In times, where our natural resources are declining and the use of chemicals for dyeing and finishing our garments contaminate rivers and water resources, recycling clothes that already exist, is a logical and responsible answer to these issues.
Launching a recycling initiative seems like a really forward-thinking move. And H&M as the second-largest fashion retailer appears to be at the forefront of ‘fast fashion going green’. H&M’s goal is to collect 1,000 tons of clothing during World Recycle Week until Sunday, 24 April. Even more, the fashion giant aims to raise awareness that people can recycle their clothes throughout the year by bringing in their old clothes into their 3,900+ stores worldwide. The campaign tries to underline the company’s commitment to sustainability and a more environmentally friendly fashion production. So it seems.
So yes, why not collect worn, unworn and discarded clothes? And why don’t I – among many others – celebrate H&M and their ‘conscious’ approach towards a “better fashion future”?
Reason #1: According to H&M, clothes that are still in a wearable condition, will be distributed as second-hand goods. Therein already lies one problem. Shipping second-hand clothes to mostly developing countries, looks at first glance as a charitable undertaking. But it’s not. Selling imported clothes which are cheaper than new alternatives destroys the local garment market, leading to unemployment in the local industry and dependency on the west.
Reason #2: As a reward for bringing your unwanted clothes, H&M gives away vouchers for your next purchase. Second problem spotted. Consumers are being encouraged to buy new clothes, which is quite the opposite to what sustainability stands for. This way, H&M gets to make a profit which benefits no one else but H&M. More clothes sold, more cash. Easy as that.
Reason #3: Just because it says “recycle”, doesn’t mean that it is. Our clothes are mostly made of blended fabrics such as cotton and polyester, wool and acrylic, etc. Technologically, it’s not yet possible to recycle and convert these blended fibres into new fabrics. As a result, only a small percentage of the collected garments can be turned into new fibres. So why collect 1,000 tons of unwanted garments if you cannot recycle the items that are too torn to sell as second-hand? H&M proclaims that eventually, they’ll be able to close the loop on textile for zero-waste fashion. Yes, at this point I have to annotate that H&M announced that they will invest the money they make with the recycling initiative in research and innovation projects to turn old clothes into new fibres. I guess, we have to wait and see. Only time will tell.
Reason #4: 1,000 tons of unwanted clothes. That’s a really big number. But as Lucy Siegle – journalist, author and fashion activist – points out, that’s how much H&M produces in 48 hours. Ouch! And combined with their voucher scheme, their initiative only stimulates more fashion consumption. I don’t think that’s what sustainability is about.
Reason# 5: launching a recycling initiative does in no way tackle the grievances present in the garment industry. Labour conditions of the garment workers – particularly in Southeast Asia – are not being challenged, though we all still remember the images of the collapse of the garment factory building Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh three years ago. The collapse which took more than 1,100 lives cannot be considered an accident, but rather a man-made disaster which could’ve been prevented if fashion retailers such as H&M took their responsibility seriously.
Oh, and by the way, as a response to the collapse, fashion designer and campaigner Carry Somers founded Fashion Revolution – a global movement challenging the fast fashion industry by asking brands #whomademyclothes. Since its inception, Fashion Revolution has grown, with retailers and fashion brands also submitting pictures of their workers with the hashtag #imadeyourclothes. Although being active throughout the year, the movement takes the anniversary of the building collapse (24 April 2013) as the occasion for multiple activities and campaigns surrounding the grievances in the fashion industry. This year, Fashion Revolution does not only dedicate the third anniversary of the collapse but a whole week (18-24 April) to commemorate the deceased and injured workers. And guess what?! H&M decided to launch its World Recycle Week in the exact same week as Fashion Revolution. Is it a coincidence? One can only guess.
Focussing on recycling seems like H&M is trying to divert the attention from inhumane and hazardous working conditions in the garment industry. And according to i.a. the Clean Clothes Campaign, H&M is still behind schedule in correcting the dangers faced by Bangladeshi garment workers day in-day out who produce for the retail giant.
So to me, H&M World Recycle Week is a really well-played ‘green’ marketing strategy. They get to be celebrated as an eco-pioneer in the fast fashion industry, single-handedly launching an initiative which actually concerns the whole industry. In 2015, the retailer made €23billion in sales promoting change and sustainability, all the while changing not so much – actually doing more harm to the environment and workers than good.
What do you think? Is H&M at least making an effort and trying to tackle the eco issue? Or are they hypocritical and is their initiative pure greenwashing?