ANTHONY LILORE (DESIGNER, RESTORE CLOTHING; BOARD MEMBER, SAVE THE GARMENT CENTER)
Don’t be a hater.
We, as a community, cannot knock people and/or companies for not doing something (green and sustainable) and knock them, again, for finally doing that very same thing for which we knocked them. It is the responsibility of the “cognoscenti” to light the way, to illuminate the path for those in search of that which is “better.” We must, in essence, be the luminaria and light at the end of the tunnel, through education and collaboration.
If H&M and Walmart are working on projects that fall into “green or sustainable,” that’s good. Fashion is about change, after all. “Fast fashion” should not be disposable fashion, however. If fast- fashion companies can make sustainability an honest part of their DNA as they move forward, then more power to them. Just know that deception is an entirely different song and dance.
CARMEN ARTIGAS (EDUCATOR, SUSTAINABLE-DESIGN CONSULTANT)
Currently there are two major trends appealing to consumers: authenticity and sustainability. Modern marketing is charged with bringing both to the masses. But in the case of H&M, marketing doesn’t suffice.
Authentic transparency puts the corporation and the consumer on the same informational plane. Companies such as Patagonia use this model to introduce the consumer to their supply chain. We learn more about the complexity of their footprint than we bargained for.
It sounds like H&M would not be able to support these claims. It would be interesting to break down the cost and track the supply chain of a $19.95 Conscious Collection dress, the same way Bruno Pieters’s Honest By label does. (He gives the full details of sources, cost, and even the retail markup.) This is the future of fashion.
DAVID PECK (DESIGNER, CROP BY DAVID PECK>)
The idea of fast fashion does seem to be at odds with the idea of sustainability. I salute H&M’s effort to be more honest and responsible in its manufacturing process, however.
Perhaps with companies as large as H&M raising awareness about ideas of sustainability, we will be able to have a much broader conversation about these important issues at the consumer level. I truly believe that the educated consumer —one who demands that sustainable business practices be a part of a company’s DNA—will be the ultimate catalyst for change.
ELIZA STARBUCK (DESIGNER, BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS)
In order for fast fashion to be an acceptable method of dress in the future on this planet, the businesses that embody this model must meet the following requirements.
1. Address and find a responsible method for the end-life disposal of fast fashion.
If you’re going to make clothes that are produced to go out of style or fall apart within six months, invest in the technology and scientific innovations that will make them nontoxic and compostable, so that they will turn into organic garden soil after their shelf life has expired.
2. Remove labor abuse from the equation
Treat the people who have served to make your products as humans. Provide healthcare, retirement plans, living wages, 40-hour-or-less work weeks, childcare, and community education programs that teach permaculture and sustainable agriculture through land stewardship. In the future, three-dimensional printers will supplant laborers as the source of our clothing. Make sure that the people who have given their lives up to make your past financial success possible are not dumped, displaced, and left without survival skills when you no longer need them.
3. Commit to service as a part of your business model.
Reverse the damage that the fast fashion way of business has done to the collective consciousness and our natural environment. Hire a third-party organization to tackle and create initiatives that rebuild healthy social patterns, support and protect the environment, and help to rebuild the communities that have been stripped of all their values by a dress that only costs $9.99.
We all know by now that the resources, labor, and natural environment lost in the process of producing that $9.99 dress are far more precious than that. It’s time to pay back the difference.
KELLY DRENNAN (FOUNDER, FASHION TAKES ACTION)
I agree that fast fashion is the antithesis of sustainable fashion. We can’t seem to escape it, however. It’s everywhere we turn, even on fashion week runways! I admit I have purchased a recycled wool coat from H;M in the past 12 months, and I buy my kids’ long-sleeve organic T-shirts and leggings from its Conscious Collection. But I don’t feel guilty about these purchases because 95 percent of the money I spend on clothing supports local independent and truly sustainable designers. And I know that I will never fully accept or embrace fast fashion beyond the 5 percent of my current annual clothing spend.
Not all fast fashion is created equal. H&M is definitely making progress (Conscious Collection, World Wildlife Fund collaboration, sustainability reports). When you compare this to Canada’s fast-fashion empire Joe Fresh, which was recently implicated in the Rana Plaza building collapse, H&M should win some kind of award.
When you consider the alternatives, I do think that H&M should be commended on some level, if only for making sustainable fashion more mainstream. And hopefully its pledge to increase transparency will put pressure on others like Joe Fresh, Zara, Forever 21, and Gap to follow suit.
TARA ST. JAMES (DESIGNER, STUDY NY)
While I respect the initiative H&M has taken to produce a very analyzed sustainability report, a Conscious Collection and now their new I:Collect recycling initiative, I don’t believe the company, despite its best intentions, will ever have anything but a negative effect on the environment, the economy, and consumer behavior.
At the very core of its business model, H&M drive consumers to believe clothing is an easily acquired, disposable commodity that is untouched by human hands. While I commend it for using more environmentally friendly fabrics such as organic cotton and recycled polyester, the lack of quality finishing and attention to detail will force the consumer to dispose of these conscious goods almost immediately and distort their understanding of garment production.
The collection forces us (as educated designers and citizens) to ask the question: Under what global conditions were these $14.95 beaded shorts made (in China) and will they still be relevant by the time the underpaid worker has moved on to next week’s trend? Do companies like H&M completely remove the existence of the maker from the consumer experience?
Photo by Amanda Coen for Ecouterre
TIMO RISSANEN (DESIGNER; ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF FASHION DESIGN AND SUSTAINABILITY, PARSONS THE NEW SCHOOL FOR DESIGN)
How most fast-fashion companies exist and operate today is untenable, as is our addiction to cheap bargains. The good news is that most of those companies haven’t always been what they are today, just as consumers of even just two decades ago weren’t buying at the rate we are today. Just as we’ve evolved in the past, we can transform moving forward.
What I am pointing to is a shared responsibility for us all, consumers and businesses alike. Studies like Local Wisdom are showing that having materially less can in fact enhance one’s quality of life, and that happiness and wellbeing are in no way dependent on the constant acquisition of new things. In the longer term, fast-fashion companies will need to investigate paradigmatic shifts in their approaches to business if they are to survive; tinkering with slightly better products will not suffice.
Equally, eco-consumerism—does anyone else feel like we are drowning in sustainable fashion, whatever that is?—is not the solution for us consumers. While this will all take some time, we need to get to work today.
Here’s an easy task for anyone with a fast-fashion addiction to take on, especially at tax time. Calculate how much you spent on clothing in 2012. In 2013, spend the same amount, but on half the number of garments, with each purchase planned rather than done on impulse. Want to go further? As an experiment, I didn’t buy any new clothes for two years. The unexpected result: Any new garment has to go through a rigorous vetting process before I can accept it into my life. If two years seems too long, try a year. As the inspirational participants of Free Fashion Challenge demonstrate, it can be a joy.
Photo by Jason Gardner
LISA HENDRICKSON (FOUNDER, FUTURELAB MEDIA)
The task of envisioning and operationalizing sustainable manufacturing and retail practices while engaging the entire value chain in what essentially is a global change management project is a daunting task for any company.
The bigger the company, the greater the bureaucracy and the more layers that need to be transformed—the bigger the price tag, the bigger financial risk and the greater the fear is around project failure—H&M does not have the luxury of not reporting quarterly earnings to shareholders. It has to accomplish its sustainability initiatives while satisfying the market.
I applaud the efforts of large companies like H&M to bring sustainability into the fold and begin changing the nature of how they do business. Smart businesses see the writing on the wall and are making changes to their practices at the rate that consumers are willing to pay for the cradle to cradle initiatives.
I often find that the industries that have a more personal relationship with the consumer (like a retailer), the faster their response is to the change in consumer sentiment.
It’s easy to blast companies that seemingly have no regard for environmental or sustainable concerns. When we look underneath the hood, however, we can see that there’s a limited amount of workable solutions to sustainability issues throughout the manufacturing process.
Undertaking initiatives that help change the nature of these organizational and manufacturing processes should be encouraged by consumers and activists. It lets companies know that we appreciate the efforts and are rewarding them with our positive attention and our dollars. Conversely, companies unwilling to be part of the solution will be left behind-to be seen as out of date, out of step, and out of fashion.