H&M have decided to launch a new initiative, World Recycling Week, running from April 18-24. Their goal is to collect 1000 tonnes of unwanted clothing, which customers can bring to any one of their 3,900 stores in 31 countries around the world. Sounds like a really amazing idea, right? I mean, they are really trying to contribute something positive to the textile industry by reducing the amount of clothing that ends up in landfill. Let’s take a closer look at this. Not all is as peachy as it seems.
H&M’s Recycling Week happens to coincide with the anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse, which occurred on April 24, 2013. I won’t go into any details, but those of you who don’t know the extent of the tragedy, you can read about it here. Meaning that it then also coincides with Fashion Revolution, a week long campaign to promote sustainable fashion and the need for transparency in the industry.
Really, this is quite poor timing on H&M’s behalf. This is a week, when consumers and those involved in the industry should be coming together to reflect on the tragedy and working together to bring about major changes. It should not be a week for one company to promote something for itself.
So is this a form of green-washing? A marketing technique to help them seem like a company that has sustainability at the core of their business model, distracting from the fact that their fast fashion model is a major contributor to the problems they seem to be trying to solve. Let’s face it, H&M are are not exactly famous for their top-quality, timeless garments that can be passed down through generations and considering that they churn out approximately 600 million garments every year, it is difficult to take their efforts seriously.
Not really helping the situation is the fact that customers are encouraged to recycle their garments with the promise of a 30% discount on their next H&M purchase. So really what is happening here, is that customers are taking their old, unwanted garments and exchanging them for new H&M clothes. And they are boosting H&M’s profits. If anything, this whole process just strengthens H&M’s fast fashion business model.
Then there is the video. There are no words to describe this. Well, no good ones anyway. The music video is a song written and performed by the artist M.I.A. with a bunch of other performers dancing around as she encourages us to ‘Rewear It.’ How this encourages people to recycle their clothes, I will never know. Half the time, I can barely understand what she is even saying. There are no inspirational or empowering messages. There is absolutely nothing in this video addresses the severity or the urgency of problems in the textile industry.
Unfortunately, this is the wrong kind of collaborative effort that is required to facilitate any real and meaningful changes.
Perhaps something more effective would have been for H&M to come together with others in the industry to work on a solution for the sustainability and waste problems. After all, these are industry-wide issues that cannot be solved by only one company, no matter how big they are. A collaborative effort would surely lead to more lasting and effective changes.
Of course, recycling textiles is something that definitely needs to be developed across the industry as a way to address the problem of landfill and any business that implements this is at least taking the first positive steps. It is just difficult to know the real reason behind H&M’s campaign and a lot of it seems at odds with their core business model. Hopefully it is not just a marketing ploy and an attention grabbing stunt.
Also, hopefully the efforts of Fashion Revolution and the memory of the Rana Plaza tragedy are not overshadowed this week by H&M’s fancy (and pointless) music video. People should use this time to focus on demanding transparency throughout the garment industry supply chain and call for brands to do all they can to make positive contributions to the industry. And of course, consumers should pay tribute to the people who are making our clothes- those who have suffered and those who continue to suffer.