In the past few years, H&M has resorted to many sustainability and labor initiatives, for instance the legally binding Bangladesh Safety Accord. Even after this, the clothing chain has been widely criticized for their efforts. If you take their ‘Conscious Collection’ as an example, you’d know that it’s made from 50% sustainable materials like recycled polyester and organic cotton. However, due to the collection being so small, H&M’s total use of recycled materials is less than 1%.
There’s an awful lot of controversy around sustainability that goes around the brand. Indeed, they’ve pledged to go 100% by 2020 in terms of the number one buyer of organic cotton in the world. Yet their most recent reports reveal that only 13.5% of the brand’s cotton is presently organic. Considering this statement, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll reach their aim in 1 year!
H&M launched its World Recycling Week, the first clothing collecting initiative of its kind where they encouraged consumers to bring their worn clothing to receive a 15% voucher. This led them to be put under high observation and undoubtedly, they received massive criticism. Kirsten Brodde of Greenpeace called it a ‘week of illusions’ and said that she wished that the brand offered repair services rather than encouraging consumption and shopping through vouchers.
To this H&M responded that the World Recycle Week provided for consumers an easy way to get engaged with sustainable fashion. Even if this was the case, H&M claimed that they planned to capture 1000 tons of unwanted clothes but only a very small percentage of recycled yarn is used in new clothes, it would take 12 years for the company to use up the 1000 tons of the fashion waste generated.
The company did make great progress on its 2013 commitments to address labor issues, but it has been called out for recent criticism. Last year, suppliers of H&M were named in reports by Global Labour Justice, detailing the abuse of female garment workers.
Also, towards the start of 2019, Labour Rights Organisations like the Clean Clothes Campaign pointed out that H&M did not deliver on its 2013 promise to pay 8,50,000 workers a living wage by 2018.
Westwood has been called ‘the queen of the greenwash’, why? Because the designer contradicts between her values and her business practices, pointing out the fact that most of her products are made from petroleum-based materials, it is a direct violation of her commitment to ‘cut out plastics whenever possible’ (as noted on her Climate Revolution Charter). Also, the fact that the number of looks she displays on the runway shows, point out that she’s still making clothes at high amounts, despite her commitment to ‘quality vs quantity’.
The brand failed with a score of 21 out of 100 when it was run through a sustainability index. Only brands with a score of above 50 are approved to be showcased on the REMAKE platform.
Their sustainability index measures impacts through categories such as transparency and traceability, maker well-being, and environmental sustainability. Vivienne Westwood proves to be lacking in concrete communications about their environmental policies, carbon emissions and labor conditions. They don’t seem to be following their public commitments.
Ethical Fashion Initiative
Vivienne’s Campaign with the Ethical Fashion Initiative, a partnership where she produced a bag collection titled ‘Handmade with Love’ is worth the attention. The products were crafted by local artisans in Africa under fair and ethical conditions, using recycled materials like canvas, repurposed roadside banners, and brass. Although the initiative was in the right direction, the campaign didn’t reflect the same.
The very campaign featured a decadently dressed Vivienne selling handbags in the middle of the slums. By placing herself as a white woman wearing luxury products in those slums surrounded by villagers in the background, she seems to be reinforcing the narrative of inequality. In plain words, she tells the story of Africa in a narrow, single-sided context of poverty.
From the IKF Desk
Mass retail chains like H&M speak of sustainability like its in their blood but we need to see the bigger picture here. We can see that they’re doing a lot to incorporate the veins of sustainable efforts, but their model has always been of fast fashion.
Again, brands like Vivienne Westwood make the media and consumers aware of sustainable fashion through activist reform efforts but how do we encourage people to be more inclined towards supporting sustainable fashion and its impact on the environment? Probably more and more people should be aware of these brands’ actions; as they say a revolution isn’t created overnight!