The fashion industry is estimated to generate 92 million tons of waste globally every year. The industry also uses over 20 trillion gallons of water annually and contributes to nearly 10% of global emissions. The fashion industry has long since escaped consumer pressures to become more sustainable, with fast fashion brands like Shein being the most downloaded app in the U.S. However, we have seen some brands start to introduce “sustainable” or “eco-friendly” lines or even start to report their sustainability efforts recently. However, with no regulations on how these terms are used or what weight they hold, how much of it is true?
A lawsuit filed earlier this year by Chelsea Commodore against H&M for making misleading sustainability claims about its products may shine a spotlight on how little progress the fashion industry has actually made. Ms. Commodore is claiming that the company’s ‘Sustainability Profiles,’ fast fashion practices, and misleading sustainability reports are deceiving consumers into believing that H&M is more sustainable than it actually is—and thus willing to pay more for the brands ‘conscious line’ when in fact it’s an elaborate marketing ploy.
H&M’s ‘Sustainability Profiles’ were featured for a short time next to select items available for purchase. These profiles showed the impact of the garment on the environment, showing things like water usage, fossil-fuel usage, water pollution, and contribution to global warming. However, after extensive research, Quartz, an independent news outlet, found that H&M’s Sustainability Profiles weren’t accurate. In fact, one dress that claimed to use 20% less water than the average dress actually used 20% more water. Similar claims were made about certain garments being made of 50% sustainable materials when in reality, they were manufactured from fabrics like polyester—a manmade textile that does not biodegrade—which is highly unsustainable. Nearly every article of clothing with a sustainability profile had a similarly misleading story behind it.
Commodore has accused H&M of “creat[ing] an extensive marketing scheme to ‘greenwash’ its products” in order to present them “as environmentally-friendly when they are not.” Ms. Commodore’s counsel also brought into question the reality of H&M’s infamous recycling program. This program lets consumers drop off their old clothes at the store where the fast-fashion giant claims to collect and recycle the clothing allowing the consumer to buy the newest trend guilt-free. However, Commodore’s counsel argues that only 1 percent of textiles are currently recycled worldwide, which is hugely due to a lack of technology to allow for a larger-scale recycling program. H&M should not have the ability to have such a program.
This class action suit against H&M is suing against financial damages that consumers suffered when paying for garments more under the impression that they were paying for a more consciously and sustainably made product. An order in favor of the class would begin to create change in the fast-fashion industry as other companies would start to see the impact and gravity sustainability claims can have on their business. We need more regulation in the fashion industry, and holding fast-fashion companies to deceitful marketing strategies is a step in the right direction.
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Photo by Fernand De Canne on Unsplash