Tag Archives: sweat shop

Come on ladies, there is nothing sustainable about H&M

hm2Ever 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.

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*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.

Made in USA: Is America’s garment industry making a comeback?

I’m the kind of person that dives in first and researches later, or rather I make up my mind and then I deal with it! It wasn’t like I looked into if China-free living was possible, or made a budget for shopping local, before I started the challenge. As I blog my way through it, it’s the same thing; I run into a brand, an item, an issue or a problem, and then I research it and write.

Lucky for me, there are bloggers out there who actually do serious research, write articles and share them with the rest of us. That’s how I got to reading about trends in Made in USA clothing on the Made in USA blog I follow.

Interesting fact: In 1993, 6.4 billion garments were manufactured in USA, with 52.4 percent of the garments sold here made here. In 2013, Americans bought close to 20 billion garments but only 2.6 percent of them were manufactured here! (The interesting part is that that number (513 million) is better than a few years before; in 2009 only 381 million garments were made here.)

How did we get from 52.4 percent to 2.6 percent in just 22 years? The reason manufacturing went abroad is, of course, the savings due to cheap labor in other countries, like China (with their aggressive growth strategy), Bangladesh, Cambodia and other countries in that same region. This started as early as the 60’s.

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Old jacket meets new US made Tart Collection dress. Old rubber boots meet new US made Sweet-n-Sinful cardigan from Marshalls.

When fashion got faster and faster in the 90’s, western companies started comparing and pushing the over-there-shops  further, in order to be able to sell clothes at even lower prices to western consumers: essentially allowing us to buy more clothes. In countries where rules and regulations for health, emissions, safety and wages are less stringent; a reduction in production costs equals worse working conditions (lower pay, longer hours). And in the new millennium, indeed, more and more companies have moved their manufacturing to “cheaper” countries in order to keep up with their domestic competition; all of them ignoring the peculiar fact, that it is now cheaper than ever to have clothes made abroad, yet inflation is naturally moving in the opposite direction. No one wondering if they are cutting corners?

Fast fashion companies, like H&M, Zara, Forever 21, Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, and such need consumers to buy a lot of clothes (profits are in moving inventory) and their CEOs want to get richer, so they need to keep manufacturing as cheap as possible – no matter the cost. When was the last time you saw anything in those stores not made in Asia? Do you think the garments they sell were made by people working in terrible conditions, earing 2-3 dollars a day? (Answer is yes).

That said, companies who manufacture local, stateside or Fair-Trade, aren’t exactly non-profit organizations; naturally they’re in business for profit too, but probably not making as much easy profit, as the companies who exploit workers and pollute the local environment in so called “developing” countries. (I don’t particularly like that term, their cultures are developed).

Personally, I believe there are more and more people like me, who enjoy shopping local and sustainably; who don’t mind paying a little bit more to keep things made right (here). Even if that means you can’t afford to buy as many items. The fact that I keep running into more and more cool stuff with “Made in USA” tags, to me, also signals progress. It’s not often that “progress” is presented as “going back to what we were doing way back” but in this case, I think we may have had it right in the 80’s. Yes, I said that!

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According to the article, the vice president of international trade at the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) agrees; “The number of clothes and shoes made in the U.S. has consistently increased over the last several years in what could be described as a small, but growing, trend”, he says.

There are challenges here though, like finding skilled workers and specialized materials; “Sewing is still a lost art”.

I believe in the people here though, we can learn how to sew, right? I believe so, and I obviously support this trend. I read that for every dollar a country invests in domestic manufacturing, the country earns 1.4 dollars back, so shopping local isn’t just taking a stand for sustainability, decent wages and reduced shipping pollution, but it also makes for a stronger economy.

I find this topic so interesting and important! There’s always more to learn about this complex, consumer-driven, environmentally devastating, but colorful industry.

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Living local is living greener! Outfit made in USA!

Note: I cannot find either of the websites for the striped hoodie “Ginger G” and cardigan “Sweet n Sinful”. (Sorry but those are some terrible brand names!) I suspect they are “straight from wholesale” brands without websites. Found both at Marshalls. (Photo credits: Shutterluv by Ashley.)

[LINK to Article]