I remember when I first discovered H&M circa 2005. It was in my freshman year in college, and stumbling into a packed, bright white store with thumpin’ house music after my older sister, I was so amazed that stuff could be so. darn. cheap. I was utterly poor and delighted to be able to afford a frilly blouse or a sparkly statement necklace for less than $15. Finding cheap thrills here became a bonding ritual of sorts with my sister whenever I came into NYC.
Later on, I also found H&M clothes fit terribly and that being inside one of its stores made me feel like gnashing my teeth. I stopped going to the store long before I committed to buying only sustainable fashion. But recently, H&M has announced serious new commitments to sustainability. By 2020, all cotton used by H&M will be more sustainable, recycled and/or organic. By 2030, all products will come from more sustainable or recycled sources (including recycled polyester and nylons). By 2040, H&M vows it will be climate positive across its entire value chain and be a circular business.
The announcement came in conjunction with the reveal of its new Conscious Exclusive Collection 2018, featuring organic cotton, Tencel (eucalyptus fiber made from closed-loop process), recycled polyester, and even recycled nylon made of discarded fishing nets called EcoNyl®. Oh and the 40-piece collection is modeled by lovely supermodel/women’s health advocate Christy Turlington. Let’s check it out, shall we?
Small vegan bucket bag made in part with recycled polyester, $129
Vegan slingbacks made with recycled polyester, $129
Tencel & silk blend top, $69.99
Jacquard dress made of recycled polyester, $299
So gorgeous, right?! The collection was inspired by the fin-de-siècle home of Swedish artists Karin and Carl Larsson, and I’m loving the whole 19th-century bohemian meets modern eco goddess thing going on. Plus, many pieces are so affordable for the kind of materials they use. 100% organic cotton shirt at $79.99? Yes, please.
For a company that has generated $28 billion in revenues in 2017, this is a huge commitment to doing the right thing. H&M’s new attitude on the retail industry might be akin to Coca-Cola announcing it will use only recycled plastic bottles and recycled aluminum cans and be climate positive in the future–a groundbreaking choice.
However, this is a great way to think about whether it’s truly eco-friendly to consume and embrace these brands. In fact, Coca-Cola did announce in January 2018 that it plans to make its bottles with 50% recycled content by 2030. But recycled plastic Coca-Cola bottles would not truly solve the issue of having too much plastic in the world–most plastic can be recycled only once and the fact of the matter is, plastic, in general, ends up in landfills and our oceans anyway. Whether it’s a recycled plastic bottle or a virgin plastic bottle, it hurts our marine life exactly the same way.
Likewise, H&M Conscious Collection is a plus, but not a solution. While recycled polyester is definitely a welcome change from virgin polyester, it still sheds microplastic every time it is washed, which never biodegrades in our waters–going from our washing machines to water processing plants to rivers and oceans, then eventually back to our drinking waters. Which is why I, as a vegan, try to buy as many natural fibers as I can, even if that means choosing silk (a long-lasting, biodegradable, low-toxin fabric) than synthetics of any kind. H&M’s collection is pretty, but I definitely would think twice about washing those recycled synthetics garments and leaving more microplastics in the oceans.
At the end of the day, there is rarely a “perfect” choice. The most eco-friendly and sustainable choice is always to reuse your existing things and reduce your waste. But when you *do* need to buy something new, it’s great to have some options that are more thoughtful and leave less negative impact. And hopefully, having a retail giant pledge for sustainability will make sustainable fashion more accessible and attractive to everyone.
What do you think of the H&M conscious collection?
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