On April 4 H&M, along with Conscious Commerce co-founders Olivia Wilde and Barbara Burchfield, hosted a preview at the company’s gorgeous Fifth Avenue showroom to introduce the new Conscious Exclusive collection. The event was intended to not only highlight H&M’s ongoing sustainability efforts, but also shed light on the retailer’s global garment-collecting initiative with the launch of its first World Recycle Week campaign.
From cat-eye sunglasses made from plastic bags, to a pair of high-fashion flats made of eucalyptus bark, the products are chic, beautiful and revolutionary in terms of construction. “H&M is really investing in sustainability through their Conscious Exclusive line,” actress and Conscious Commerce co-founder Olivia Wilde said. “They’re proving that sustainability doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re sacrificing style.”
New to this year’s collection are three wedding dresses, one of which was lit with fiber optics to showcase the craftsmanship and design specially created by Paris-based Korean artist Tae Gong Kim. Approximately 750 pounds of recycled clothing from H&M’s global Garment Collecting initiative was repurposed and on display as art installations.
“This campaign is encouraging people to change the way they think about disposing their clothes,” Wilde explained. “This is significant because when we think of fast fashion and big companies like H&M, we don't think of them putting the emphasis on thoughtfulness when it comes to disposing garments. We think of them as being wasteful. H&M is tackling this issue head on by saying, we want to change the way we manufacture, change the way you shop, change the way you care for your items and change the way you dispose of them.”
The brand has set the ambitious goal to collect 1,000 tons of clothing from customers between April 18 and April 24 and even brought on pop star, M.I.A. to lead the cause. The British/Sri-Lankan rapper dropped a track and video called “Rewear It” to fuel the effort.
“World Recycle Week is about embracing important environmental issues such as the landfills, and highlighting a global movement,” M.I.A. said. The video features an eclectic cast of interesting influencers and inspirational people from all over the world who have a strong personal style and passion for sustainability.
Some H&M skeptics question the timing of the campaign, accusing the brand of “stealing the thunder” from the Fashion Revolution, a grassroots movement which promotes transparency within the fashion industry. Although the campaigns, which each run during Earth Week from April 18 to April 24, are pushing for a more sustainable fashion future, their missions could not be more different.
The Fashion Revolution, which was founded by Derbyshire hat designer Cary Somers and ethical clothing maker Orsola de Castro, was born off the heels of the Rana Plaza disaster that claimed the lives of over 1,100 garment workers. The campaign focuses on issues like living wages and worker’s rights by spotlighting some of the most exploited workers on the planet. It invites supporters to wear their clothes inside-out and ask brands, “Who made your clothes?”
World Recycle Week is geared more toward the environment. It offers consumers the opportunity to turn textile waste into new products. As much as 95 percent of clothes that are thrown away can be used again. H&M has partnered with I:CO to close the loop, and is actively working to alleviate one of the biggest threats to our planet and its resources.
De Castro considers the fact that the two campaigns will take place during the same week “disrespectful,” the Guardian reported . “We’re remembering the carnage, not staging a carnival where people go around dressed in fashion waste,” he said.
But my question is: Why must we conflate the two issues? Can’t we all just get along and build a more sustainable future that is kind to people and the planet? While it’s true that H&M might have a ways to go when it comes to fulfilling its promises to promote fair living wages, the company is committed to increasing wages for at least 60 percent of the garment workers in its supply chain by 2018.
In large companies, big changes take time. However, H&M seems to be taking the necessary steps toward creating a more sustainable brand. When asked if fast fashion can ever be truly sustainable, an H&M representative told TriplePundit, “We’re trying to figure out the same thing.”
Photo Credit: Photos by Brian Ach/Getty Images for H&M (used with permission) / Fashion Revolution
Joi M. Sears is the Founder and Creative Director of Free People International, a social enterprise which specializes in offering creative solutions to the world's biggest social, environmental and economic challenges through the arts, design thinking and social innovation.