By Alessandra Ceriani, Ye Seong Shin, Maria Mruk, Natacha Reymond

Tuesday, 14th of May, 2019 by Geneva Tsinghua Initiative

Controversy Introduction

In recent years, tragic accidents, active movements, and awareness-raising campaigns have been witnessed on how current fast fashion industry model is unsustainable and detrimental on social, economic, and environmental dimensions. Naturally, a variety of discourses around “sustainability” has been emerged as a hotly-debated topic, and the so-called “S-buzzword” made its way by shedding spotlight on fast fashion industry’s mode of production and consumption, which are vital elements within supply chain management of fast fashion. (Gonzalez, 2015).

In an effort to reflect the zeitgeist of this new trend, and to fulfill consumers’ consciousness, H&M has begun greenwashing campaigns, sustainable marketing strategy, and reputational advantage, with an objective of winning customers’ heart and wallets. As much as these initiatives might sound beautiful, in fact, these are under criticisms whether or not they are the right approach to improve externalities of fast fashion on local communities and environment. In this line of thought, two controversial questions are discussed: 1. What kinds of sustainability policies and strategies does H&M have? 2. How can these sustainability policies and strategies be compatible with its fast fashion business model?

Historical Background

During the 1950s, after the World War II, consumer culture started to take its roots, which was the starting era of mass production. In this time of economic prosperity, shopping for non-essentials was an everyday routine. Fast fashion, in essence, had an inclusive connotation of giving accessibility for all, whether rich or poor, to purchase and express their personality through it. In the 1970s, consumers have begun to question supply chains of fast fashion. Answers soon led to boycotts, protests, and creation of social and environmental movements, which raised awareness about human impacts on the environment. (Lee, 2003).

Along with the past struggle, a game-changing transformation towards a sustainable model has been marked by several critical junctures in the modern era (Gonzalez, 2015):

Stakeholder Mapping

3.1 H&M

H&M, the Swedish brand and leader in the fast fashion market, whose mission from the beginning was to make fashion available to all at a great price, stands out among fast fashion brands for its commitment on sustainability. As stated in their sustainability report in 2018, the goal for H&M is “100% leading the change” across the entire fashion industry and improve the way products are designed and made. Being on the top three industries for market share, the brand has economic power which brings greater responsibility towards environmental and social issues pressured by consumers, investors, and reputational reasons. (Hitwise, 2017). Nevertheless, this does not mean that H&M is not moving away from its business model. It keeps outsourcing its goods abroad, relying on a high number of suppliers and subcontractors in countries with low minimum wages that do not often guarantee fair working conditions.  

3.2 Fast Fashion Consumers

Fast fashion consumers as ultimate decision makers within the supply chain can play an important role in fostering a paradigm shift in how fashion is conceived (Fu and Kim, 2019). They are becoming increasingly responsive to ethical fashion initiatives and product information (Shen at al., 2012; Pookulangara and Shepard, 2013). In contrast, different studies showed that there is an attitude-behavior gap while purchasing eco-fashion, which is inconsistent with their beliefs. This may happen because of information insufficiency regarding the impact of the fashion industry, or the unwillingness to pay a higher price for sustainable goods. In other words, fashion remains a highly emotion-driven action, whose dynamics are difficult to change.

3.3 Academia (Business and Management within Fashion Schools)

Academic literature and experiences produced by Business and Management studies within Fashion Schools, such as Fashion Retail Academy and London Metropolitan University, are contributing to the fashion industry by updating discourses and facilitating sustainability trends, while raising future pioneers and entrepreneurs for future fashion industry. The academia puts an emphasis on social and environmental dimensions related with global textile consumption of H&M, purporting obstacles at each step of the supply chain management which should be moving towards implementing all aspects of Triple Bottom Line (refer to diagram below). The indispensable nature of sustainable supply chain management to achieve sustainable fashion model leverages and pressures on fast fashion stakeholders ranging from international, national and local levels to make a change. (Shen, 2014).

3.4 Fashion Revolution

Fashion Revolution is an action-oriented and solution-focused global movement, consisted of different stakeholders ranging from designers, entrepreneurs, policymakers, to brands (Fashion Revolution, n.d.). The movement has an aim of making radical changes in fast fashion industry by uniting different stakeholders together to figure out new ways to source, produce and consume clothing. (Fashion Revolution, 2019). For instance, it is engaged with awareness-raising initiatives, such as Fashion Hackathon for Sustainability, which brought people with different backgrounds to work together to find ways to make fashion supply chains more transparent.


As it acquires funding from different entities and supported by European Union and European Council, its actions and movements are not interrupted by big brands. (Fashion Revolution, n.d.). Fashion Revolution challenged H&M on wrong statistics about the brand’s “World Recycle Week”, and pointed out unfactual language used in the brand’s website, that have been later corrected by the brand. (H&M Group, 2018).

   Overview of Stakeholder Analysis


Current fast fashion industry can be considered as a hybrid system, which encompasses challenging transitions towards a sustainable fashion industry model. Fast fashion relies on a particular set values and cost-benefit principles derived from capitalistic economy that influences priorities, stakeholders’ decisions and consumers behavior. This dominant paradigm is slowly being altered by values of a different sphere: sustainability. The case of H&M is emblematic of this duality: sustainable considerations introduced in business-as-usual scenario with good faith. This sustainability reforms and strategies, although marginal in term of effectiveness, is a small beginning towards a big change. Possibly, in the long-term future, more and moe environmental and social considerations will encourage full transformation of the industry.


Primary Sources: Academic Articles, Official Expert Reports

Crommentuijn-Marsh, P., Eckertb, C, Potterc, S. (2010). Consumer Behaviour Towards Sustainability in Fashion. INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON KANSEI ENGINEERING AND EMOTION RESEARCH.

Fletcher, K. (2010). Slow Fashion: An Invitation for Systems Change. Fashion Practice, 2:2, 259-265.

Fu, W. and Kim, Y. K. (2019).  Eco-Fashion Consumption: Cognitive-Experiential Self-Theory. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal. Vol. 47, No. 3.

Hitwise. (2017). Fast Fashion Industry 2017 Key Brands, Market Challenges, Customer Attitudes. Accessed at:

H&M Group. (2018). Sustainability Report 2018. Accessed at:

Shen, B. (2014). Sustainable Fashion Supply Chain: Lessons from H&M. Sustainability Journal, 6, 6236-6249. Accessed at:

Shen, B., Wang, Y., Lo, C. K. Y., and Shum, M. (2012). The impact of ethical fashion on consumer purchase behavior. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management: An International Journal. Vol. 16 Issue: 2, pp.234-245.

Pookulangara, S. and Shephard, A. (2013). Slow fashion movement: Understanding consumer perceptions—An exploratory study. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services. 20 200–206, Published by Elsevier Ltd.

Secondary Sources: Blog Posts, Media Articles

Fashion Revolution. (n.d.) About Fashion Revolution. Accessed at:

Fashion Revolution. (2019). Transparency is Trending. Post.

Gonzalez, N. (2015). A Brief History of Sustainable Fashion. Sustainably Attired. Triple Pundit. Retrieved from: Group. (2018). Transparency Index ranks H&M group among the top five. News Article. Accessed at:

Lee, M. (2003). One size fits all in McFashion. The Guardian. Accessed at: