Let’s talk a bit about fast fashion and ethics. The two usually don’t fit in the same sentence. Cheap, trendy clothing usually equates to poor working conditions and negative environmental impact. This week, H&M announced it’s H&M Conscious line, a line of clothing made sustainably and ethically without sacrificing affordability or style. Sounds pretty good, right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
The “ethical fashion” community has a lot to say about it. I’ve read Andrea’s take (plus the comments section – gold!) and Alden’s take, including an interview with the H&M Sustainability Manager. Both are important pieces with interesting facts and perspectives. There’s so many pieces to this, I couldn’t possibly break them all down here. I’m still a little on the fence about this, but I want to look at it from both sides.
I like to start with the negative, and end on a positive note.
H&M is still a fast fashion retailer. Most of their business comes from producing trendy garments at an incredibly high rate, and promoting mass consumption of these goods. Many of these items are poorly constructed or very “trendy” meaning they’ll fall apart or their owner will tire of them quickly, and they’ll wind up in a landfill. (There’s a large percentage of donated clothes that end up in a landfill, for various reasons. Another topic for another day.) Along with the announcement of H&M Conscious, the company announced it’s World Recycle Week. They claim that any garments can be dropped off at their store to be recycled into new clothes. Unfortunately, a very small percentage is able to be recycled. The marketing of this campaign feels deceitful. You can read more about the recycling of garments in the EcoCult article.
It’s not all bad though.
Since the 1980s we have created a culture of consumption, that has completely changed the way we are viewing clothes. They are items that we buy without thought, and throw away later. At the rate we are consuming, it’s putting strain on our world: on the factory workers in developing nations and on our planet and it’s resources. While it’s not the only solution, or the best solution, the big companies need to begin making changes. A drop in the ocean still causes a ripple.
The H&M Conscious line, if successful, can convince the company to move more of it’s production toward ethical and sustainable practices. It can inspire other fast fashion companies to follow suit. It can help to educate consumers who aren’t aware of the impact of their shopping hobbies. Change needs to come from many places: consumers, companies, and policies. Consumers have started, and it’s nice to see a company following up with the movement. However, for the H&M Conscious line to make an impact, people have to buy the products. It has to be successful financially, because at the end of the day, H&M is still a business and money talks. It yells.
So, I’m torn. We could choose not to buy from the line because it’s still H&M, it’s still fast fashion, and it’s not good enough. Or, we can accept the imperfections and support it, hoping that it will encourage change. Change happens in baby steps, and this is certainly a baby step. I hope that they all add up to a large leap over time.
Be sure to check out the articles I linked above, and read the comments section of the Seasons and Salt post – there’s some amazing conversation happening there! I’d love to hear your thoughts. I think that educating ourselves, doing the research, and asking the right questions is the most important thing here. Do you think the campaign is doing good, or do you think it’s just a bunch of greenwashing?