Author: Ffibi Barnitt
Published: 18th November 2020
As a complete beginner to sustainable shopping,
I was pleasantly surprised at H&M's commitment to sustainable fashion, with a website section dedicated to their 'Let's Change' campaign, linked to their Conscious product range. In comparison to Topshop (most recent Brand Review article), H&M's range is huge and even includes 143 items solely from their Home collection. There are many commitments that the brand makes as well, including using only recycled, organic or sustainably sourced fabrics by 2030. Innovation within the brand's sustainable movements is, in my opinion, inspired. They support companies such as Vegea (creating leather from grapes) and also the production of Circulose (100% recycled cotton).
However, upon further research, there seems to be a reoccurring critique that the brand is vague which has lead to accusations of 'greenwashing'.
the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products are more environmentally sound.
(spending more time and money marketing themselves as environmentally friendly, than on minimising their environmental impact)
In a 2019 article, the Fast Company explains that without an official measure of 'sustainability' it is too vague to claim that 57% of materials used, are already recycled or sustainably sourced. Sustainably sourced being the issue of H&M's statement here. The article concludes that due to the vague description and lack of elaboration in their conscious campaign, H&M is unfortunately misleading customers to believe that their products are a lot more sustainable than they actually are.
Read the Fast Company article:
I do appreciate the transparency of the products however, as well as the visibility of the exact percentages of 'sustainable' materials used in Conscious items. By 'sustainable materials' I mean recycled polyester or organic cotton, which are specified by H&M in each description of the Conscious products. Transparency is also something recognised by the Fashion Revolution's Transparency Index, in which they topped 250 other big brands on their disclosure of social and environmental policies, practises and impacts to the customer.
Have a closer look at the Fashion Revolution's Transparency Index:
Vogue's Sustainability Editor, Emily Chan, recently (October 2020) interviewed H&M's CEO (Helena Helmersson) about her "ambitious sustainability goals" for the brand including her goal to change the meaning of 'fast fashion'.
Chan pointed out a key concern of sustainable campaigners about H&M's requirement to produce and sell millions of garments every year makes it unsustainable in itself. Helmersson did respond with plans to move towards tech assisted demand prediction to prevent over production and resultant waste. There has already been introduction of technology to improve H&M's circular fashion. Looop is a machine which takes unwanted garments and uses the fibres to create new garments right in front of customers' eyes (one machine in operation at the moment, in Sweden).
No specific description of the sustainable materials in each product, which hinders customers in accurately assessing the sustainability of their potential purchases.
For the Vogue Article on H&M:
In reference to worker ethics and pay Helmersson stated: “A big company like H&M can be part of something truly amazing". Something which I believe stands true for any big brand and any value as well.
As much as they are also influenced by trends, big fashion companies have huge reach and influence and therefore much can be told about the levels of effort to adjust to change and also lead it.
At first glance, H&M seems to be putting in the effort to become a more environmentally friendly brand. However, the claims that the brand is 'greenwashing' its customers is a cause for concern. I do believe that H&M as a brand is trying to become more environmentally friendly through using recycled or organic materials to make their clothes, as well as investing in innovative ideas to create more sustainable materials. A step in the right direction perhaps, but with many steps still to go to become completely sustainable.