Since it’s finally starting to be somewhere closer to spring here in the nation’s capital, I’m back to bike commuting. It’s always a switch that is not without a few bumps in the road when I start biking again – forgetting things like bike lights, how to fit my work shoes in my bike bag, and this morning, showing up at work without my socks. Oops. I work in Georgetown, which has few options for affordable clothing (or, affordable anything, really) – the only one that is truly budget being H&M. So – I wandered in looking for socks – and was met with something I was not expecting. The store has definitely upped marketing for their line, “H&M CONSCIOUS,” marketing recent changes in their clothing-making process as serious upgrades in areas of ethical and sustainable fashion. They’ve also got donation bins in the front of the store to collect used clothing and shoes, with the selling point that 95% of clothing that end up in landfills contain textiles and raw materials that could be re-used. They look kinda like this:
The re-branding of H&M has been met with a certain degree of skepticism, it seems. H&M brands are one of the largest providers of bulk- and by definition budget – fashion. That tends to be synonymous with cheap production practices, from labor to water use to sources of raw materials such as cotton. However, the brand’s report from March 2013 showing their performance for the past year does boast some impressive stats. They are the biggest user of certified organic cotton in the world and have been reducing the water and toxic chemical use in their production processes, saving 450 million gallons of water during 2012. Their initiative also includes social justice measures to ensure fare wages, education, benefits, and equal opportunity for employees.
Whether it’s greenwashing or real change probably depends on your perspective at this point – I’m sure some purists would love to see the changes happening more quickly and to more stringent standards. However, I’ll come down on the side of applauding this move. The public perception of ‘organic’ and ‘green’ brands- from household goods to food to fashion – has long been that they are overpriced alternatives with production standards too high for large corporations and price tags too high for the average consumer. While many see the benefit, it seems to come with a high cost that is passed on to the buyer. H&M is working to change that, showing that it is possible to have affordable products produced the right way. It’s also great to see a retailer offering an opportunity for clothing to be donated or recycled in-store, keeping perfectly useable (or reusable) items out of landfills. Let’s hope they continue to move in the right direction!