Undeniably I fit the typical consumer profile of the Fashion Industry, as I far too frequently indulge my passion. As clothes and fashion are something that I am passionate about, I decided to research the impacts of my consumerism in an effort to reduce my ecological footprint. Whilst I was convinced that I was being environmentally conscious by donating my clothes to charity and shopping at Op shops by buying pre-loved goods, through further research I discovered these choices are not of themselves enough to avert or even minimise environmental repercussions. It is an amalgamation of initiatives that need to be implemented consciously by corporations and individuals involved the fashion industry. Ironically, owing to the insatiable demand for fashion buying second hand clothes these days may become obsolete, due to falling prices of new clothing making new clothes almost as cheap (Claudio, 2007). This would ensure that we fall into the trap of keeping clothes in our wardrobe, suspecting we will have no reward and that ultimately leads to landfill.
Although I was generally aware of the detriment to the environment of landfill, it shocked me to find out that Nylon and Polyester were not biodegradable (greenchoices.org). The production of polyester has doubled within the last fifteen years but it is the production of these fabrics, which is most alarming. (Claudio, 2007). They are not only energy intensive but are comprised largely of crude oils, which in turn release harmful emissions such as volatile organic compounds and hydrogen chloride all harmful to health. (Claudio, 2007). Whilst landfill may be an important issue when it comes to dumping clothes, the issue of water sustainability arises during production. And then there is cotton- popular in the fashion industry due to its flexibility. Cotton is one of the most water dependent crops in the world. In addition cotton crops in the US, are responsible for a quarter of all pesticides used. The USDA states that the USA is one of the biggest exporters of cotton worldwide. (Claudio, 2007). So the environmental fallout occurs at each stage of production. Production of cotton is dominant (due to US subsidies) and the prices are low in comparison. Accordingly cotton is exported to nations like China with low labour costs. The economic impact of low prices is what forces the fashion industry to globalise without much thought and allows the proliferation of cheap clothing in consumers’ wardrobes eventually ending up as landfill.
In our era, the younger demographic is more conscious of the waste produced in the fashion industry and is creating a goal towards a more sustainable future (Bosica, 2014). The shocking statistics are that in the US in 2012, 14 million tons of textile waste was generated with only 16 percent being recycled. (Bosica, 2014).
H&M is a global fashion label with over 3,500 stores in 55 countries (H&M, Sustainability report, 2014). Whilst it is a consumer funded initiative H&M aims to cover sustainability not only in recycling clothing, but promoting fair wages and a holistic approach to the production of clothing. “Our vision is that all our operations are run in a way that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.” (Helmerson, H&M). As the initiative is mainly produced within the company H&M aims to partner with stakeholders, suppliers and NGOS. Within the company they have 170 colleagues working purely on sustainability for the company. Their holistic approach is a seven-step program, which includes a change the mindset and encourage fashion conscious consumers, to be “climate smart” and to ensure working conditions for those on the production side are fair.
Currently the most important H&M initiative is “Closing the Loop”. This encourages H&M shoppers to recycle their clothing. Through their advertisements and in-store recycling program collecting garments their collection has risen dramatically from 2013, to 2014.
(H&M Conscious Actions Sustainability Report, 2014)
(H&M Conscious Actions Sustainability Report, 2014)
Advertising is a key approach in achieving these figures. A year ago H&M launched an educational cartoon style video outlining their plan (see below). It embraces diversity and recycling.
(H&M Closing the Loop, 2014)
(H&M Closing the Loop, 2015)
The most recent video above features diversity through gender and multicultural models in order to represent fashion and overturn stereotypes. The premise of the video is that “there are no rules in fashion” as it narrates to the viewer examples of fashion sins. The powerful ending in the advertisement declares that the only rule in fashion is to recycle. These methods of advertisement are fashionable and engaging, targeted at H&M’s diverse audience around the world. This initiative both challenges existing fashion clichés and introduces a new recycling concept to their target market. Such initiatives can only ensure that the recycling ethos becomes embedded in consumer consciousness and ultimately reduces the environmental footprint of the clothing industry and its by products.
Green Choices2016, [Homepage of Green Choices], [Online]. Available: http://www.greenchoices.org/green-living/clothes/environmental-impacts [2016, March 28]. H&M Conscious Actions Sustainability Report 2014 2014, , H&M. Garmet Collecting [Homepage of H&M], [Online]. Available: http://about.hm.com/en/About/sustainability/commitments/reduce-waste/garment-collecting.html [2015, 28 March]. H&M on Closing the Loop [Homepage of H&M], [Online]. Available: http://about.hm.com/en/About/sustainability/resources/videos/hm-on-closing-the-loop.html [2016, 28 March]. Bosica, T. 2014, "Human Ecology", vol. Spring 2014, pp. 10. Claudio, L. 2007, "Waste Couture - Environmental Impact of the Clothing Industry", Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 115, no. 9. Packham, A. 2015, 15th of September-last update, H&M's Latest Fashion Campaign 'Close The Loop' Features A Brilliantly Diverse Array Of Models [Homepage of The Huffington Post], [Online]. Available: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/09/15/hm-close-the-loop-clothes-campaign-diversity-models_n_8139284.html [2016, 28 March]. Sowray, B. 2015, , H&M launches 'Close the Loop', a collection made using your recycled clothes. Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/fashion/brands/hm-closes-the-loop-with-collection-made-from-recycled-garments/ [2016, 28 March].