You may or may not have heard that H&M Conscious has declared April 18-24th to be “World Recycle Week”, urging it’s customers to bring in bags of unwanted clothes that they plan to recycle and turn into raw materials and new products. Though still very hypocritical as it’s coming from a giant fast fashion retailer, this might not have been so bad had it not “coincidentally” also been the same week of the Fashion Revolution campaign, a week that aims to bring attention to the true cost of fashion and help exploited garment workers, something H&M has been criticized for. If you haven’t yet read Lucy Siegle’s opinion piece on the topic for The Guardian, you really need to. Too lazy to? Bookmark it for another day, and here’s a quick summary of what you need to know:
- H&M is aiming to collect 1,000 tons of clothing during their “World Recycle Week”.
- It would take 12 years for H&M to use up this much fashion waste.
- This 1,000 tons of clothes is roughly the same amount a retailer of their size would make in 48 hours – so really, 12 years from now they will have completed recycling what they produce in 2 days.
- They’re offering vouchers, which promotes more consumerism.
Fashion Revolution responded to this by calling on everyone to celebrate the true heroes – you can read more about that here. H&M responded with a very carefully-worded message about how they did not intend to distract attention away from Fashion Revolution (I say that’s a lie) and would choose another week if they were to do this again next year (they better, or a lot of people are going to be really pissed).
For those of you who want to give H&M the benefit of the doubt and think maybe they really did just not know that on April 24th of last year, tens of thousands of people participated in Fashion Revolution Day (it was upgraded to a whole week this year due to the overwhelming response and participation in 2015), then I have another little piece of information for you. This isn’t the first time an H&M campaign has collided with Fashion Revolution. In 2015, the H&M Conscious print campaign and film push featuring Olivia Wilde began the week leading up to Fashion Revolution Day. I mean, how many timing “coincidences” can H&M claim before things get a little fishy?
On top of what others have pointed out in various articles about this clash, I wanted to touch on something I think isn’t discussed often enough in these conversations – how is it that a company that made over 2 billion in sales (you can view their full Annual Report for 2015 here) is unable to offer fair living wages to their garment workers? Regardless of the exact numbers its clear that if you can afford to plan opening over 400 stores within the next year, then you can probably offer better pay and make some real, tangible changes to help the exploited workers at the end of your supply chain.
H&M is using something called the Fair Wage Method, which begins with interviews with workers and management to identify what a “living wage” really is. In an interview with Ecouterre, H&M’s Anna Gedda talks about the challenges they face with this process and gives insight into why it takes so much time. It’s understandable, but at the same time, why not offer to pay for a slight raise in wages while you conduct all the surveys, interviews and analyze the data? Their goal is to change these wages in 2018, but that’s still a long way off, and lot can change by then. I have no doubt that they can spare fraction of their profits to make a difference until they finish having “dialogues” and figure out a long-term solution.
I’m not trying to bash on H&M here. While their effort can be admired, it’s still hard to believe that it stems from genuine concern for sustainability when their overall business model, which aims for continuous growth and expansion, completely goes against any kind of sustainable model. To anyone who has even a slim understanding of what sustainability in the fashion industry means, this “Word Recycle Week” just looks like, as Lucy Siegle puts it, a bunch of “corporate greenwashing”.
So if you really do have a lot of clothes and you want to donate it to H&M’s Recycle Week, go ahead. But if you do that, at least take a moment to reflect on the unsafe working conditions and low wages of the garment workers who made your clothes. Take a moment to browse the Fashion Revolution website and understand that a $20 dress for you comes at the expense of someone getting paid $3 a day to make it.
I’m not telling you this to make you feel guilty, but to empower you. By asking #whomademyclothes, we can demand that the fashion industry is more transparent and honest about the fabrication of their clothing. The more we learn about it, the easier we can avoid falling for other cases of greenwashing. So please, don’t let yourself be fooled. If you want to participate in a real cause next week, let it be Fashion Revolution Week. As Gandhi said, “there is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.”
What are your thoughts on the H&M Conscious World Recycle Week and it’s clash with Fashion Revolution Week? Let me know in the comments below!