Selling sustainability: investigating how Swedish fashion brands communicate sustainability to consumers

Informa UK Limited
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Sustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy, 2022, 18, (1), pp. 357-370
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
Over the last thirty years, sustainability has become a growing concern in the fashion industry. While there is agreement among a growing range of actors regarding the need to engage with the social and environmental challenges created by the fashion industry, there is less consent regarding what sustainability entails. Although “sustainability” may be intuitively understood, it has different meanings, depending on how it is applied, and who it is applied by. Without a clear-cut definition, sustainability becomes subjective. In this context, there is a need for research at the intersection of brand-sustainability initiatives and their communication to consumers, who play a vital role in this transition. Drawing on a case study of the Swedish fashion industry, we explore how evolving industrial business models and emerging best practices are informed by a robust understanding of sustainability. We evaluate how brands communicate sustainability to consumers across three key sites: brand websites (including corporate social responsibility reports), social media platforms, and in-store campaigns. We found that not only do brands use a range of practices to define sustainability differently, but furthermore, these definitions vary depending on the context. Considering the industry’s ongoing history with greenwashing, it is vital to address and confront this issue head on. We argue that there is a need to determine what constitutes sustainability in the fashion industry and, in turn, hold businesses to that standard. As COVID-19 has only magnified and intensified these challenges, the article explores the implications of a more robust approach for both theory and practice.
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