Ever since I fell in love with a blouse with giraffes from H&M’s “Conscious Collection” and obviously fell for their brilliant marketing ploy and bought it, I’ve thought a lot about H&M. At the same time, I’ve also seen them pop up here and there in blogs I read, often mentioned in a context of sustainable fashion, presented as being a company on the forefront of sustainability. They may be on the right path (finally), but “sustainable” is not a label they have the right to wear.
Why? It’s time to share some of my own thoughts on H&M.
1. Let’s talk about The Conscious Collection, which has gotten a lot of media lately, and indeed is a good initiative. A rack of sustainably made, recycled fabric garments, placed immediately inside of the entrance to the store, that gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling about your shopping experience. Maybe you’ll be so excited about the collection that you forget that the clothes in the rest of the store, in other words 95% of their merchandise, were made without a conscience and non-sustainably. That’s what that collection label ultimately tells you, just like bread with an “organic” label at the grocery store tells you the rest of the bread is, in fact, not organic. Why else would H&M need to single that collection out and have a special label and special rack for those garments? Fail.
2. H&M launched a big campaign to inform everyone that you can drop off your old clothes at their stores, and they will recycle them* and in return you get a coupon. People seem to think recycling means you are eco-friendly, that recycling in all of its glory is the answer to our environmental problems. Wrong! Yes, recycling is great, but it’s the third part and last resort of the golden rule of sustainability. The first part is to reduce; a fact that H&M has no interest in doing. Heck, they give you a coupon so that you will shop more! Maybe the same day you brought items in for recycling you’ll buy something new, using your well-deserved coupon (“you did something eco-friendly, you recycled, now treat yourself to something new, you’ve earned it”). Second part of the rule, reuse; an activity H&M makes hard by mostly selling garments of lower quality, in styles which will only be on trend for about five more minutes. (I will tell you, I have a few good-quality H&M pieces in my closet, which I plan on reusing and enjoying for a long time.) H&M are completely ignoring part one and pushing the boundaries of part two, they actually encourage opposite behavior, yet people applaud them for doing part 3 recycling?! Fail.
3. The only way to sell a top for 10 dollars and make profit, is to have it made for less than one. Where can that type of manufacturing thrive? Only in factories paying minimum wage to workers in developing countries. That means everything in H&M’s US stores is imported, mostly from China, shipped here by polluting container ships. Fail.
4. H&M is actually one of the biggest thugs in the fashion industry as they keep prices low, all year long, and has new styles on the shelves every week which is great for encouraging impulse purchases and overconsumption of clothes. Most of which is sold to teens and young, trendy adults, who’s last season looks will end up in landfill as their closets are already over-flowing. “Quantity over Quality” does not a sustainable company make. Fail.
H&M should not be thought of as a sustainable company; please stop saying, blogging, thinking, sharing that they are. Adding a small eco-collection, does not make up for a buy-and-toss company philosophy. H&M represents the core of what is wrong in the fashion industry; fast, disposable, cheap. Don’t get fooled by their brilliant marketing department – because brilliant is indeed what they are.
H&M is a trendy company and sustainable fashion is trending now, it’s as simple as that. Come to think of it, maybe that’s what the label “Conscious Collection” secretly means? They are fully aware (conscious) of the ongoing, important eco-trend.
Sadly, we bought it.
*Recycling fabric technology is still in its early stages and, as far as I know, not yet a very energy efficient process. What is deemed not ‘recyclable’ is donated, which has proven to be another fake eco-friend, as it just means moving garment waste from one fortunate country to one less fortunate, already overflowing with western used clothes. Landfill is still landfill.