What is Fast Fashion?
In the 1990’s society wanted trendy clothes like those on fashion shows. Many shops started mass producing clothes at a higher rate to meet the demands of fashion trends, but in order to gain profit the clothes were of lower quality and sold at a lower cost. These low quality clothes fall apart or become damaged easily, so consumers have to throw them away and buy more clothes to replace the damaged ones. This cycle fills our landfills with discarded clothes and damages our environment.
Stores with fast fashion include: H&M, Forever 21, Zara, ASOS, Topshop and Uniqlo.
My initial thoughts on H&M’s conscious fashion line
A few days ago, I was browsing through H&M with my mom and at the corner of the store I saw their ‘Conscious- Sustainable style‘. At first I was very surprised to see the word ‘sustainable’ in the store and thought my eyes were deceiving me. I decided to do some research on this clothing line.
H&M’s Business Model
- As stated previously, H&M falls under the fast fashion category. By being a fast fashion company the clothes H&M produces are meant to have a short life span and must be replaced. The success of this business model of H&M relies on their consumers constantly buying and discarding clothes, but this is not environmentally sustainable.
- If H&M was truly sustainable they would change their ways and create a more durable line of clothing at an affordable price. With a profit of over USD 15 billion in 2018, one would think that a business like that could spare a few million to create a more durable, sustainable and profitable business model.
Score: 0/2. The business model is not environmentally sustainable and they are not doing anything impactful to address this given all their resources.
Environmental impact, awareness, activity
- Due to fast fashion relying on multiple collections and limited edition designs throughout the year, transportation emissions are very high and contribute to global warming.
- In 2010 in the U.S. alone, 11 million tons of clothing waste were put into landfills. When the clothes decompose they produce methane, which contributes to global warming.
- While “H&M is one of the largest buyers of organic cotton, it still only accounts for 13.7% of its total garment production.” (source) This can make us question how serious H&M really is with wanting to become more sustainable, since they can clearly afford to do so with an annual profit of over USD 15 billion in 2018.
- 84% of clothes in the US are dumped into landfills when they could have been recycled or donated instead. The clothes can take anytime from 30 (nylon) to 200 (polyester) years to decompose. The process of decomposing also causes micro-plastics to release into the soil (damaging the surrounding environment).
Sourcing of goods (labor)
- “Fast fashion disempowers women… 75 million people are making our clothes today. 80% is made by women who are only 18 – 24 years old… A majority of them earn less than $3 per day.” (source) In addition, there are many cases of female workers being abused. However we should keep in mind that the garments factories allow for the creation of jobs and thus allow these women to earn money when they may otherwise not have been able to.
- “In the past, H&M has been given international ethics awards, despite manufacturing about 25 percent of its clothing in factories in Bangladesh, where the minimum wage is the lowest in the world.” (source)
H&M’s Conscious Fashion Line
H&M created this line of sustainable clothing to test if sustainable fashion can go mainstream. Now this topic is a double edged sword. If consumers ONLY support the sustainable clothing line H&M will be more likely to expand this collection since that is what is generating revenue for them. In addition, if other companies see how H&M is earning more money by being sustainable they are more likely to adopt this trend thus causing a change in the fast fashion market.
However, H&M is still a fast fashion company and this new clothing line is not very high quality. Compassion Fashion’s review of H&M’s new clothing line has pictures that show the poor quality.
As discussed, while H&M can possibly create a new movement towards mainstream sustainable fashion it’s success depends on consumer behavior. In addition we cannot ignore how their conscious fashion line is barely sustainable/of a good quality, and so I will give them 1/2 points.
Alternatives to H&M
There are many alternatives to H&M, which include fast fashion and non-fast fashion businesses. Since I’ve declared that fast fashion stores are inherently unsustainable, we will not be discussing any of those alternatives.
The non-fast fashion alternatives try to be more sustainable and ethical so the costs/prices tend to be higher. The higher price of these stores is the only thing H&M has a competitive advantage over. Otherwise, businesses like Everlane and Ninety Percent provide high quality and durable clothes while being ethical. For example, Ninety Percent donates 90% of their profits to charities.
Update*** Everlane may not be ethical find out here: The Real Truth About Everlane’s Sustainability.
So what can YOU do as a consumer?
If you are able to afford more sustainable clothes I would suggest you do so. Despite the prices, the point of sustainable fashion is to be more minimalist and to buy less in order to help the planet. I know media and celebrities can be tempting to copy, but our planet will continue to suffer if we as consumers do not change our habits to support sustainability. I’ve shared a link below to help you find a store in your budget. You can also check out my Pinterest (@econaki) for more suggestions.
Score before my opinion: 2/8
Do I recommend H&M?
To conclude, if you are very money conscious or cannot afford more sustainable clothing then I would recommend ONLY purchasing for H&M’s sustainable clothing line or other similar alternatives. Due to H&M having a price advantage over their competitors while maintaining some form of sustainability they get 1/2 points in this section.
Final Score: 3/10
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Want to know more about fast fashion? Here’s a trailer to a well-made documentary all about it. If you like the trailer I highly recommend watching the documentary.
How does Econaki’s rating system work? Read this short blog post.
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