SUSTAINABLE DEMOCRACY BY H&M

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Yesterday the Business of Fashion released this article; H&M Says Fashion Can Be Cheap and Ethical. According to Helena Helmersson, H&M’s head of sustainability, wants to “make sustainable fashion more democratic” as they aim for sustainability to be accessible for the mass consumer, rather then just a luxury commodity.

H&M shares that what hurts them “is an assumption that they must be exploiting their workers because they produce cheap clothes”. Despite the fact that the H&M is the biggest garment buyer from Bangladesh, evidently they did not source from Rana Plaza (the factory that collapsed last April and killed over 1,100 garment workers).

According to the article, H&M was the first company to sign the Europe-led pact to improve safety. They have also been lobbying with Bangladesh and Cambodia to raise the minimum wage, with a plan to pay a “living wage” to approx. 850,000 textile workers by 2018. In their favor, H&M employs approximately 100 auditors who check standards at their 850 suppliers in Bangladesh and Cambodia.

As more and more consumers become consciously aware of the environmental, ethical and sustainable impact associated with mass consumption, it’s only natural that these voices for change reach the organizations responsible. According to H&M in the article, their customer surveys show that in 2013, 47% are interested in environmentally friendly products, which were up from 27% the year previous.

Additionally, they are one of a few fashion companies implementing use of recycled garments to make denim.  Nudie Jeans is another brand, which uses recycled cotton to make a line for their premium denim, as well as recycled wool & cotton to produce new sweaters. Undoubtedly, this is a trend we will see more off, as the world of consumerism/consumption has starkly increased in the last two decade while the amount of waste has sky rocketed.  H&M will recycle clothes returned to stores as the vehicle to drive their garment-recycling program.

I was also surprised to learn that H&M is the largest user of organic cotton. Surprised because when you walk into their stores most the cotton isn’t organic, which indicates that global percentage of organic cotton used is marginal. Of course, taking into account the vast scale and volume of H&M comparatively to other design houses, I guess this makes sense. Yet we have a long way to go. However “H&M has pledged to use only cotton from sustainable sources by 2020 and to phase out the use of toxic chemicals that environmentalists say can pollute rivers near factories… [and] introduce a Conscious range using bamboo, recycled polyester and organic cotton”.

Needless to say, all of this is good and well. It is a positive sign of improvement and a step in the right direction and for that I salute H&M.

Never the less, dare I say it… we the consumers must be mindful of our purchasing decisions in fast fashion retailers. Read the label, Whats the fibre content? Where was it made? Do I really need a shirt I intentionally plan to throw out after a few wears?! Together let’s reverse some of the psychology that’s been instilled with fast fashion. It’s great to see change happening and understandably it is a slow process to completely overhaul an existing system.

I remain optimistic that continued positive change is and will occur globally for truly ethical, sustainable and environmental fashion at every price point. However I anxiously look forward to when fast fashion retailers demonstrate, ahem… a little restraint in needless over production, selling everything to everyone, in every colour and variety. There is something to be said about Zara’s way only offering a limited quantity…. desirability, a wee bit of individuality, perhaps?

Second to that, I look forward to a commitment from fast fashion retailers to only work with ethical and environmental factories in textile and garment manufacturing. I am talking about the ethics behind the production of wool, angora, and animal hide. Real enforcement must be required and requested by global companies upon their overseas factories to meet these standards if no such regulations exist in their own country.

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