Fast fashion and slow fashion
companies' constructions of
Two case studies of the category leaders' external
communication from a discourse perspective
Author: Elina Tikkanen
Supervisor: Simon Lind Fischer
BA in Marketing and Management Communication
Department of Business Communication
Bachelor’s Thesis – BA MMC – 402885
As the demand for authenticity is documented to be increasingly central in the
postmodern societies, the report seeks to investigate how contemporary fast fashion
and slow fashion companies respond to this demand. As the research functions as a
preliminary research of the topic, it approaches the question through a qualitative
case study method. It examines the leading Swedish fast fashion and slow fashion
companies’, H&M and Filippa K, external communication, conducting discourse
analyses of 8 press releases issued as part of the companies’ characteristic marketing
To approach the contemporary phenomenon of authenticity, a social constructionist
perspective is assumed. The perspective is reflected by the chosen theories, which
build upon a premise of constructive authenticity. Grayson and Martinec’s
conceptions of indexical and iconic authenticity, together with Beverland et al.’s
account of moral authenticity, provide the research with an initial theoretical
framework. In addition, to provide direction to the analysis, a review of previously
encountered attributes of authenticity is conducted, resulting in a guiding list of the
potential conceptual and manifest expressions of authenticity.
The results show that both companies use various disparate cues to convey
authentic images, applying both conceptual and manifest expressions. In addition,
moral authenticity is equally dominant in their respective lines of communication.
However, the companies’ uses of indexical and iconic cues differ significantly: While
H&M applies primarily iconic cues, Filippa K’s cues are mostly indexical. Moreover,
contradicting previous assertions, the results indicate that moral authenticity need
not be conveyed merely through iconic cues, but that indexical cues may work
equally well. Finally, basing on the previous research, the report suggests that
suitability of certain expressions may be influenced by the field of industry and the
level of company’s prestige.
While the results do not allow generalizations, they may function as inspiration for
other fashion marketers. In addition, the represented suggestions may stimulate
Bachelor’s Thesis – BA MMC – 402885
further research, indicating particularly worthwhile questions in the fields of fashion
and authenticity.
Bachelor’s Thesis – BA MMC – 402885
Table of Contents
3.1 H&M
Total number of characters: 54 878
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1. Introduction
1.1 Appetizer
Many marketing experts today tell that being authentic is one of the most significant
cornerstones of contemporary marketing (Crawford 2009; Bai, Tan, Choi & Au 2009;
Beverland 2005). In the same vein, the tension between authenticity and
inauthenticity (or imitation) is said to be a key constituent of our contemporary
Western culture (Grayson & Martinec 2004). The need for authenticity is so
substantial that books and companies exist to tell brand managers how to be (or at
least seem) authentic (Crawford 2009). Despite its strong connection with today’s
marketing practice and “all the attempts to fake it as a marketing ploy” (Dolliver
2001: 19, in Grayson & Martinec 2004), authenticity has proved to be a longstanding and persistent theme, not only in marketing, but also in other disciplines
like anthropology, geography, communication studies, philosophy and sociology
(Grayson & Martinec 2004).
The persistent position of authenticity has made it an important positioning device
for many contemporary brands. When positioning oneself as authentic, one does not
only make a claim about oneself, but simultaneously, may position the competition
as less trustworthy, less reputable and less knowledgeable. In addition, “authenticity
has significant value in separating a brand from others in a similar category and
attracting the attention of consumers who are on a quest for individuality” (Bai et al.
2009: 254). Marketers’ inclination toward authenticity is predominantly driven by
the contemporary postmodern consumer culture. This new “cultural logic” or “state
of mind” – as the condition has been called (Featherstone 1988: 198-199) – is
centred around individuals’ identity construction projects, which are realized
through constant consumption. As consumption serves the projects largely through
authentic market offerings (Beverland, Lindgreen & Vink 2008; Turunen & Laaksonen
2011), marketers’ task is to construct perceptions of such.
Although the concept of authenticity has intrigued authors from various fields, the
definitions of it are relatively inconsistent (Grayson & Martinec 2004). The
conception is further complicated by industrial factors, since what is perceived as
Bachelor’s Thesis – BA MMC – 402885
authentic in one industry, may not be regarded as such in the other. Although most
of the findings are claimed to be transferrable to other industries, the actual market
manifestations of authenticity are not well understood in a number of industrial
realms (ibid.).
To contribute to the lack of comprehension, this report will investigate the concept
as related to fashion industry. The industry is especially prone to the impacts of
authenticity/inauthenticity perceptions, as it provides individuals with highly
conspicuous resources for identity constructions. Furthermore, the recent
development and polarization of the two branches of the industry – fast fashion and
slow fashion – have added to the tension between authenticity and inauthenicity,
providing the research with a highly actual sphere of study. The new entrant of the
industry, fast fashion – also called as “throwaway” fashion (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst
2010: 166), is characterized as low-priced and lower quality, but highly up-to-date
fashion, exemplified by ZARA, H&M and many other, especially European companies
(To et al. 2010). Providing cheap copies of catwalk designs and matching to everchanging consumer tastes, the branch seems to advocate inauthenticity. Slow
fashion, on the other hand, refers to more traditional, higher-priced and higher
quality fashion that relies on more consistent styles and seasonal fashion cycles
(Hines and Bruce 2007). While slow fashion does not champion inauthenticity as
clearly as its counterpart, both branches need to generate authenticity perceptions
in consumers’ minds, to be able to compete at the market place (Gustafsson 2006).
Given that marketers’ task is to construct perceptions of authenticity, this report
seeks to investigate how fashion marketers can successfully construct such
perceptions. Although authenticity has gained broad attention among consumer
researchers, this study explores the concept from the company’s point of view,
providing exemplars of contemporary companies’ manifestations of it. To illuminate
how authenticity is successfully conceived and communicated by fast fashion and
slow fashion companies, discourse analyses of the category leaders’ external
communication will be carried out, focusing on the following problem statement.
Bachelor’s Thesis – BA MMC – 402885
1.2 Problem statement
From a discourse perspective, how do market leaders of the two categories of
fashion companies – fast fashion and slow fashion companies, respectively –
communicate authenticity in their external communication?
1.3 Methodology
In an attempt to research the question, the report assumes a social constructionist
perspective, which is largely consistent with the postmodern mindset and therefore
applicable to such a postmodern phenomenon as the notion of authenticity is (Burr
2001). In accordance with the chosen perspective, the study applies the method of
discourse analysis, through which it seeks to examine constructions of authenticity in
the companies’ external communication.
1.3.1 Social constructivism
Adhering to Burr’s (2001) inspection, the social constructivist perspective implies
that the research will be conducted from the following presumptions: 1) The study
assumes a critical stand towards taken-for-granted knowledge, challenging the
positivist view based on objective observations and tendency toward
generalizations. Instead, it considers world as consisting of artificial categorizations
constructed by human’s inherently selective perception, due to which the generated
knowledge is based on subjective experience and cannot be generalized. 2) The
study assumes also a relativist position, according to which the ways to understand
the world are dependent on the context, such as one’s cultural and historical
background. 3) Finally, the study regards knowledge as constructed in social
processes between people. Thus, what is seen as ‘truth’ is a product of social
processes and everyday interactions in which people are constantly engaged with
each other. When the ‘truth’ is acted upon, it is reproduced and affirmed.
The chosen constructionist perspective has fundamental implications in the conduct
of this study. Ontologically it means that the report regards world as constructed in
language, in social practices between participants. Thereby, authenticity is regarded
as constructed in text, in the companies’ external communication. Epistemologically
the perspective implies that knowledge is gained by investigating how participants of
Bachelor’s Thesis – BA MMC – 402885
a certain social practice actively contribute to the construction of meaning. Thus, the
notion of authenticity is investigated by analyzing how the companies actively
construct meanings of it, and how other actors influence the process. Finally, the
social constructionist stand suggests that the active constructions be best examined
by analyzing the occurring discourses. The method of discourse analysis serves as a
means to identify the active and passive discourses, revealing the aspects that are
actively foregrounded and backgrounded in a text (e.g. van Dijk 1995). Hence, the
method is used to discover the foregrounded aspects of authenticity, providing
indication of how fashion companies conceptualize and manifest the concept.
As the mentioned subjectivity and relativism imply, the purpose of this study is not
to aim at generalizations through quantitative measures, but to apply qualitative
approach and explain parts of the phenomenon by answering the “how” question
through exemplars of fashion companies. While the position does not provide
marketers with models for use, it helps them to comprehend the phenomenon and
may inspire in the creation of their own, well-informed and grounded efforts to
communicate authenticity.
1.3.2 Theoretical framework
To investigate how fast fashion and slow fashion companies communicate
authenticity, the study will heavily draw from previous studies and conceptions of
the concept. In addition, it will provide an overview of the postmodern consumer
culture and a brief account of fast fashion and slow fashion strategies, developing a
context for the final analysis.
To review the concept of authenticity, Wang’s (1999) notion of constructive
authenticity provides the study with a point of departure. Building on the notion,
two major lines of study, one that attempts to conceptualize the different types of
authenticity and the other that seeks to identify specific attributes of it, are
accounted. As the former line of work is determinately characterized by two types of
authenticity, one relating to real, substantiated authenticity and the other relating to
imagined, look-alike images, the study adopts this dichotomy as a foundational way
to comprehend the concept. Grayson and Martinec’s (2004) account of indexical and
Bachelor’s Thesis – BA MMC – 402885
iconic authenticity will serve as an explanatory theory to the dichotomy, as it is
rudimentary in nature and thus one of the most often elaborated accounts in the
literature. To further elaborate the dichotomy’s manifestations in the marketplace,
Beverland and Luxton’s (2005) notions of IMC and decoupling approaches will
provide relevant outlooks. Finally, the dichotomy is transformed into a trichotomy by
including Beverland et al.’s (2008) notion of moral authenticity as a third type of
authenticity. As the authors build their research upon Grayson and Martinec’s
concepts of indexical and iconic cues, moral authenticity does not contradict the
developed categories, but serves as yet another type of authenticity in which moral
aspect is at the front.
The other line of study – the one that seeks to identify various properties of
authenticity – serves the research with specific attributes, against which the
discourses can be analyzed. A gathered list of the encountered expressions seeks to
direct the analyzer’s selective perception, introducing some objectivity to the
otherwise subjective process. Bai et al.’s (2009) account of various attributes of
authenticity acts as the main contribution to the list, as it draws from the
researchers’ literature review. However, Beverland’s (2006) and Beverland and
Luxton’s (2005) studies and Holt’s (2003) theorization strongly suggest three
additional attributes, due to which these properties are included as complementary
aspects. Although the attributes are not directly identified as related to fashion, they
provide the analysis with a framework of potential properties that may occur in the
communication of the fashion companies.
While the research is mainly built upon the given theorizations of authenticity, brief
overviews of postmodernism and the emerged categories of fashion will create the
context for the analysis. The review of postmodernism will draw from the theories of
Featherstone (1988) and Brown (1993), who have extensively contributed to the
literature on the topic. Fast fashion and slow fashion, on the other hand, are
explained in accordance with the conceptions of the fashion-marketing specialists,
Hines and Bruce (2007).
Bachelor’s Thesis – BA MMC – 402885
1.3.3 Structure
The report will proceed by first reviewing literature on the related fields. Theories of
postmodernism, authenticity and the two branches of fashion are accounted. Then,
the case companies are represented and the applied method and the investigated
primary data introduced in more detail. After this, results of the analysis will follow,
leading to discussion, conclusion and suggestions for future research.
2. Literature review
2.1 Authenticity
Literature review on authenticity shows that the concept has evoked interest in
various fields, intriguing the academic mind since the end of the eighteenth century
(Bai et al. 2009). However, only in the past decades this “powerful moral ideal” has
become one of the most debated topics both at the marketplace and in the
marketing literature (249). The significant rise of authenticity is often attributed to
the rise of the new postmodern consumer culture (e.g. Bai et al. 2009). Therefore,
before taking a closer look at the conceptions of authenticity, the contemporary
postmodern condition serves some attention.
2.1.1 Authenticity and postmodernism
The postmodern condition, also described as a “cultural logic” or contemporary
“mind-set” (Featherstone 1988), was born in the 1960s as a counter-reaction to
modernism. Although regarded as an ambiguous concept (Brown 1993),
postmodernism has influenced a board range of artistic, intellectual and academic
fields, ranging from music, art, architecture and literature to history, philosophy,
anthropology, sociology, economy, and not least, marketing (ibid.).
Postmodenism’s impact on marketing is especially noteworthy, as the urge to
consume is seen as “a characteristic symptom, maybe the characteristic symptom, of
the postmodern condition” (Brown 1993: 19). This consumption-centred consumer
culture is characterized by retro-orientation, increasing consumer power,
fragmentation, individuality, self-expression and stylistic self-consciousness (Brown
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1993; Featherstone 1988). Although the prominent position of authenticity can be
regarded as a postmodern feature in its own right (Bai et al 2009), it can be also
thought of as a reflection of other postmodern features. For example, retroorientation – preference for past over future and tried-and-tested over new-andimproved (Brown 1999) – is reflected in authenticity’s inclination to past, while
increasing consumer power is reflected in companies’ attempts to appear authentic
through interactive and transparent customer-focused marketing strategies (Bai et
al. 2009). As authenticity seems to reflect the demands of today’s consumer culture,
according to some, it has become a minimum requirement for contemporary brands
(Gustafsson 2006).
The notion that authenticity and postmodern condition are intertwined suggests
that the conception of authenticity is tightly bound to a certain time and culture. As
a result, authenticity has no consistent, all-inclusive meaning, but rather a diverse
set of conceptions that emphasise its various facets. In the following, the report will
review some of the most prominent theories and accounts of the concept, which will
later direct the analysis.
2.1.2 Research on authenticity
Literature review on marketing-based authenticity discovers that the concept has
been researched in several fields using a variety of approaches. The concept has
been studied in connection to fields such as tourism (Cole 2007), theme parks
(Grayson & Martinec 2004), luxury wines (Beverland 2006), artistic collaborations
(Bai et al. 2009) and advertising (Beverland 2008). While most of the studies have
adopted either a consumer perspective or a producer perspective, examining how
consumers view authenticity (e.g. Martinec & Grayson 2004) or how the concept is
applied in practice (e.g. Beverland & Luxton 2005), some have involved perspectives
of other stakeholders (e.g. Cole 2007). Moreover, the studies have assumed
distinctive goals, as some have attempted to identify attributes of authenticity (Bai
et al. 2009; Beverland 2006), some represent inquires about the essence of the term
(e.g. Ingram 2007; Gustafsson 2006) and some categorize different forms of it (e.g.
Beverland 2008; Grayson & Martinec 2004).
Bachelor’s Thesis – BA MMC – 402885
Consequently, the definitions of authenticity are as various as are the approaches.
Despite marketers’ overwhelming interest in authenticity, one of the most
comprehensive definitions comes from sociology, describing authenticity as "sincere,
innocent, original, genuine, and unaffected, distinct from strategic and pragmatic
self-presentation … linked to moral authority of the creator and simultaneously to
the fact that the object was made by hand, not mechanically produced … [with an]
absence of cognitive understanding, creating an unmediated experience" (Fine 2003,
in Beverland & Luxton 2005: 103). As the definition is found to be consistent with a
number of proposed attributes of marketing-based authenticity (ibid.), it will serve
as an enlightening point of departure for subsequent accounts.
Before proceeding to the central theories of authenticity, a bottom line clarification
of how this report understands the concept needs to be done. Wang (1999)
differentiates between three types of authenticity: constructive authenticity
meaning that something can acquire authenticity through social recognition,
objective authenticity referring to a museum version, and existential authenticity
indicating a special existential state in which individuals are true to themselves. This
report, like most of the previous studies, views authenticity as conforming to the
first type, constructive authenticity. Thus, it regards authenticity as a social construct
that needs a social context and an interpreter to exist (Grayson & Martinec 2004;
Turunen & Laaksonen 2011). Accordingly, the concept has no objective quality, but is
negotiable and dependent on the observer’s perception (Cole 2007).
In the following sections, the report will account different views of authenticity, as
reflected by the literature reviewed. Firstly, it will represent accounts of different
ways to comprehend the concept, after which the attention will be turned to specific
properties that are suggestive of authenticity.
2.1.3 Conceptions of authenticity
The socially constructed nature of commercial authenticity has raised a debate
concerning the essence of the concept and the related ethical concerns, evolving
around whether authenticity can and should be a mere surface construction or
whether substance is needed to backup such constructions. Centring the debate,
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there are two types of authenticity: one that refers to the real, original or genuine
with a substance, and the other that refers to the accepted but enjoyed look-alike
images. Respectively, these types have been referred to as cool and hot authenticity
(Selwyn 1996), post postmodern and postmodern authenticity (Holt 2002, 2003),
pure and approximate authenticity (Beverland et al. 2008), and indexical and iconic
authenticity (Grayson & Martinec 2004). In addition, Beverland and Luxton’s (2005)
dichotomy between integrated marketing communication (IMC) approach and
decoupling approach can be accounted representing the conception. Indexical and iconic authenticity
To review the chief idea behind the polarization, Grayson and Martinec’s (2004)
account on indexical and iconic authenticity serves as a good point of departure. As
the theory is built upon the philosopher Charles Peirce’s account on the theory of
signs, it has provided a fruitful base for several subsequent studies, laying a
framework upon which new elaborated theories have been constructed. Due to the
foundational nature of this account, the terminology of indexical-iconic dichotomy
will be adopted also for the purposes of this paper. The authors provide an account
of “real” and “imagined” aspects of authenticity, constructing the concepts upon
Peirce’s notions of indexical and iconic cues. They regard indexical cues as physically
or psychically linked to the entities they are attributed. This means that the cue or
action needs to have “a factual and spatiotemporal link” to something else to
connote authenticity (298). Accordingly, indexical authenticity is used to describe
something that is thought not to be a copy or imitation, but “the original” and “the
real thing” (297). Similarly, a company’s actions are authentic if they are thought to
reflect the essence of the company and are not imitated to meet social conventions
or make money. Iconic cues, on the other hand, are said to refer to the cues that
make something resemble something else that is indexically authentic. Physical or
psychic links are not needed, as the observer is able to assess the level of similarity
by comparing the imitation to pre-existing knowledge or to a mere idea of how
something ought to be. Despite that some things are perceived as having more
indexical or iconic authenticity than others, authors maintain that every perceived
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cue has both iconic and indexical properties. Thus, these two are not mutually
exclusive, but the distinction is created through humans’ selective perception.
To further elaborate how the two types of authenticity take place at the
marketplace, Beverland and Luxton’s (2005) notions of IMC and decoupling
approaches provide a perspectivating outlook. In their study, the authors distinguish
between two general approaches to communication of authenticity: integrated
marketing communication (IMC) approach and decoupling approach. By IMC
approach they refer to a strategy that is based upon an idea of transparency and
consistency of internal and external communication. Due to this, the company’s
(in)authentic façade necessarily reflects its actual behind-the-scenes operations,
which means that the projected authenticity is indexical in nature. The decoupling
approach, on the other hand, is declared to suggest that the company’s behind-thescenes operations be “far more tightly programmed and scripted than consumers
are aware of” (104). For instance, when the company seeks to grow by reorganizing
its backstage operations, the brand veneer is kept unchanged, communicating the
sustained unprofessional image built around authenticity. The strategy parallels the
idea of iconicity, as the distinct brand veneer serves as an icon of the indexically
authentic company, while no real connection to such exist. According to Beverland
and Luxton, many companies, especially niche brands facing large mass-market
competition, would benefit from the strategy, as it allows them both to deliver their
brand promises of personalized authentic market offerings and to grow to ensure
their relevance. Moral authenticity
Finally, to expand on the developed dichotomy between indexiality and iconicity,
Beverland et al.’s (2008) intriguing notion of moral authenticity will serve as a third
type of authenticity. Building upon Grayson and Martinec’s indexical and iconic
authenticity, the authors identify pure and approximate authenticity, representing
the respective original categories. However, their research discovers yet another
type of authenticity, moral authenticity, which is strongly linked to a sense of moral
purpose and individually held values. Although the authors claim that moral
authenticity is most often attributed to iconic cues, it differs from iconic authenticity
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in its disposition to genuineness of intent, “be it evidenced by real commitments to
social programs or through the love of craft” (Beverland et al. 2008: 12).
So far, the literature review has developed a foundation for understanding different
types of authenticity: indexical authenticity, iconic authenticity and moral
authenticity. In the following, the report will turn to review specific expressions of
authenticity as reflected by the literature.
2.1.4 Expressions of authenticity
Most of the authors agree that rather than stating, ‘we are authentic’, companies
should provide consumers with cues which suggest authenticity (e.g. Beverland et al.
2008). For instance, Grayson and Martinec (2004) maintain that “the cues for
communicating and perceiving authenticity are at the foundation of this dialogue
between marketers and consumers over what is (or is not) authentic, and
understanding and specifying these cues is an important step in the process of
understanding this negotiation of meaning” (310). In order to respond to the broad
demand for authenticity, marketers should not consider the different expressions as
rivals, but continually draft together various disparate cues of authenticity in order
to create rich brand meanings for a board range of consumers (Beverland 2005).
Moreover, the attributes need to be constantly adapted and updated, so as to
respond to the “interplay between creators, commercial interests, critics,
competitors, and consumers” (Beverland & Luxton 2005: 104). Although the
literature review did not discover accounts of authenticity as purely related to
fashion, the notion that many attributes are transferrable to other industries lets us
consider the encountered attributes as potential expressions of authenticity also in
the fashion context (Beverland 2006).
Bai et al.’s (2009) account of expressions of authenticity – as presented in their study
of Adidas’s artistic collaborations – is one of the most comprehensive overviews
encountered. Although Bai et al.’s study examines the construction of authenticity
with reference to artists, their findings are widely supported. Moreover, the findings’
strong delineation to the artistic domain is justified by the notion that “authenticity
is a central defining feature of the artistic domain” (Bai et al. 2009: 253), due to
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which artistic properties could construct authenticity also in other industrial
Drawing from a literature review, authors understand authenticity in terms of its
conceptual expressions and manifest expressions, where the former represents the
abstract dimensions of authenticity, and the latter, consisting of both visual and nonvisual properties, its incarnate forms. Because the conceptual and manifest forms
exist at different existential levels, the categories share similar meanings. However,
communicating authenticity at different levels is recognized as an important means
to convey the impression to a heterogeneous range of consumers. Bai et al.’s
complete list of authenticity expressions is as follows:
Conceptual expressions – abstract dimension:
Self-expression/self-realization (being true to oneself)
Manifest expressions – incarnate forms:
Creative process/method of production
Link between the final design and the creative process
A connection to a particular person or organization (e.g. via endorser’s
narration, reputation, experience or signature)
Limited edition
Several authors support Bai et al.’s findings. For instance, Beverland (2006) and
Beverland and Luxton (2005) identify downplaying commercial considerations and a
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sincere brand story as important factors of authenticity among fine and luxury
wineries. Sincerity and actuality are endorsed also by Crawford (2009), while
Beverland et al. (2008) conclude that exclusiveness and self-expression may be
suggestive attributes of authenticity. Holt (1998), on the other hand, relates
authenticity to artisanal goods and small hand-crafted production runs, while
Beverland et al. (2008) find out that craftsmanship, small batch production methods,
links to history and tradition, place of production and connection to the creator
indicate authenticity. Likewise, Beverland’s (2006) study among luxury wineries
identifies method of production, history and place as important factors of
To complement Bai et al.’s findings, three additional expressions, implied by
Beverland (2006), Beverland and Luxton (2005) and Holt (2003), deserve to become
considered in their own right:
Reference to (sub)culture
Stylistic consistency
Quality commitments
While the two first are classified as manifest forms of authenticity, the latter is
determined to represent the abstract dimension. A review of all the encountered
properties of authenticity is presented in Table 1 (App. 1).
As the framework for authenticity is now complete, the report turns to review the
concepts of fast fashion and slow fashion, creating context for the analysis.
2.2 Two branches of fashion: fast fashion and slow fashion
Along with the rise of the contemporary postmodern consumer culture, the fashion
industry has seen a rise of a fast fashion phenomenon. Although the phenomenon is
not new, its roots being tracked back to the development of quick response
techniques in the late 1970’s, the term has come to a common usage only during the
last decade (Hines & Bruce 2007: 40). The rise of the phenomenon has been driven
by a combination of contemporary factors, including increasing consumers’ fashion
savviness, tendency to look to celebrities as style advisers, and increasing fashion
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coverage in the media (Barnes & Gaynor 2010).
Fast fashion, also called as “throwaway” fashion (Bhardwaj & Fairhurst 2010),
describes a retail strategy of adapting merchandise assortment to current and
emerging trends as quickly and effectively as possible. The main objective of this
strategy is to reduce demand uncertainty by producing short-cycle fashion products
close to and during the selling season (Hines & Bruce 2007). While “slow fashion”
industry (Cohen 2011: 13) – the name given to the traditional fashion industry to
counterpose the fast fashion phenomenon – relies on early fashion forecasts and
twice-a-year introductions of the new seasonal styles, fast fashion companies
forecast much closer to season and refresh their collections on monthly, or even
weekly basis, based on actual consumer demand (Hines and Bruce 2007).
While fast fashion has been embraced as “one of the most effective strategies to
compete with the speedy change in the industry” (To et al. 2010: 473) and as a
strategy of “democratizing couture and bringing trendy, affordable items to the
masses” (Sull & Turconi 2008: 5), it is also said to be centred around inexpensive,
cheaply made designer knockoffs that go in and out of style faster than traditional
fashion. Furthermore, fast fashion business is often viewed as not as socially or
ecologically responsible as slow fashion business, which is regarded as well-made,
long-lasting, free of sweatshop labour, and capable of being appreciated for longer
than a few weeks (Cohen 2011).
Now, as the concepts of fast fashion and slow fashion are clarified, introductions to
case companies will follow.
3. Introduction to case companies
H&M and Filippa K were chosen to represent the leaders of fast fashion and slow
fashion categories, respectively. The factors contributing to the selection of these
particular companies included their common country of origin (Sweden),
international operation base, international and homeland success, common
corporate language (English), and availability of press material. The criteria of
common country of origin and international operation base were determined to
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eliminate the major cultural influences. Common corporate language and availability
of material, on the other hand, facilitated the analyses, while the criterion of
successfulness sought to ensure the findings’ meaningfulness and relevance as
inspiration for others.
3.1 H&M
H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB (H&M) is a Sweden-based fast fashion company,
established in 1947. The company has operated internationally since 1964 and by
2012 it had around 2500 stores spread across 44 markets. H&M’s business concept is
to give the customer unbeatable value by offering the latest fashion and quality at
the best price. From 2004, as part of its strategy, the company has initiated designer
collaborations with names such as Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Viktor & Rolf,
Roberto Cavalli, Comme des Garçons, Matthew Williamson, Jimmy Choo, Sonia
Rykiel, Lanvin and Marni. The annual collaborations have become the company’s
trademark, and the several press releases issued on each project generate extensive
media coverage.
Although H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB now sells clothes under several brands like
COS, Monki and Cheap Monday, this study focuses on its H&M corporate brand.
(Facts about H&M)
3.2 Filippa K
Filippa K is a Sweden-based slow fashion company, established in 1993. It has
operated internationally from 1994, and is now present in over 20 markets all over
the world. The company’s business idea is to “design, manufacture, communicate
and sell commercial fashion garments and accessories with its own, timeless style”
(About). It positions itself as a leader in modern minimalism, high quality and longlasting wearable design (The Story), whose philosophy is based on the concepts of
style, simplicity and quality (About). In 2008, Filippa K opened its first Filippa K
Second Hand Store in Stockholm, Sweden. The store functions on commission basis,
people being able to both sell and buy old Filippa K clothes and accessories at the
store. The initiative was reported through several press releases and it obtained
publicity as a distinctive CSR activity (e.g. Fashion & Beauty 2008).
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4. Method
4.1 Singular case study method
In an attempt to examine how the leaders of fast fashion and slow fashion categories
communicate authenticity, singular case studies of H&M’s and Filippa K’s
communication were carried out. The case study research method is said to be
appropriate for investigating contemporary phenomena within their real-life
context, when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly
evident (Yin 1984). Like already seen, the notion of authenticity qualifies as such
case, being both contemporary and dependent on the context. Then again, singular
case studies, where only one case is thoroughly surveyed, are claimed to be
appropriate in the occasions where the research is conducted as preliminary
research (Yin 1989, in Bai et al. 2009). Because no prior research investigating
authenticity among fast fashion and slow fashion companies was encountered in the
secondary research, the topic qualifies as such occasion.
4.2 Primary data
Basing on the given secondary data, i.e. the literature reviewed, the case studies
were carried out by analyzing the category leaders’ external communicative
material. The primary data consisted of the companies’ press releases issued as part
of their unconventional marketing strategies: H&M’s press releases concerned the
newest designer collaboration with Marni, while Filippa K’s releases were related to
the opening of Filippa K Second Hand Store (Appendices 2 and 3). The
unconventional initiatives were purposefully chosen, as they were intuitively
determined to be characteristic to the companies. An empirical investigation
supported the intuition; in academic literature, H&M was one of the most often
referred companies in connection to brand collaborations (e.g. Ahn, Kim & Forney
2010), whereas Filippa K’s second hand initiative had gained particular recognition in
an entrepreneurial idea database (Fashion & Beauty 2008). The final 8 press releases
were determined with help of search tools on the companies’ websites, using
“second hand” and “marni” as keywords.
Press releases were chosen for several reasons. Firstly, the press releases concerning
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unusual marketing endeavours provide material that reflects the companies’ overall
strategies. As single strategies are constructed so as to support the overall strategy
(e.g. Pickton & Broderick 2005), the releases, too, can be expected to be supportive
of the companies’ respective overall strategies – the fast fashion and slow fashion
strategies. This connection is important, as it enables the discussion about the
relationship between authenticity and the respective fashion categories. Secondly,
press releases reach a wide audience, ranging from customers and investors to
various stakeholder groups that have divergent interests in the company (ibid.). Due
to this, the company needs to find a balance between its corporate and brand
communication, and potentially stress the approach that is consistent with its overall
approach. Finally, press releases serve as important channels through which
companies can effectively enhance their desired images: the textual form enables a
conveyance of large amounts of information, which can be selectively constructed to
advance one’s objectives.
4.3 Critical discourse analysis
The analyses of the press releases were conducted through the methods of critical
discourse analysis (CDA), as represented by van Leeuwen (2008). As an analytical
tool CDA is an interdisciplinary construct, which investigates the representations of
social phenomena by making use of linguistic tools and sociological theories. It seeks
to discover the underlying assumptions as well as the means by which the message
is constructed to advance the sender’s purposes. The main idea behind CDA is that
discourses (narratives) are recontextualizations of social practices. An actual social
practice, be it an interview or going to school, always contains a set of elements,
those being: actions, performance modes (specific ways of performing the actions),
actors, presentation styles (dress, grooming), times, spaces, resources, and eligibility
(qualities that make actors, resources and settings eligible to function as such in a
certain practice). However, when the practice becomes recontextualized, some of
these elements may be deleted – to background the element – or substituted – to
emphasize certain qualities of the element. In addition, reactions and motives may
be added in order to provide moral evaluations to the social practice. (van Leeuwen
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By investigating the given elements in the press releases, and comparing and
contrasting the findings with the discovered expressions of authenticity, the
research first identified which discourses of authenticity were active in the
companies’ communication. Then, the identified properties’ connections to the
respective companies and other social actors were determined, according to which
the properties were classified as indexical or iconic cues, representing the respective
categories. Finally, regardless their iconic and indexical connections, the properties
providing moral legitimacy for practices were taken apart to form a category of
moral authenticity. As all cues were found to contain aspects of each category, the
categorization was done according to the most prominent facet. In the following, the
most prominent discourses of authenticity are represented, reviewing each
authenticity category in turn.
5. Results
The discourse analysis of the press releases revealed that H&M projects authenticity
primarily through expressions of non-commerciality, connections to artists, freedom,
originality, stylistic consistency and references to genuineness. Filippa K, on the
other hand, applies expressions of non-commerciality, connections to social causes,
artistic intents, history, originality, stylistic consistency and quality commitment. Like
the account shows, both mix conceptual expressions with manifest forms to create
rich images of authenticity. This conforms to Bai et al.’s proposition that authenticity
be most effectively constructed by mixing disparate cues of different existential
levels. While the properties seem to share similarities, the real difference is created
when reviewing to which type of authenticity each cue conforms. Both companies
use moral authenticity as a primary means to construct authenticity, but their
methods to do this differ: H&M applies mostly iconic cues, while Filippa K relies on
indexical properties. The same trend is reflected in the categories of indexical and
iconic authenticity. H&M provides several authenticity attributes, but remains for
the most part indexically detached from them. Filippa K, on the other hand, applies
very few iconic cues, but instead makes use of various indexical properties related to
its values and premises. In the following, all three types are explained in turn.
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5.1 Moral authenticity
5.1.1 H&M: non-commerciality, connection to artists
H&M projects moral authenticity by extensively downplaying commercial
considerations on the one hand and by emphasising artistry and artistic intents on
the other. Commerciality is downplayed by the means of selective use of textual
resources, while artistry and artistic intentions are raised through connections to
artists and renowned slow fashion actors, which project moral authority on the
initiative. Through artistic connections also creative processes are brought up,
invoking a discourse of genuine artistic intents. While the sense of artistry in itself
brings legitimacy to the initiative, involvement of creative people also downplays
commercial considerations (Beverland & Luxton 2005).
Downplaying commerciality
H&M uses a careful selection of textual resources as a means to downplay its
commercial motives. As the primary means it backgrounds two specific actor roles,
both its own role and the consumer’s role, which are fundamental for the
commercial brand collaboration. Its own role as a commercial actor is downplayed
by representing the company as a mere receiver in the collaborative activity through
several expressions like “creating a look for H&M” or “Marni’s collection for H&M”
(App. 2:C,A). Customers’ role as consumers, on the other hand, is concealed by
omitting their connection to consumption through references to “everyone”, “men”
and “women” (App. 2:A,C), instead of directly referring to consumers. Likewise, the
actual action of buying is largely omitted, while the collection is “presented … for
men and women” and “made to be worn and juxtaposed together” (App. 2:C).
Eventually, when the act of buying is implied, it is substituted with expressions that
are detached from commerce, such as “everyone will have a chance to enter Marni’s
world” (App. 2:A) or “H&M … are bringing the regal, chic clothes of Marni to
everyone” (App. 2:B), in order to avoid consumption related connotations.
Connections to artists
As H&M’s own role is backgrounded, the stage is left to other actors that bring their
own connotations to the texts. The releases construct apparent linkages to several
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artists and high-end brands including Marni, its creative director, Consuelo
Castiglioni, Sofia Coppola, H&M’s previous collaboration partners, and famed film
stars. To bestow prominence upon these actors, they are primarily portrayed as
active participants in the given practices, positioning them in grammatically active
roles. While the extensive use of external artistic connections may background the
company’s commercial motives, it also confers moral authority on H&M and lays
down the ground for artistic intents that provide the practice with a moral purpose.
As Bai et al. suggested, external connections to particular persons and organizations
confer moral authority through their history, reputation, experience and narratives.
In the releases, these manifest expressions of authenticity are conveyed repeatedly
through several artists and brands. First of all, Marni confers moral authority
through its history, experience and reputation, which are expressed by representing
Marni as an esteemed, well-established company with a long pedigree: “Marni has
remained a family owned-business as it has grown to become an international luxury
brand” (App. 2:A). The impressions are further reinforced through impersonal
authority of the fashion world: “Marni is one of the fashion’s most-loved labels”
(App. 2:A), the extensive use of existential verbs connoting stability: “Marni is” (App.
2:A), and references to time: “I have been [a fan of Marni] for years” (App. 2:B).
Similarly, the connections are created to the Marni’s founder and creative director,
Consuelo Castiglioni, and the director and screenwriter, Sofia Coppola, who confer
moral authority through their narratives (App. 2:A,C), reputations and experiences.
Reputations and experiences are indicated through extensive introductions of their
credentials and achievements: “Academy Award and Golden Globe winner …
acclaimed director and screenwriter” (App. 2:C), and the use of expert language in
narratives: “As always, I love juxtaposing prints and colours, mixing modern tribal
with Bauhaus graphic adding sporty utilitarian elements” (App. 2:A). In addition,
linkages are constructed to several actresses, such as Drew Barrymore and Winona
Ryder. The Hollywood stars grant moral authority through their reputations and
narrations, endorsing H&M’s strategy by using positive affections that serve as moral
evaluations: “I love H&M are bringing … Marni to everyone” (App. 2:B). Their
affection is further affirmed by including references to their presentation modes:
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“dressed in Marni” (App. 2:B). Finally, the reputations of H&M’s previous
collaboration partners confer additional moral authority: “[H&M] has previously
collaborated with brands such as Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Comme des
Garcons…” (App. 2:A).
While artistic connections provide the initiative with moral authority, they provide it
also with an impression of genuine artistic intents that confer a sense of moral
purpose. The artistic motives are expressed conceptually through artists’ selfexpressional intents, which are reinforced, for instance, through manifest
expressions of handcrafted methods and creative process. Self-expressional intents
are brought up, for example, in artists’ narratives, where the love of craft is
embraced through affective reactions: “I love juxtaposing prints and colours…” and “I
enjoyed doing this film…” (App. 2:A,C). Creative process and craftsmanship, on the
other hand, are referred through particular verbs and qualities attached to artists:
“… Consuelo Castiglioni coordinates her designs, matching new combinations of
print and colour, with such incredible craftsmanship …” (App. 2:A).
5.1.2 Filippa K: non-commerciality, connection to social causes, artistic intents
Like H&M, also Filippa K downplays commerciality and constructs connections to
external entities to project moral authenticity. However, whereas H&M created
several artistic connections, Filippa K uses connections to social causes and
ideologically consistent organizations as primary means to generate a sense of
genuine, moral intent, while cues to artistic intents assume a minor role.
Non-commerciality and connection to social causes
Unlike H&M, Filippa K expresses non-commerciality by explicit statements: “the
store … will be run on a not-for-profit basis” (App. 3:A). However, other means used
to convey non-commerciality are more prominent throughout the releases. In
accordance with Beverland’s (2006) notion that “many brands make a virtue of
commitment to social causes … [to] deliberately downplay their commercial” (257),
the company directs attention to its sustainable ideology, which provides the
company and its second hand initiative with a conceptual moral purpose.
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To communicate sustainability, Filippa K manifests its ideological stance by
constructing indexical linkages between its slow fashion strategy and social causes.
Firstly, the releases point to environmental questions, by representing the second
hand initiative as “part of a wider programme of environmental work” (App. 3:A).
The company’s deep-rooted stand on sustainability is pinpointed through
nominalising the related actions and referring to continuity of the work: “our stand
on sustainable design”, “continued progress for the environmental work” (App.
3:B,A). To reinforce the connection to the environmental cause, Filippa K creates a
connection to an environmental organization by claiming its support to WWF’s Earth
Hour cause: “We celebrated and supported Earth Hour by donating our sales from
the Filippa K Second Hand to WWF” (App. 3:E). To reinforce moral evaluation of the
act, evaluative adjectives “good” and “just” are used to describe the cause.
To further manifest sustainability, Filippa K makes a strong reference to the
questionable nature of fast fashion industry. It makes several moral evaluations by
using implicit and explicit comparisons of the two fashion categories, creating a
moral dichotomy between “to use what we already have” and “constantly making
more” (App. 3:C). For instance, the text implies that fast fashion has resulted in a
short life-span of design, which opposes sustainable values: “a discussion regarding
the fast paced fashion industry has been raised, as many of us have reacted to the
short life-span of design and fashion today” (App. 3:B). Through expression “many of
us” the company counts itself as one with the consumer, generating a distinction to
fast fashion companies. It further manifests its sustainable stance through implicit
moral comparisons to fast fashion industry: “Although the aim was never to
comment on the [fast fashion] industry as such, our stand on sustainable design is
one worth bringing up”, “the continuity of Filippa Ks aesthetic expression lends itself
to be applicable and relevant over a longer period of time than the one of a season
or a specific trend” (App. 3:B).
Artistic intents
Similar to H&M, also Filippa K projects moral authenticity through artistic intents,
although the aspect assumes only a minor role. While H&M constructed the intents
through artistic connections, Filippa K portrays artistry as an inherent part of the
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company’s philosophy. The artistic intents are indicated, for instance, through
references to the inspirational idea behind the designs: “Filippa K is about
emphasizing the person wearing the clothes rather than the person emphasising the
clothes he or she is wearing” (App. 3:B). They are further manifested by making
references to the creative process: “Filippa K’s aesthetic expression” (App. 3:B), and
to the company’s founder and creative director, Filippa Knutson, whose narrative
authenticates the intents and confers moral authority on the second hand initiative
(App. 3:A).
5.2 Iconic authenticity
5.2.1 H&M: freedom, originality, stylistic consistency
H&M’s three press releases repeatedly pronounce properties of authenticity, but
rather than referring to H&M, most of them are attributed to the artists. As a result,
the artists become authenticated, while H&M is left indexically detached from most
authenticity cues. However, the properties related to artists become associated with
the collaboration, and thus may transfer to the image of H&M, as the company
repeatedly constructs and communicates those properties through regular
collaborative initiatives. The process of association transfer is advocate by Uggla
(2006), who regards other brands, persons, institutions, places, and specific product
categories as potential external contributors to a brand’s association base. For this
reason, authenticity properties related to artists are determined to confer iconic
authenticity on H&M. Before proceeding, it should be noted that most of the H&M’s
moral cues were iconic in nature. However, as the moral aspect was determined to
be their most characteristic feature, the same expressions will not be repeated.
Relating to artists, the releases convey a sense of freedom, originality and stylistic
consistency. The conceptual expressions, freedom and originality, are conveyed
through references to Marni’s exploratory nature: “Marni is a label that sticks to its
own bath, setting trends for print, cut and silhouette…”, “Marni’s collection for H&M
has all the freedom and experimentation for which the label is renowned” (App. 2:A).
The sense of freedom is further manifested through narrations where artistic
freedom is expressed through cognitive affection: “I wanted to show…” (App. 2:C).
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The manifest expression, stylistic consistency, on the other hand, is articulated by
calling attention to Marni’s stylistic consistency: “Marni has such a modern touch
with everything they do” (App. 2:A). The impression is further enhanced by
expressions that presume Marni to convey a mental image of a particular style:
“signature Marni styles and shapes” (App. 2:C).
5.2.2 Filippa K: history
Unlike H&M, Filippa K uses only few iconic cues. The most prominent of such are the
constructed manifest expressions of history, although the company, established in
1993, lacks in real historic background.
The sense of history is constructed through references to place and resources. The
premises of the second hand store are described by making references to certain
historical eras: “…preserving the original features of the light turn-of-the-century
premises” (App. 3:A). References to resources function in the same way, relating
specific, indexically unconnected items to past times: “a selection of hand-picked
vintage jewellery” (App. 3:A). No matter whether the jewelleries and the turn-of-thecentury premises were indexically authentic or not, by no means they assume a real
connection to the company’s history. Hence, they merely contribute to projecting
iconic authenticity.
5.3 Indexical authenticity
5.3.1 H&M: genuineness
H&M makes only a few authenticity claims that relate to itself, due to which its
indexical authenticity is left vague. The most prominent indexical cue is a reference
to the alignment of collaborative efforts with its actual business concept. As the
reference communicates the company’s commitment to its business concept, it is
interpreted as evoking a discourse of genuineness.
Underlining the chief idea behind its collaborations, H&M constructs an abstract
alignment between its collaborative efforts and business concept. The collaborative
initiatives are represented as having a psychic linkage to the concept of offering the
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latest fashion and quality at affordable prices (Facts about H&M), seeking to
contribute to the promises of latest fashion and affordability: “I love the whole idea
of taking high fashion and making it affordable and accessible with H&M”, “all at
H&M’s prices, meaning everyone will have the chance to enter Marni’s world” (App.
5.3.2 Filippa K: genuineness, originality, stylistic consistency, quality commitment
Filippa K, on the other hand, uses indexical cues as the main resource for
authenticity construction. Like seen in point of moral authenticity, the moral intent
and the connection to WWF have constructed psychic linkages to the company’s
values and basic premises as a slow fashion producer. Like in case of H&M, this
conceptual linkage conveys a sense of genuineness, which, together with originality,
stylistic consistency and commitment to quality, confers indexical authenticity on
Filippa K.
A sense of genuineness is conveyed by aligning the second hand initiative with the
premises of slow fashion industry: “The fact that the superb quality and design of
our products enable us to operate a second hand concept is very much in line with
the things for which Filippa K stands” (App. 3:A). Similarly, the second hand concept
is aligned with the company’s values: “There are several aspects to choosing to open
a second hand store; the environmental impact of the textile industry, a service
provided to customers – old and new and CSR questions being close to our heart are
some” (App. 3:B).
Originality, stylistic consistency, commitment to quality
In addition, originality, stylistic consistency and commitment to quality confer
indexical authenticity on Filippa K. Firstly, a sense of originality is conveyed through
references to the pioneering nature of the second hand initiative: “Filippa K opened
a unique second hand store”, “I wouldn’t be surprised if other brands will follow in
our footsteps” (App. 3:C). The expression is also psychically connected to the
employees’ inner values, and articulated by claiming individuality: “I don’t really have
any [style icons]” (App. 3:C). Originality is closely linked to stylistic consistency, which
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is its manifest expression. Due to its value of originality, the company advocates its
own individual timeless style rather than conforms to the general market trends. In
the releases, stylistic consistency is manifested through static descriptions of the
company and its designs, which create a clear contrast to the fast fashion’s values of
constant change and newness: “the continuity of Filippa Ks aesthetic expression…”,
“timeless [jackets and coats]” (App. 3:B,C). Finally, to further emphasise its slow
fashion approach, Filippa K manifests its commitment to quality through references
to durability and high quality of the final designs: “the superb quality and design of
our products…”, “applicable and relevant over a longer period of time” (App. 3:A,B).
6. Discussion
Drawing from the clear distribution of indexical and iconic cues between the case
companies, Filippa K and H&M seem to adopt different approaches to
communication. Filippa K appears to apply IMC approach, regarding the brand and
the company as more or less the same. The extensive use of indexical cues and the
lack of iconic properties suggest that rather than attempting to construct a distinct
brand veneer, the company seeks to appear transparent and socially concerned.
H&M, on the other hand, seems to rely on the practice of decoupling, as the
projected authenticity is for the most part linked to other actors than the company
itself. Contrary to Beverland’s suggestion that decoupling approach be applied
especially by niche brands, the results propose that it may be of use also to massmarket counterparts. The reason for the respective approaches may lie in the
inherent nature of fast fashion and slow fashion industries. Slow fashion in itself
advocates crucial aspects of authenticity, such as quality and stylistic consistency,
while fast fashion opposes these properties. Consequently, as fast fashion
companies do not have inbuilt attributes of authenticity at their disposal, they must
construct the impression through other means, which is, projecting iconic
authenticity. An additional reason may lie in the essences of the two brands. While
both brands are corporate brands, H&M, unlike Filippa K, manages also several other
brands. For this reason, Filippa K may straightforwardly align its brand and company
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images, whereas H&M needs to consider the images of its distinctive brands
individually, as separate from its internal company image.
When it comes to moral authenticity, the prominent position of it can be partly
linked to the inherent nature of press releases. It should be noted that press releases
are initially aimed for a broad range of stakeholders, including investors, partners,
societal actors, critics, activists etc. Because many of these stakeholders hold critical
attitudes toward companies, and because of the increasing consumer power and
consumer resistance, companies are pressed to seek legitimacy for their initiatives
through moral purposes. In addition, due to their textual form, press releases
function as effective channels to convey especially indexical moral authenticity. This
is because while look-a-like images can be uncomplicatedly communicated through
visual forms (e.g. ads), the more complicated moral intentions, as constructed in
people, often demand textual means to be conveyed in an accessible manner. This
applies especially to indexical cues that need more background information to be
perceived as such (Grayson & Martinec 2004).
In terms of distribution of indexical and iconic cues within moral authenticity,
interestingly, the moral cues identified were not chiefly iconic as Beverland et al.
(2008) propose. Instead, in the case of Filippa K indexical cues constituted the
majority, moral cues being largely connected to the company’s values and premises
as a slow fashion company. Like mentioned above, the prominence of indexical cues
may depend on the textual representation mode of the press releases. Beverland et
al., on the other hand, researched ads, which generally enable a richer use of iconic
cues through visual means.
Finally, the results suggest that some attributes may be more applicable in certain
industries and levels of prestige than others. For instance, involvement of artists and
artistic intents seems to provide resources for fashion companies, as cues relating to
artistry were identified in both fashion categories and in Adidas’s artistic
collaborations. While cues to artistry were not identified in Beverland’s (2006) and
Beverland and Luxton’s (2005) fine winery studies, those studies singled out
properties that are highly consistent with Filippa K’s expressions, such as history,
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quality commitment and stylistic consistency. As Filippa K, like fine wineries, is
positioned at the higher end of the low-end-high-end continuum, the results suggest
that both the industry and the level of brand’s prestige determine which attributes
best confer authenticity on a certain brand.
7. Conclusion
To conclude, in an attempt to investigate communication of authenticity of the
leaders of fast fashion and slow fashion categories, discourse analyses of H&M’s and
Filippa K’s press releases were carried out. To do that, the report assumed a social
constructivist perspective understanding authenticity as an inherently subjective
social construction. In addition, it reviewed previous literature on authenticity, and
singled out two major lines of work: one that aims to categorize cues of authenticity
according to their indexical, iconic and moral linkages, and the other that seeks to
identify specific expressions of authenticity. By using these accounts as guidance in
the discourse analyses, the research found out that the leaders of fast fashion and
slow fashion categories communicate authenticity through means that appear
externally similar, but remain essentially distinct in nature. While both companies
applied conceptual and manifest expression in a complementary manner and
emphasized properties of moral authenticity, the use of iconic and indexical cues
created the major distinction: While H&M applied expressions that had primarily
iconic connections to the company itself, Filippa K made use of indexical cues. Thus,
H&M seems to rely on the decoupling approach, constructing look-a-like images
through a distinct brand veneer. Filippa K, then again, appears to adopt the IMC
approach, constructing authenticity based on its basic values and premises. While
the strategies are not generalizable to all fast fashion and slow fashion companies, a
closer look at the specific expressions suggested that certain attributes, such as
artistic intents, may be particularly important in the realm of fashion. In addition,
comparison to the previous research gave some indication that also the company’s
level of prestige may indicate which authenticity attributes will turn out well.
Furthermore, the results imply that cues suggesting moral authenticity need not be
iconic as previous research has proposed, but could just as well have indexical
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connections to the company.
8. Limitations and future research
The research involves several limitations. Firstly, as the impression of authenticity is
constructed through human’s subjective perception, also the analysis is built upon
subjective assessment. Although the literature review of authenticity seeks to
introduce objectivity, subjective emphases could not be entirely eliminated.
Secondly, the results cannot be generalized to the companies all external
communication. Like explained, press releases may be more likely to emphasise
moral aspects, while other communicative material may assign more weight to the
other facets. Finally, the research could not reliably determine whether the
companies actually adopt IMC and decoupling strategies, as they seem. While this
report sought to examine only the means by which the external images of
authenticity are constructed, examination of the actual strategies demands
additional research of the internal social constructions.
To respond to these limitations, future research could introduce more validity by
employing a number of analyzers, so that the influence of the subjective perception
would be diminished. Also additional external material, such as ads, could be
investigated to generate a more complete overview of the companies’ external
communication. In case of visual material, visual discourse analysis would provide
the analysis with an appropriate means. In addition, to create a stronger connection
between the two fashion categories and the particular means to convey authenticity,
more companies should be researched by using quantitative methods. Also the
influences of industry and level of company’s prestige could be investigated by the
same means. Finally, future research could examine how well the companies’
outward authenticity constructions correspond to their internal constructions, so as
to determine whether IMC and decoupling approaches are actually adopted as
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