5 Reasons why H&M’s World Recycle Week is not as ‘conscious‘ as you might think

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.

H&M World Recycle Week Campaign Source: H&M via Twitter

H&M World Recycle Week Campaign
Source: H&M via Twitter

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.

Rana Plaza Building Collapse Source: Rijans via Flickr

Rana Plaza Building Collapse
Source: Rijans via Flickr

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?

 

 

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My Wardrobe Spring Cleanse and the Pursuit of Easiness

With this being my first blog post I wondered what I could write about. There are so many things I’m concerned about when it comes to fashion. And when I want to start writing about an issue, I feel I have nothing to say. So, I thought, why not start with something that recently occurred.

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wardrobe after cleanse

Yesterday for example, I decided to spring clean my wardrobe in an attempt to narrow down my clothes, get a better picture of what I own, and find a way to create a more efficient wardrobe.

My overall goal is to create a close-to-capsule wardrobe and own less. Because – I don’t know how you feel, but the more I own, the more uncomfortable I feel. It gives me a feeling of being cluttered and stuffed, that I put too much energy in my clothes and that I have more trouble choosing what to wear.

So, what did I do on this special day of reorganising my wardrobe? I emptied my whole closet on my bed and was a bit shocked of how much I own and haven’t worn for a long time.

Within the past few years, as I dug deeper and deeper into the world of fast fashion, sustainable fashion, fashion production, fashion waste and everything fashion, I became more and more aware of the consequences of buying fast fashion. The social and environmental problems evoked by the fashion industry is something we cannot ignore. This led to me choosing a bit more consciously what I buy, what I don’t buy and also, how I buy it (when I really want an H&M style, I’d check the online thrift shops to see, if it was available in my size). Thus, I don’t directly support H&M (although one could argue that I support fast fashion, because of buyers like me, other girls would go shopping headlessly knowing that there’s someone buying their stuff, if they decided it wasn’t the right colour for them). And luckily I have a student job in a concept store selling ecofair fashion, shoes and home accessories allowing me to get my ecofair-freak on for less. For me, that’s really a privilege.

wardrobe after cleanse

wardrobe after cleanse

Also, I’d love to have a wardrobe which totally represents me and my personal style (whatever it is). So, I don’t really need to follow every trend, but add special items that make me fashionable, but in an effortless manner (I always had a problem with being too up-to-the-trend, because it made me feel like I don’t own it. And when it comes to clothes, I want to own it).

Anyways, as I went through every single garment (you’re supposed to inspect and try on every garment to evaluate how it fits and how it makes you feel), I was a bit concerned about how many items were “Made in Bangladesh/India/Cambodia/you-name-it”.

Knowing about the working conditions, minimum wages and health hazards, I instantly got a bad conscious towards the garment workers (eighty per cent are women) who made my clothes. And if I ever wanted to point a finger at someone, well, I had to start with me: “My name is Ange-Camea and I support (but do less and less and less) the fast fashion system”.

I know what I can do in the future starting now, but there’s nothing I can do about my past purchases. So with that in mind I said to myself: “Wear it until you cannot wear it anymore. Don’t let this garment go to waste and treat it the best you can. You owe it to the garment workers.” (that sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s true, what else can you do about it?)

Okay, so my approach was to hang those styles back in my closet (neat and tidy and full of grace and appreciation) which I love and look really great, fit well and are easy to combine with the rest of my stuff. And I’m happy to say that applies to a lot of my clothes.

But you also have those garments you somehow like, which are in a good condition and which you can combine with other styles. But for some reason, you don’t wear these things as often as you could. They don’t fit perfectly. Or they are just not that comfortable. For me that is a beautiful mustard-coloured turtleneck pullover. It looks great on me (my boyfriend chose it, because he loves the 70s style on me), but it’s very bodyhugging and the little wool in it makes it a bit itchy and a little sweaty (yes, I know too much information, but you get the picture and the feeling, right?). So, I put it – along with other clothes in a “Maybe”-box. I’m thinking about giving it a year and if I haven’t put on, missed or thought of an item, I would give it to the local thrift shop or try to swap it with a friend.

beach dress

beach dress

At last, I identified those things, I just don’t know what to do with. For instance, six years ago, we went on surf holidays in the Algarve, Portugal. Being so in love with the easy-going, often revealing hippie-surf-girl style, I bought a short dress (brown with pink flowers) directly at the beach. Only a few elastic straps would hold together the backside. I guess, in the heat of the surfer-girl-hippie moment I needed this dress, wore it once (in our holiday apartment for pictures – not even on the beach) and have been neglecting it ever since. And I know for sure that I would continue to ignore it. Well, what do I do with this kind of dress? I put it in another box – my “I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-it”-box. Together with a white t-shirt which looks more like a kitchen cloth (low quality-low price).

But what do you do with a “I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-it”-box? Well, I decided to put a deadline to it. If I don’t come up with an idea for every single item in it within a month, I’ll take it to the clothing collection. But actually, I don’t want my clothes to end up either on a landfill or in a developing country, destroying the local garment market. Neither of these options are socially or ecologically responsible nor sustainable.

future kitchen cloth

future kitchen cloth

So, I thought I can ask a thrift shop, if they can take the dress. And as for the unwearable white t-shirt, I thought I could really turn it into a kitchen cloth, so I’d be using less paper towels in the kitchen. By that, I not only avoid throwing away a t-shirt, but also save paper towels and thus, produce less waste. If that isn’t genius, well, then I don’t know what is! Okay, I’m not too sure if it’s genius, since I’ll be having more cloths to wash (more water, more energy). But I’m trying to find a way to waste less, so I’ll give it a go.

But back to my closet. I love how it looks now. So neat and decluttered and airy. And I love and really appreciate each item that hangs or lies in it. But of course, as spring starts, I feel the need to freshen my wardrobe and add something new to it to complement my style. But since I’m not the thoughtless buyer anymore, I decided to take it easy. If I want something bad, I’ll check the thrift shops (online and offline), see if I can get the affordable ecofair version of it (I’m still a student at the end of the day) and ask myself: “Do I really need it? Will I wear it at least 30 times? Will I wear it next year? Is it combinable with at least thirty per cent of my wardrobe?”

Since asking myself that question regularly, I haven’t bought a lot of stuff and haven’t regretted any non-purchase so far. I guess, whatever question you may ask yourself or strategy you may use, if you start buying a bit more consciously then that’s a win for all (except for the fast fashion retailer of your choice).

 

And what about you, how do you decide whether to buy or not to buy?

What would you do with your “Maybe”-box?

What are your ideas for the “I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-it”-box?