It’s a slow progress, but pleasing to see that apparel brands are making steps towards sustainability. Overall, as consumers we are gradually becoming more aware of the clothing industry’s impact on the environment. If we take a look at the high street we’re already starting to see a shift in consciousness. A lot of major retailers’ websites now have a sustainability section where consumers can be updated on the brand’s latest footsteps towards positive change. They may be baby steps, but nevertheless we’re headed towards greener pastures.
On one hand, as an influential retail giant, H&M have set the bar high in terms of doing their part for the environment and encouraging others to follow suit. On the other hand you have the argument that H&M perpetuate fast fashion, and therefore can never fully have the rights to say that they’re 100% sustainable. But where do we draw the line? If you visit their sustainability page on the website it states:
“Our vision is that all business operations shall be run in a way that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.”
Here’s a breakdown of H&M’s current initiatives:
‘Don’t Let Fashion Go To Waste’
95% of the items we throw away can be used again. H&M’s new garment collecting initiative allows you to donate all your unwanted clothes to selected stores, (regardless of their condition), in return for a £5 voucher when you spend more than £30 on your next purchase. Your clothes will be sent to a processing plant where they will be assessed. Clothes that are damaged or worn in will be recycled into raw materials and new products. Clothes in better conditions will be sold again as second hand goods.
In attempts to promote ethical fashion, H&M have released two conscious collections using only sustainable materials. Both collections have been hugely successful, worn by the likes of influential A-List women such as Michelle Williams and Vanessa Paradis (who is the new face of H&M conscious).
Overall H&M are leading the way in terms of sustainability on the High street. Currently they’ve saved 450, 000, 000 litres of water in denim production, and they’re the number one users of organic cotton worldwide. H&M has also educated 570,821 garment workers on their rights, but the biggest move is that they have released a clear list of their suppliers and information about their supply chain. If other retailers followed suit, it would be a big step towards a transparent, honest industry.
Bring Me Back
Similarly to H&M’s recycling initiative, Puma’s Bring me Back scheme let’s consumers bring their old clothes and shoes (including non-Puma brands), to the store’s recycling bins. There are no vouchers in return, but you leave of course knowing you’ve made a positive contribution towards sustainable consumerism. The items are sent to the I:CO collecting company, used by H&M also, and are given a new lease of life, either recycled, upcycled or reused. Items that are too worn out or beyond repair are incinerated, however this is a small amount making up 2% of donations.
Reclaimed to Wear
Eco fashion pioneer Orsola Decastro has teamed up with Topshop for its 2nd upcycled collection. Her label Reclaim to Wear is entirely produced in the UK, and uses recycled materials to form a range of elegant silk, floral pieces. Prices range from £34-£70. The collection encourages closed-loop production, and Decastro aims to educate younger consumers about the necessity of conscious consumerism.
M&S won the most sustainable high street retailer this July at the Sustainable City Awards, for its commitment to waste reduction and efforts to push sustainability to a commercial market.
Just over a year ago M&S launched the first ever ‘shwopping’, or recycling project with Joanna Lumley and Oxfam, encouraging consumers to donate unwanted clothes. In return you receive a £5 voucher for your next purchase. The first year has proved hugely successful, having seen over 4 million garments donated to M&S and Oxfam shops. This has potentially raise £2.3m for Oxfam. This scheme has saved tons of clothing from reaching landfill sites, and recently won the Big Society Award. M&S aims to make its food and clothing sustainable by 2020. A hug goal, but nonetheless, they are making those changes. M&S are also renowned for using fair trade and organic cotton.
Once upon a time, (roughly 15 years ago), Nike was far from ethical. Over the years, however, Nike has worked towards becoming a global sustainable brand. In 2005 it was the first high street retailer to released to the public a list of the factories they’re currently sourcing from in their production. As the website states, they are “committed to supply chain transparency.” In a bid to bring sustainability to the forefront of mainstream consumerism, Nike released an app for the iPhone that aims to bring awareness to the ethical side of manufacturing.
The app, which was released in July, provides information on various materials and how they impact the environment, as well as aims to “inspire designer and creators to make better choices in the materials they use.” London College of Fashion students have been testing this new application, which has received a lot of positive feedback.
Nike also uses waterless dying, which involves using carbon dioxide rather than water and flyknit technology, which help to reduce waste. The company is also working towards toxic free manufacturing, using only sustainable dyes and chemicals. The major retailer has even teamed with up with the first lady to aid her Let’s Move! Initiative, which targets obesity in America. It would seem that Nike has truly done a completely 180 in terms of their stance on sustainability, which is a commendable achievement.
All the above retailers mentioned in this article have signed the Bangladeshi Accord, striving to improve working conditions for factory workers in Bangladesh.