On March 26, H&M will launch its latest “Conscious” collection, which features clothes perfect for spring break or meeting a friend for lunch alfresco — but only if you’re okay with wearing “sustainable” clothing that isn’t actually all that sustainable.
H&M is known as a fast-fashion giant, providing seemingly limitless clothing options at alarmingly-low prices. Anyone who has shopped there knows the quality isn’t great and has probably had to force themselves to ignore the voice in the back of their head asking, “how can they make this so cheap?” (your actual conscious can be a real buzzkill, huh?).
The answer is simple: the quality sucks because their products are quickly disposed of (poorly) and it’s so inexpensive because they don’t pay their overseas workers a living wage.
Once that answer started becoming clear to consumers (and shareholders), H&M had to figure out a way to rebuild its reputation. Enter: the Conscious Collection.
On the surface, the Conscious line seems to rectify the problems of H&M’s past. Pieces in this collection are priced higher, so surely workers must be paid better. And the tags promise that each piece is made from “sustainable” materials like organic cotton.
Except, the rest of the store is still the regular cheap (unconscious?) clothing, so workers can’t be getting paid that much better. And the tag inside the Conscious clothing doesn’t list organic cotton at all. So is the sustainability promise even true?
Take, for example, this cute new one-shoulder bathing suit from their designer collaboration with Johanna Ortiz. Online it says it’s made from 82% polyamide and 18% elastane — so, not organic cotton. Looking closer, elastane isn’t actually biodegradable and while polyamide technically is, it takes anywhere from 20 to 200 years to break down.
In a second attempt to jump on the eco-friendly bandwagon, H&M also started promising discounts to shoppers who discard their old clothes into recycling bins in their stores. These bins lead shoppers to believe their discarded clothes will be shredded up and used to make new garments.
In reality, most items are sold or broken down into things like carpet padding. Sure, breaking down those fabrics into something is better than adding it to the piles of waste, but it’s estimated that less than 1% of the clothes donated into these recycling bins are actually used to make more clothes. So, these recycling bins aren’t actually helping to make new clothing and they’re encouraging shoppers to buy more garments with their discount.
H&M clearly has no intention of making any actual, real changes when it comes to sustainability. Try as they might, the people behind H&M are still just as unethical as they were before they had to repair the brand’s reputation — they’re just a little sneakier about it this time around.
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Aside from being a writer, Ashley is a mom of two girls and a wife to a passionate public school administrator. When she does have free time (cue laughter from working moms everywhere) she loves going to hot yoga classes, watching anything on Netflix that isn’t a cartoon, and weaving her way through every aisle of Target while listening to one of her favorite podcasts.