If you read my post on Topshop you’ll know how I feel about the injustice of the fashion industry. We’re people who want to find a different way of living that allows others to live too, through thinking bigger and living deeper. Now H&M has jumped on the ethical clothing bandwagon, could they hold the long-awaited answer on how to shop ethically and sustainably?
I’ve just read this article from The Guardian website, and to be honest I’m impressed with H&M’s desire to move towards a more ethical way of doing ‘fast fashion’. As the second largest clothing retailer in the world, they seem to be breaking the mould just by addressing the issue, unlike our good friends at Topshop. This year, 7.6% of the cotton H&M used in their garments was organic, more than any other retailer. By 2020 they aim to rocket that figure to 100%. Recycled polyester equivalent to 9.2 million plastic bottles has been used, as well as lower-impact water-based solvents for nearly 2.5 million pairs of shoes. This is all good stuff. H&M seem to be moving in the right direction.
But a quote from Helena Helmersson, Head of Sustainability, really jarred with me. ‘You see my dream is to be perceived as a company who can offer all people in the world – even those without much money – the possibility to dress really well and sustainably. That’s how I want people to perceive us, not as a brand connected to mass consumption.’
Firstly, I think she’s contradicted herself here. How can H&M aim to clothe the entire world without being connected to mass consumption? Surely selling more clothes means more buy-in to the consumer world. H&M already have 2,500 stores in 44 countries, and aim to increase this number by 10 to 15 % each year; hardly an attempt at minimising mass consumption.
Secondly, I think this statement uncovers one of the most destructive cores of the fashion industry: the belief that we should all be fashionable. This is what drives the garment industry. It takes consumers to be dissatisfied with what they’ve already got because it’s no longer ‘in’, no longer the current trend. The fashion industry thrives on people who are ready to believe that they need to keep up with what’s in and what’s out. This is our consumer sickness. What this quote says to me is: It is more important that people are well dressed than it is for them to have access to basic human rights. And something about that doesn’t feel right.
I really admire what H&M are doing, and I firmly believe that more companies should be taking the issue of ethical fashion seriously. But Lucy Siegel concludes her Guardian article with this statement: “Full marks for ambition. But do I buy H&M as an ethical paragon? Not quite yet. They are still clinging to too many parts of the fast-fashion supply chain to bring anything revolutionary.” And I would have to agree.