Last night on Danish television a program called Operation X (in Danish) showed how big fast fashion brands like Swedish H&M and Danish BESTSELLER incinerate tons of new and apparently undamaged clothing. The program implies that the fast fashion brands have produced too much clothes that they can’t sell and the cheapest way for them to get rid of it, is by incineration. The program questions the fast fashion business model and I love that, because this model really needs to be questioned. What I don’t love, is that the main reason H&M and BESTSELLER have become a target, is that they have both marketed themselves as environmentally conscious (whether they are or not is agreeable questionable, but it’s not a reason to be one-sided when criticising them). There’s been a social media outcry these past few days in Denmark and consumers have asked why this is happening, suggesting solutions such as giving the clothes to charity and people in need or recycle it. The fashion brands’ response to the criticism? “The clothes were incinerated because tests showed they were damaged or a health hazard, meaning they contained chemicals that were harmful to people.” The real reason? I don’t think we’ll ever know. There’s something wrong with a business model where companies continually have new garments incinerated, whatever the reason might be. But….
When fast fashion brands are both the bad guys and the heroes.
In my opinion fashion brands like H&M and BESTSELLER are both the bad guys and the heroes. We all know why they are the bad guys, right? Some might say they are the bad guys, because they helped create this ridiculous demand for constant change that we see in fashion at the moment. Some might say that they need to take responsibility because they earn so much money by exploring people, and thus should be able to afford to pay more to have their garments produced. Some might say they are the bad guys because their production methods are so environmentally polluting that the impacts on the planet and people in the production are scary AF. Some might say they are the bad guys because their whole business model is built on a system that is not sustainable and still claim they are eco-conscious?
All of the above is true. All of the above needs to change.
But both brands, and in particular H&M, invest in innovations and initiatives to help these changes along. The speed with which these changes will happen is somewhat up to you though. During my work within sustainable fashion I have met and spoken to so many brands, big and small, and all of those who do not have sustainability at their core (often sustainability is a personal passion) have one reason: the consumer doesn’t care.
If you don’t ask for (or better yet demand) change by spending your money on products that align with your values, what is the incentive for these companies to change? Our whole society is built on profit as the main driver. That’s not going to change anytime soon. As much as I and you might wish it would. But, if the companies see that the money is somewhere else, if they see that there’s money to be made by being eco-conscious you will see change happen so quickly you don’t know what hit you.
What you can do today
Instead of (only) shouting about these companies to change; shout about the better options that you are choosing, shout about what you want instead and start spending your money where your mouth is. Sustainable fashion can be expensive and there needs to be a mind-set change about the value of clothes. If you feel you can’t afford clothes from brands that have sustainability at their core, there’s still plenty to do:
- Support the fast fashion companies’ eco-labelled lines – Show these companies that that’s the clothes you want to see more of from them. Don’t always trust their labelling; keep asking questions, keep being critical of what to trust, but instead of writing them off all together, know, that if big companies change a little, their impact will change a lot.
- Stop buying what you don’t need. It’s time we all started questioning our own consumption habits.
- Choose quality over quantity. When you do need something, buy it in a good quality that will last for years. Some of my favourite garments I’ve had for years and so many memories are tied up in them.
- Stop buying into trends. Find your own style. That is just so much more interesting.
- Choose mono-materials that are easier to recycle. Check the labels before you buy. A garment made from 100% one material is easier to recycle, meaning once you’re done with it, it can become something new.
- Stop using retail-therapy. Talk to your friends instead. I’ve loved the rush of shopping for as long as I can remember, but lately I’ve realised hanging out with friends and loved ones work so much better. Even just picking up the phone for a few minutes.