Conscious or unconscious – How sustainable is the H&M conscious collection?

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By Sophie Sonnenberger

Year after year the Swedish retailer H&M launches a ‘Conscious Collection’, which can be understood as an answer to global warming and rising costumer awareness about sweatshop conditions within the garment industry. The capsule collections are usually more expensive than the regular pieces sold at the fast fashion chain. However, year after year the collections wow with stunning tailoring, exclusive celebrity endorsements and they often run out of stock within hours.

But how ethically friendly are they, keeping in mind that they are still bargains compared to designs from other ethical designers such as Edun or People Tree. Vogue magazine considers all the previous ‘Conscious Collections’ as green and ethically friendly: ‘Each piece in the collection(s) will be made from sustainable materials, including organic cotton, recycled polyamide and Tencel.’

‘Clean Clothes Campaign’ and ‘Labour behind the Label’ would certainly not agree. They state that low wages and their consequences such as malnutrition are still a big issue. Christa Luginbühl from Clean Clothes Campaign says: ‘H&M claims that their clothes are made with responsibility for people and environment, but hundreds of overworked and malnourished seamstresses faint during their daily work. A fashion collection cannot be ‘conscious’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘responsible’ if a producer denies garment workers the basic human right for a living wage.’ Moreover the fast fashion chain doesn`t use 100 per cent eco friendly cotton. They rely much rather on so-called ‘better cotton’. The farming of better cotton needs less water but hazardous chemicals are still used within the process.

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Nevertheless Greenpeace thinks that H&M has generally moved in the right direction, as the whole H&M group is listed in the category of ‘leaders’ in the Greenpeace Detox Catwalk campaign. Allanna McAspurn, CEO of the European non-profit organisation ‘Made by’ doesn`t demonize the collections as well. She thinks that it’s a step in the right direction and that the collection is absolutely fashionable which is important to get costumers involved. Moreover she claims: ‘H&M plays a leadership role by showing other brands in the same space that it is possible to create fashion collections that are more environmentally responsible.’

In fact, H&M conscious collection shouldn`t be considered as 100 % eco friendly, however it is at least one step of H&M`s journey to a green future. Nevertheless the Professor of Sustainability at the University of Cumbria Dr. Jem Bendell gives his warning on the word ‘green’ becoming just an empty buzz word. And even H&M itself acknowledges that they have to do more for a green future.

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