In this paper I investigate the marketing of fast fashion and the industry’s way of responding to and solving ethical issues. A number of issues are immediately apparent: the industry has an enormous impact on the environment; the nature of fast fashion and its short lead times demand large amounts of garments but also labor; the drive for efficiency incentivizes companies to outsource manufacturing to developing nations in which wages are much lower; and the safety and dignity of laborers in developing nations are questionable. Focusing on H&M as a case study, the paper delves into the seeming dichotomy of fast fashion and sustainability. First, a survey was conducted to provide insight on consumer perceptions of fast fashion and sustainability; this information is then used to paint a picture of the cultural context of fast fashion operations. Next, the annual reports of five of the largest fast fashion companies were analyzed to determine the level of transparency in corporate communications with a focus on companies’ social and environmental impact. Lastly, the communication between corporations and stakeholders was inserted into the framework of critical theory to determine the manner in which fast fashion as an industry conformed to cultural expectations or, inversely, conformed cultural expectations to their way of operating. From the analyses I conclude that the communications of corporate sustainability are used to satisfy stakeholder demands without sacrificing the profitability of their operations. While steps are taken towards improving social and natural environments, such improvements are only made insofar as it benefits the corporations. Moreover, it is shown that corporate behavior is reactive to demands; measures are only taken when the status quo is challenged by external actors, be they social outrage or legislative changes. In conclusion, the current operations of H&M and similar corporations, and the desire to ensure sustainability through the market, are insufficient. Governmental intervention is recommended as a means to ensure corrective change, but no conclusive solution is found.
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