First, I want to state that I do not work for H&M but I am however working with them on a communications project that is tied to sustainability. And because of this I do have a bit more insight into what they are doing beyond what is published on their website or what you may read about in the media.
As an eco fashion advocate for the past decade I have witnessed A LOT of changes, but the greatest change by far has been the adoption of sustainable business practices by a few of the big brands in recent years. Big brands like Nike, Walmart, and yes… H&M.
Years ago when I first set out trailblazing this path, I held very strong convictions. I wasn’t afraid to publicly shame brands that were doing damage to either the environment or the people who they employ.
Over the years, this activist approach of mine has become more conversational, less accusatory. An approach I think is actually far more effective.
Perfection doesn’t exist, but progress does! This is something that we at Fashion Takes Action (FTA) constantly have to remind ourselves. In some ways it has become a daily mantra of ours. It is often what guides us in our decision to collaborate and engage, rather than yell and point fingers. And it frees up our time to focus on the brands that simply aren’t doing enough.
And H&M isn’t one of them.
I’m getting tired of reading or hearing about what H&M is doing wrong. And I have to apologize, because many of the folks making the accusations are esteemed colleagues of mine, whom I have nothing but respect for. But I’m urging you to reconsider your approach.
Can’t we just come together and applaud the positive impacts that H&M has made? Because there are many, and while they aren’t perfect, they are also not trying to convince us that they are. They are simply making better choices. Choices that impact their entire supply chain, and which ultimately impact the entire industry. It’s just not that black and white.
If H&M can adopt sustainability, why can’t Joe Fresh? Or Forever 21? Maybe we can stop bashing H&M for what they “aren’t” doing, and instead focus all that energy on the brands that are doing NOTHING. Wouldn’t that be a better use of our time?
Can we just leave H&M alone and allow them to continue making changes for the better? If we keep getting in their way, pointing fingers, writing scathing posts about them, how will that inspire them to keep fighting the good fight?
And more importantly, how will it inspire other brands to follow in their footsteps? Brands who might already be on the fence about it, and then read about H&M getting raked over the coals every time they try to do something better.
Personally, this is the main reason I want [almost] everyone to leave H&M alone. I say almost because I believe it is important (and healthy) for all businesses to be governed by industry standards and ethics. And because ‘some’ pressure is likely what influenced the adoption of better practices in the first place.
I want nothing more than to see Joe Fresh and Forever 21, Zara and Topshop sourcing better cotton, improving their factory conditions (even if it takes time to implement), donating some of their profits to innovation in fashion design, and adopting a take back/recycling program. I want them to join the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, make new fabrics from recycled polyester and to partner with an ENGO to reduce negative water impacts. All the while, being as transparent as possible by posting what they are doing in an easy to locate place on their website. Nothing. To. Hide.
In fact, when FTA is delivering our school program My Clothes, My World (now to more than 2500 students across Ontario), we encourage them to look up such corporate websites before they go shopping, and to see who is being transparent about their practices. Once they have their eyes opened to the human and environmental impacts of fashion, these young people desperately want to know how they can still shop without hurting people or the planet.
A good friend of mine, who is an award-winning retailer and environmental pioneer, opened two green lifestyle stores 20 years ago. He recently closed up shop, but he isn’t as hurt by that as you might think. Why? Because green lifestyle products are now mainstream. They can be found in just about every pharmacy and grocery store.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of big companies putting the small guys out of business, but in the spirit of mainstream sustainability, should this not be seen as a positive story? And is this not the goal for those of us who have tirelessly been pushing the sustainable fashion movement for years? My friend is thrilled to know that he played a role in making this all happen. He was a driving force that has led to increased awareness and the mainstreaming of green products. His work is done and he leaves behind a legacy.
Fast fashion looks like it is here to stay. While it is not the way we all choose to shop, it definitely fulfills a need for millions of people who have nothing but affordability in mind. And if you look at it from that perspective, rather than the perspective of garments should simply cost more, doesn’t it make sense to support efforts that are being made to reduce water, waste and use of toxic chemicals whenever possible?
FTA’s founding vision in 2007 was to see sustainability stitched into every garment, shoe and accessory. EVERY garment, shoe and accessory. Not just the garments created locally by small independent designers. And while I have a lot of respect for these small companies and the many obstacles and challenges they face to ensure that sustainability is ingrained in their business, they alone cannot make change happen on the scale it needs to. If we truly want to see this change happen, then we have to embrace and support all companies who are doing good things, and turn our attention to those whose heads remain in the sand.