This week, SHOP TALK welcomes guest blogger Malorie Bertrand, of August May Sustainable Styling.
When shopping for clothes, one thinks about style, form, function and, most importantly, price. But do you think about where the garments are made, or in what conditions producers worked in? These days, there’s a growing awareness of the environmental and social impacts of fast fashion amongst consumers, and retailers are joining in on the conversation.
One retail giant leading the dialogue is the Swedish-based H&M (Hennes & Mauritz). Founded in 1947, the fast-fashion Goliath has touched every corner of the globe, with more than 2,600 stores in 43 countries employing more than 95,000 people.
On October 15, the company’s 57th Canadian store location opens at Bayshore Shopping Centre. When shoppers eagerly step into H&M’s new capital city digs this week, they’ll not only see racks upon racks of fabulous finds, but also a conscious corporate culture sewn, quite literally, into the fabric of each item.
H&M’s Conscious Spokesperson, Catarina Midby, says that H&M understands that design and manufacturing processes have become more important. “We are the second biggest buyer of organic cotton in the world,” says Midby. “And last year, we used the equivalent of 7.9 million PET bottles in recycled polyester fabrics.”
Over the past few years, H&M has implemented a variety of projects to address environmental and ethical issues in the fashion industry. Midby, former fashion editor and director at Elle Sweden, led a development team to create H&M’s first “Conscious Collection” of clothing and accessories made from sustainable materials such as organic cotton, Tencel, and recycled polyester.
The collection launched this past March. The company’s new garment collecting initiative enables it to reuse 90% of all returned clothing and the very first “close the loop” products made from this project will be in H&M stores next spring.
Like many fast-fashion brands, H&M has been touched by controversy around low wages for workers and unsafe labour conditions. Yet the company has taken a proactive approach to addressing these issues with a number of ethical initiatives.
The tragic factory collapse in Dhakar, Bangladesh, where well-known Canadian clothing labels were found in the rubble, made it difficult for Canadians to ignore the consequences of cheap fashion. Midby says that H&M clothing wasn’t produced in that factory but it does manufacture in the country. More recently, a fire broke out on October 8 at the Bangladeshi Aswad Knit Composite factory, a supplier of knitwear to an H&M manufacturer.
“We are an active and big stakeholder in Bangladesh that supports a constructive and speedy remediation process,” says Midby. “Our team in Dhaka is closely involved in the ongoing process and engages with the local stakeholders to stress the importance of a clear revitalization plan that secures the workers affected”.
Midby admits that H&M and fellow big name clothing brands still face many challenges as they work to improve their environmental and ethical standards, but their efforts create great waves of change throughout the industry. Today’s consumers also play an important role in continuing the industry’s positive shift. “One of our most important company values is of working with constant improvements, as a team, with the customer in focus,” says Midby. “Fashion consumers are forward thinking people, curious and adaptable. I think the fashion folk will lead the change!”