Here's a way to make that affordable fast fashion even cheaper. Starting today, shoppers can bring any bag of used clothing into H&M and get a coupon for 15% off their next purchase. The clothing can be from any brand, in any condition. I went to my local H&M in downtown San Francisco to check it out.
The new program was not immediately apparent. There was no signage announcing the campaign or explaining it, so I asked an employee. Courtney enthusiastically rattled off a number of facts for me. "One bag for one coupon - it doesn't matter how many clothes are in it or what condition they are in. However, at this time, we're only accepting clothing - no shoes or jewelry. Customers are limited to 2 bags per day." When the sales associates accept a bag, they tape it up with special green tape to ensure that no one goes through the bags looking for great finds. The bags are shipped to a sorting facility where they are divided into 4 groups:
H&M partnered with Swiss company I:CO to facilitate the collection and recycling. I:CO is a company that provides the infrastructure for clothing recycling initiatives provided by a growing number of retailers. And it's big business: the company has 3,000 employees worldwide and currently processes around 500 tons of used items every day in 74 countries.
I:CO's mission is bold. The company doesn't just want to recycle discarded goods - they want to upcycle the materials they collect and even influence the supply chain to increase the quantity of recycled materials in new products:
With what is known as downcycling, parts of sneakers are already being turned into running tracks or underlay for children’s playgrounds. I:CO’s aim goes farther, however, and is known as upcycling. This involves a reusage process which creates a product of equal or higher value. To achieve this, the product must be designed correctly from the start. The system therefore depends on the initiative of manufacturers and also on the help of consumers: The more they ask for goods produced in a raw materials cycle, the faster these items will establish themselves in the market.
H&M certainly picked the right operational partner for this program, and they've done their homework to educate employees about how to communicate it to customers. Here's hoping they'll get some signage and advertising out to educate customers about this great opportunity to give their old clothes a new life.
Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.