Waste not, want not: The ugly side of H&M

Posted in Uncategorized by Nneoma Ulu on January 7, 2010

This Spring, H&M have released a new collection to help ease the conscience of most of us avid shoppers and our love for ever-changing trends. The Garden Collection is made using only organic and recycled materials. All the garments have been produced using sustainable materials or using recycled PET bottles or textile waste. H&M has long had their organic cotton range and with this new collection, these efforts constantly remind us that we can enjoy disposable fashion more responsibly. This is the side of H&M I know and love.

The Garden Collection from H&M

However, there is another side to H&M – an uglier side. Yesterday, The New York Times exposed that H&M’s Herald Square NYC store was destroying perfectly good, unworn clothes and throwing them away. A passer-by found bags of mutilated clothes night after night despite H&M boasting that they give unused clothes to charity. This is appalling and unacceptable and as the article rightly points out, “It is winter. A third of the city is poor. And unworn clothing is being destroyed nightly.”

H&M released the following statement using their Facebook page: “H&M is committed to taking responsibility for how our operations affect both people and the environment. Our policy is to donate any damaged usable garments to charity. We’re currently investigating an incident in a NY store that is not representative of our policy. We will follow with more information as soon as we are able. H&M’s US sales operation donates thousands of garments each year through Gifts In Kind Int.” – but its not enough to say that something will be done, they must act on this.

As shoppers, we have a responsibility too. The reality is that we rarely think of the consequences of our desire and need for trendy clothes, often looking to brands such as H&M, TopShop and Forever 21 to give us a fast, cheap fashion fix. The picture is much bigger than an NYC H&M store throwing out unworn clothes – there is a bigger picture that we are oblivious to or rarely think of. The poor working conditions and low wages of sweatshops behind the mass production of the clothes and the carbon emissions in the transportation of those clothes to name but a few.

So where does that leave us? Is vintage the answer or should we buy from high end designers? Maybe we should not buy clothes at all? The truth is that these brands will continue to make clothes meet the high demand for trends and most of us will continue to buy them. At a time when most people are trying to make and stick to New Year’s resolution, what can we do to make sure that we enjoy fashion responsibly? I know that I don’t have the answer to this but I want to be more responsible. Do you have any thoughts?

Mutilated clothing found on West 35th Street last month via NYT

2 Responses

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  1. S said, on January 8, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    I went off H&M years ago and can’t remember the last time I bought something there but this frankly doesn’t surprise me, although I am disgusted by it. Everything is so cheap that small amounts of clothing are worth almost nothing. Even if this is a one-off incident, I’d rather spend my money on fewer, better things. Not necessarily designer, although I have some classic brands I am quite loyal to, but just less money on stuff and more on experiences. I don’t need new, disposable things every month.

  2. coffeepapertweet said, on January 10, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    Great post and quite eye-opening when you see the contrast between examples of ethical and unethical practices of the same brand. It’s hard to distinguish brands’ claims to corporate responsibility from reality. However, I think sceptics are justified.

    There’s the idea that if people stopped buying celeb mags, paparazzis would stop ‘invading their privacy’, which I think also relates to this.

    Fast, cheap fashion is just too tempting and accessible for most people. As long as we buy, they’ll continue to make it as cheaply as possible, using whatever practices suit them. It would take a huge amount of people to boycott a brand to make any difference, which is why I think the status quo will remain.

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