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On April 18, H&M kicked off a major project intended to collect 1,000 tons of used clothes, called World Recycle Week. This event coincides with Fashion Revolution Week.
H&M has tried to be a front-runner in the sustainable fashion space through its Conscious collection, ad campaigns and garment collection program, offering discounts to those who donate their old clothes at its stores. While some have lauded the company’s efforts, which have outpaced other similar fashion brands, critics question whether these efforts are enough to combat the company’s fast fashion mainstream offerings or whether they are just greenwashing.
Lucy Siegle, a journalist at The Guardian pointed out that based on the use of current technology, it would likely take H&M up to 12 years to use just 1,000 tons of clothing waste, a volume of clothing it products it regularly produces in under a week. Kirsten Brodde of Greenpeace has pointed out that of the 1,000 tons of clothing to be collected, a very small portion can actually be used as recycled fibres. Meanwhile had the company offered garment repair services, they may have had a larger impact.
However, the question is whether a different type of program would have the same sort of large scale marketing and sales impact for H&M. For example, the garment collection voucher program, which offers a discount for customers turning in clothing, encourages new purchases while still fitting into H&M’s green agenda.
The issue lies within H&M’s business model itself: you can’t produce massive amounts of fast fashion and grow the amount of stores you have, while attempting to reduce your environmental footprint.
While H&M is a front-runner in the space, it still has a long way to go towards meeting the image it is trying to create. Efforts such as a contest it held last year to encourage innovative ideas for garment recycling and increasing sustainably sourced materials across its clothing lines are only the tip of the ice burg. However, they are nowhere close to combating the unsafe conditions H&M puts workers in around the world. Incremental change is good, however for a company as large as H&M it is not enough. During Fashion Revolution Week, we must continue to put pressure on brands such as H&M to help turn their words into actions and behaviours.