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images representing sustainability, and five indicative of luxury. Participants
were encouraged to source their images from online sites,
print advertisements, photo albums, magazines, and the like, and to
consider the implications of their respective choices. At follow-up
meetings, each participant offered a personal narrative describing why
they chose specific images, and what meaning they attached to each
image. We also asked informants to sort their respective images into
three relevant categories of their own devising (e.g. industry-related
activities, advertising, and luxury-defining locations such as Parisian
landmarks). Participants then described how any two of their categories
were more similar to each other than to the third. We conducted
this triad task to probe for deeper meanings and values associated
Table 2 provides a list of images that participants provided. Spiggle
(1994), as well as Thompson (1996), provide a detailed analysis of this
approach, including categorization, abstraction of categories, comparison
of instances within data, and discernment of emergent themes.
Various techniques have been proposed to tap into the subconscious,
where most decisions are made. Heisley and Levy (1991) describe the
importance of visual elicitation techniques, as does Zaltman (1997),
the developer of ZMET. According to Zaltman (1997) 95 percent of
what consumers think and feel is never expressed verbally; mechanisms
that elicit responses are needed. Our participants’ respective responses
to images of their choosing revealed subtle assumptions, desires, and
beliefs; their self-selected and self-interpreted images served their purpose
Fast Fashion, Sustainability, and the Ethical Appeal of Luxury Brands 279
Table 1
List of participants.
Roxanne Canada 20 Student
Lynn Hong Kong 31 Homemaker
Linda Hong Kong 21 Student
Rita Hong Kong 35 Homemaker
Dave Canada 35 Merchandiser
Wendy Hong Kong 20 Student
Nora Canada 32 Shop assistant
Brendan Canada 30 Sales clerk
Eva Hong Kong 35 Consultant
Leticia Hong Kong 33 Office worker
Alexa Hong Kong 35 Teacher
Catherine Canada 32 Office worker
Rita Canada 20 Student
Cynthia Hong Kong 32 Lawyer
Cathy Hong Kong 33 Office worker
Sheena Canada 30 Shop assistant
Jenny Hong Kong 20 Student
Henry Canada 21 Student
Alicia Canada 25 Grocery store worker
Tania Canada 20 Student
Andrew Hong Kong 20 Student
Ellen Hong Kong 31 Sales assistant
Joanne Hong Kong 20 Student
Melissa Canada 22 Student
Linda Hong Kong 25 Student
Paula Canada 30 Homemaker
Tom Canada 30 Fashion store manager
John Canada 30 Sales manager
Tim Hong Kong 32 Financial officer
Eric Hong Kong 30 Bank teller
280 Annamma Joy, John F. Sherry, Jr, Alladi Venkatesh, Jeff Wang and Ricky Chan
Our overarching finding is that consumers from both Hong Kong
and Canada, while concerned about the environmental and social impact
of their non-fashion purchasing decisions, did not apply such principles
to their consumption of fashion. They talked in general terms of
saving the environment, were committed to recycling, and expressed
dedication to organic food. In the strict fashion context, ethical fashion
refers to “the positive impact of a designer, a consumer choice, a method
of production as experienced by workers, consumers, animals, society,
and the environment” (Thomas 2008: 525). Yet, these very same consumers
routinely availed themselves of trend-led fashionable clothing
that was cheap: i.e. low cost to them, but high cost in environmental
and societal terms. They also exhibited relatively little guilt about fast
fashion’s disposability, seeing little discrepancy between their attitudes
toward sustainability and their fashion choices.
Our finding is unsurprising; other studies have similarly documented
irrational consumer choices that are poorly connected to, or completely
disconnected from, consumer values (Moisander and Personen 1991).
The moral-norm activation theory of altruism proposed by Schwartz
(1973) states that environmental quality is a collective good, and therefore
will motivate consumers to embrace environmentalism in all aspects
of life. The rapid rise of fast fashion implies otherwise. Schwartz’ theory
presumes that consumers will thoughtfully evaluate the life cycle of different
products, and will then select whichever product has the least
environmental load. However, in our study, participants had little overlap
with the “ethical hard liners” (those living entirely in line with their
commitment to sustainability, and thus purchasing only eco-fashion)
discussed by Niinimaki (2010: 152) in her study of eco-fashion in Finland.
Solomon and Rabolt (2004) argue that sustainability is simply not
an attribute that most consumers consider when purchasing clothing.
Table 2