Thursday, 26 April 2012

Fast Fashion: A Conscious View On H&M's Conscious Collection

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Fast Fashion. A term that describes the inexpensive, fashionable finds that embody this season’s hottest trends.

Fashion has quickly become part of our over indulgent consumer lifestyles. We buy, we wear, and we discard. Have you ever stopped to consider what the global consequences of fast fashion are? The Council for Textile recycling reported that 2.5 billion pounds of waste are prevented from entering the solid waste stream each year. This is roughly 10lbs per person, but is certainly not the total amount of waste created.

H&M is only one of many players in the fast fashion market. The company is based in Sweden and has over 2500 stores worldwide. They recently introduced a new collection aimed at representing long-term sustainability. The Environmental Protection Agency defines sustainability as a simple principle:
 “[it] creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony…fulfilling the [social and economical] requirements of present and future generations.

With that in mind, it seems that disposable fashion cannot possibly be sustainable. The mere definition alludes to the idea that waste created by fast fashion does not serve or benefit present or future generations. It certainly does not benefit Mother Earth.

The new H&M Conscious Collection boasts that 2.3 million garments of clothing have been donated to charity, yet in January 2010 H&M was scrutinized for destroying unworn garments out of their New York store and leaving those destroyed items on the curb for trash pick up. In fact, this was done despite the New York store being blocks away from a charity that gladly would have accepted the donations of coats, gloves, and socks. This occurred two short years ago. I guess a lot has changed since then.

Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of H&M was quoted saying, "We want our customers to feel confident that everything they buy from H&M is designed, manufactured, and handled with consideration for people and environment. The level of social and environmental responsibility we take places H&M's sustainability work at the forefront of the fashion industry globally.” Fast fashion relies heavily on outsourcing garment production to some of the poorest countries on Earth. Those garments are then shipped hundreds or thousands of miles to a store where they will be sold. They exchange hands numerous times. With each transfer, the monetary cost and global impact of the garment increases. And while they are creating jobs and “educating” workers, the majority of the companies receiving these garments, do not actually own the factories. Thus leaving the workers, the working conditions and production methods in the hands of the supplies, not the end seller. Can H&M guarantee that working conditions are up to par or that their clothing is free of chemicals? They agree, that they cannot. Their mission is to work towards a clear goal of sustainability (no comment on whether or not this is guaranteed).

A visit to the H&M website will give you a slew of positive facts around the company’s mission to be sustainable. They are using less water, constructing clothing out of organic fibers and educating workers about their rights. Yet the truth of the matter is: this clothing is still “fast fashion”. It isn’t designed to be timeless, but rather to fit the current market trends in both fashion and eco consumerism. In my opinion, it is a brilliantly orchestrated marketing scheme that plays into the desires of a diverse population. It allows the trendy fashionista to believe that she is saving the environment one purchase at a time.

While most bloggers are posting reviews raving about the “eco conscious” new line, I remain unimpressed.  Eco conscious retailers shouldn’t be considered sustainable based on the fibers of organic cotton woven into their clothing; as consumers, we should consider the hands that construct the clothing, fair payment for services, long term usability and total control over the manufacturing process. Eco conscious clothing should not be discarded after one season of wear and it should be made with minimal impact to the world. It certainly should not travel thousands of miles to reach the hand of its new owner and it should be created in a fair and ethical environment. And if an item is truly is eco conscious and sustainable, there should be no hesitance to guarantee that to the purchaser.

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