The University of Arizona

Selling women the green dream: the paradox of feminism and sustainability in fashion marketing

Mariko Takedomi Karlsson, Vasna Ramasar


This article explores the paradox of corporations using social and environmental justice concerns to market products that are themselves made in conditions of environmental and social injustice, most often in the Global South. The effects of the fashion industry on people is two-pronged: 1) the unsafe and exploitative conditions under which many garment workers operate, and 2) the severe and harmful water and air pollution caused by fashion industry factories. There are thus contradictions inherent in the manner in which corporations, through their marketing, seek to foster feminism and environmentalism, whilst sourcing their garments from factories that operate in problematic ways. Using case studies of advertising campaigns from three Swedish companies, H&M, Monki and Gina Tricot, we conducted a discourse analysis to understand the messages to consumers as well as the image of the company that is portrayed. Through our political ecology analysis, we suggest that the promotion of feminism and environmentalism is not consistently applied by companies in their own practices and could at worst be labeled green and 'fem washing.' These approaches can also be deeply problematic when they lead to the exotification of others, and cultural appropriation. We further find that the marketing strategies in fashion serve not only to promote the sale of products but also have the effect of placing environmental responsibility onto individual consumers. Ultimately, fashion marketing serves to obfuscate ecologically unequal exchange and the true costs of fashion.

Key words: gender, marketing, consumption, feminism, fashion, textiles, advertising, ecologically unequal exchange, sustainability

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