new project will focus on Fashion. It will investigate potential mechanisms by which the platform will enable users to crowd-source information about Fashion products’ and brands’ sustainability, and the mechanisms by which the integrity of that information can be assured against low-quality inputs, trolling, manipulation etc. We will be working with Fashion Revolution’s global network of activists to co-create the mechanisms. 

We are recruiting a research assistant for 30 days, starting late May / early June 2022. The RA will conduct qualitative research, through interviews and/or workshops with potential users and other stakeholders. The work will ideally be at least 3 days/week at several points. We expect it to last at least two months; the end date is negotiable.

The research assistant will be supervised by Fiona Spotswood and will work with Tim Kindberg on a day-to-day basis.


The successful applicant will be required to carry out the following tasks:

  • Background research into relevant research methods and comparable crowd-sourcing functionality in other digital platforms
  • Helping design the methods by which the project will engage with its global users (in English) in order to understand their needs and co-create the crowd-sourcing functionality
  • Supporting the team in carrying out these methods via online engagement with the project’s users: interviews and exercises in ideation, experimentation, testing etc.
  • Capturing all data from these activities
  • Coding the data


The successful candidate will possess skills and experience as follows:

  • A PhD, or undertaking a PhD, in a relevant topic
  • Experience in user engagement, preferably in participatory research and/or design methods.
  • Good practical skills in online engagement and capturing data from it
  • Experience in coding data
  • Sufficient technical skills for installing a web browser extension and helping others to do so

Preferably, the RA will have a strong interest in sustainability.


The successful candidate will work under contract to matter II media for 30 days at a day rate of £140.78. Total pay: £4223.25.


Send a cover letter and CV to by 5pm, 30 May 2022.

Sust – the next phase of our research

We are delighted to announce that the University of Bristol’s Brigstow Institute has funded us for a second round of research: “Sust: co-creating an open-source platform for empowering sustainable fashion consumers”. The original team of Dr. Tim Kindberg (matter II media) and Prof. Chris Preist and Dr. Fiona Spotswood (University of Bristol) are joined by Prof. Dale Southerton and Dr. Emma Slade of the university, and Nicky Allan of Fashion Revolution.

We will be extending our research concerning a digital platform for empowering consumers to shop sustainably. In the previous round (also funded by the Brigstow Institute) we carried out user research and built a prototype for providing consumers with information related to the sustainability of products and brands as they shop online. This new project will focus on Fashion. It will investigate potential mechanisms by which the platform – now called Sust – will enable users to crowd-source information about Fashion products’ and brands’ sustainability, and the mechanisms by which the integrity of that information can be assured against low-quality inputs, trolling, manipulation etc. We will be working with Fashion Revolution’s global network of activists to co-create the mechanisms.

The project will run June-November 2022. We are seeking a research assistant.

End of year report

It’s December 2020, about six months after we had expected to complete the first phase of the project. We began in January, with funding from the Brigstow Institute. But Covid intervened, and we had to change our mode of working with members of the public as we carried out our research. Everything took a lot longer. We still haven’t quite finished, but broadly speaking we have achieved everything we set out to do. We’ve learned a great deal about how people want to shop sustainably online, we’ve made a prototype browser plugin based on that knowledge, and in turn we have learned much from people’s reactions to it. We’re codifying that knowledge, and will publish papers in 2021. I’m also getting ready for the next phase, driven by my company matter II media, with the goal of bringing the plugin to the masses.

Stage 1. Focus groups and interviews

We began by reviewing the literature and holding focus groups with consumers – just before Covid struck. We found a strong appetite for shopping in a sustainable way, with individuals’ sustainability concerns ranging from plastic-free oceans to deforestation and human rights. They varied widely, however, in how much time they had to shop sustainably, in their knowledge, and in their sense of empowerment. Many people lead busy lives which allow them little time to make sustainable decisions. Others are like detectives who want to make sure that they are making their decisions optimally, on the best information – despite the existence of many grey areas.

One of the main things we learned was that online support for sustainable shopping isn’t just about helping people make sustainable choices when they buy online. Many sustainably minded people prefer to shop in physical stores, but online is still the best place for their research.

In a second round of research, we looked at sustainable shopping and research practices in more depth. This round was to have taken the form of physical workshops; Covid meant that we had to conduct individual online interviews instead. We recruited sustainably minded shoppers from the general public, watched what they did as they searched for items online, and probed them with ideas about how they might (or might not) want to influence or be influenced by other people. The findings were encouraging of the idea that an online tool had a significant role to play.

Online shopping is very difficult for many consumers, due to conflicting information, the complexity of sustainability issues (e.g. it’s organic but it comes wrapped in plastic), the lack of transparent brands, and the absence of complete information. But there is a marked group of consumers who are sustainably minded to a significant degree around a variety of different issues – even if it’s with a variable depth of understanding, and a variable amount of time to act.

The affective experience broadly focused on negative feelings: worry, exhaustion, shame, guilt. Finding sustainable items was laborious and hit and miss. However, some consumers were clearly excited when they found a product that they were happy with, and found ‘following the clues’ energising. Consumers use heuristics to help them through the complexity. Some want quick and easy heuristics to make decisions and that is all. For example, many simply default to the brands they trust. Others are prepared to go significantly further when it comes to shopping sustainably.

We asked about sharing and other forms of engagement. Consumers have mixed intentions of influencing others around them and brands. However, most would be happy to share their choices with the intention of influencing other consumers or brands, or helping others make more sustainable choices.

Stage 2. Sust, the prototype plugin

Based on the foregoing research, we designed and implemented a prototype plugin in the form of a Chrome browser extension called Sust, which we showed to twelve sustainably minded participants in online interviews, to gauge their reactions and learn from their responses. They made many useful suggestions for improving the prototype, but overall the reaction was very positive. It convinces us that this approach is worth pursuing.

Find out more and see a video of Sust in action here.

Next steps

We will be publishing papers detailing our research into online consumer behaviour with respect to sustainable shopping, and drawing general design implications for online tools.

Tim Kindberg of matter II media is looking for funding for the next stage of the plugin’s development, towards a roll-out in H2 2021. This will involve:

  • Porting the plugin to Firefox and Safari, including for mobile.
  • Improvement of the plugin’s robustness and the detailed design of its interface with respect to information provision and sharing
  • Development of social mechanisms with respect to the information repository that is the basis for the plugin, so that the integrity of the information upon which people make shopping decisions can be maintained, while allowing for debate.

Covid has disrupted all of our lives, and caused us to do even more of our shopping online. The proportion of online grocery shopping in the UK has roughly doubled to about 10%, for example. Covid has also led many of us to question the true value of many of the things we do and buy, particularly with respect to sustainability, whether our concern be plastic, the climate emergency, or the welfare of humans and the other species with which we share our planet.

We look forward to our work continuing in 2021. Would you like to join us? Get in touch!

Sust, the I Didn’t Buy plugin

Sust is the working name for our web browser plugin which is designed to help people shop sustainably. It works by identifying products for sale in web sites, and overlaying an interface which both presents sustainability-related information and enables the consumer to contribute sustainability-related information.

Our research engagements with sustainably minded shoppers told us that the plugin needed to support a variety of approaches to shopping sustainably, to sharing what individual consumers have found out, and to engaging further (or not) as a member of a community of sustainable shoppers.

We divided Sust’s functionality into three layers.

  • To inform: the user finds shortcuts to sustainability information about products and brands, and brands learn about the preferences of consumers in relation to their market offerings.
  • To influence: the user seeks to influence others on the basis of that information, including brands and other consumers.
  • To engage: the user adds to or improves that information as an opportunity to engage more deeply with sustainable consumption. This is to create a community of involved, empowered shoppers engaged both in the market’s sustainable offerings and in the sustainability strategies of brands with an online presence.

Our imperative was to provide shortcuts in all three layers, in order to cut down on the complexity of sustainable shopping. For example, rather than having to find a brand’s statement on sustainability when they visit its website, the plugin provides a shortcut to it from any page of the site.

We created Sust as a Chrome browser extension (plugin) with the following functionality:

  • Product discovery. The plugin automatically discovers products in web pages
  • Information repository. The plugin communicates with a server-based database which collates and provides information about products and brands across websites.
  • Information overlay. The plugin provides information both about the website and about the individual products within it. The product-based information takes the form of “traffic lights” and online reports with respect to sustainability choices, links to alternative products, and information about whether other sustainably-minded shoppers gave a particular product a sustainability “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”.
  • Sharing shortcuts. The plugin streamlines actions such as communicating with a brand or posting on social media about a product, and giving a product a sustainability “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”.
  • Contribution shortcuts. The plugin streamlines actions such as contributing links to further sustainability reports, or to sustainable alternative products.

We showed Sust to sustainably minded participants in online interviews, as it operated on the John Lewis and Asos websites with selected products. We are in the process of fully codifying the results, but the prototype received an enthusiastic response, and many excellent suggestions for improving it.

In 2021, we will be putting those improvements into effect and making Sust available to the public.

Our prototype plugin: ready for testing!

It seems like a long time ago that our project team met for the first time in a crowded, very much un-socially distanced Boston Tea Party on Park Street. It was hard then to envisage a time when we would have a ‘minimum viable product’ available for testing. But here we are! Next week we enter the final stage of the Brigstow funded part of our project – testing a plugin with sustainably minded consumers.

The I Didn’t Buy project was set up to develop a web browser plugin that would allow people to rapidly access information on sustainability of products they were researching and ensure that sustainability featured as one of the normative evaluation criteria for online shopping, along with price, appearance and customer review. Thinking back a few years, online shopping did not take customer opinion into account, and that has changed thanks to new and now normative technologies that afford user generated content. We are intending that sustainability information does the same and becomes just a normal part of everyday online shopping. We also want to empower consumers to work with, and for, this information and the plugin makes it easy and appealing to share thoughts with other consumers and with manufacturers, for example calling for better sustainability information and transparency.

Since the project launched in January, we have been able to hold two face to face focus groups and then moved our methodology over to online interviews. These two research phases were focused on understanding how sustainability minded people shop, and the experiences they have of shopping online. The findings emphasise the confusion and complexity surrounding shopping with sustainability in mind. Corporate sustainability language is difficult to follow and often buried. Consumers rely on known brands or just give up. Many people avoid online shopping altogether if they can, so they can better guarantee the provenance of the products they are buying.

Using our rich data, analysed using thematic analysis and presented in report form, we developed a set of requirements for the plugin. We have developed the MVP and are now ready to test. The final phase of research is the most ambitious and involves three stages with 17 sustainably minded consumers who range from rapid, largely unreflexive shoppers to those who are more considered and careful and keen to share their experiences. The shoppers we have recruited will be shown a video of the MVP as a short familiarisation and training exercise (online, with a synchronous question and answer session). For a week they then go about their normal lives, but we ask for a short survey to be completed each time they search for something online (or a minimum of three times). These questions prompt reflection about how the plugin would have been useful. Finally, an hour long online interview will be conducted, where the plugin will be interrogated for its design features, depth of content, presentation of information and usability.

We have had to adapt our methodology considerably during lockdown and it has certainly slowed us down. We were initially hoping to finish the project in April. However, the slower pace has allowed more detailed reflection about our approach and the chance to theorize our findings. It has been fascinating working in such a strongly interdisciplinary team from both academia and practice. Our modus operandi has been communication and clarity at every step. We might have different ways of describing or researching phenomena, but through good humoured conversation have always managed to reach a point of agreement. The next step is publication (for the academics) and securing further funding to facilitate marketisation.

Getting started!

We held our first team meeting on 14 January, 2020.

We’re busy planning our first focus groups, which will be held on the evening of Thursday 6 Februrary. We’ll be recruiting shortly and will be posting details here and on Twitter at @ididntbuy.