Wednesday, 5 August 2015

H&M's Fashion Recycling Week - Step in the Right Direction or Marketing Ploy?

An LCF student working on their installation for H&M's Fashion Recycling Week
News broke a couple of days ago that H&M is launching the first nationwide Fashion Recycling Week from 31st August to 6th September 2015 in collaboration with the London College of Fashion, which aims to raise customers' awareness of clothing waste and sustainability both in store and through the Instagram campaign #CloseTheLoop.

The retailer has challenged eight second-year students from LCF to create window installations inspired by top UK cities, which must be constructed from clothes donated from H&M's recycling scheme and will be featured in specially selected stores across Britain and Ireland, including Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh. By guessing how many garments were used to make up each installation, customers can win £250 by posting their guess on Instagram with the hashtag #CloseTheLoop and tagging @hm. Customers in London can also head to the piazza in Covent Garden, where they can fill a giant garment-collecting box with unwanted clothing, in exchange for a discount voucher in store.

The campaign certainly wins points for getting LCF's Centre for Sustainable Fashion on board - according to manager RenĂ©e Cuoco, it's been "an incredible opportunity for the students to explore sustainability from both a conceptual and industry perspective", and the resulting work "showcases creative approaches in encouraging people to value the clothes as the precious resources they are". But despite such glowing credentials, I think one also has to question the motives of a campaign which seems more than 'inspired' by Hong Kong's recent "YWASTE" installation and actively encourages customers to go and shop more after donating their unwanted garments, rather than reassess what they really need.

YWASTE? is a collaboration between fashion nonprofit Redress, appliance firm Miele, and Hong Kong Baptist University's Academy of the Visual Arts. The sculpture is a visual approximation of the fabrics that flood Hong Kong's landfills every two minutes: 360 kilograms, or 794 pounds.
How many people will hashtag #CloseTheLoop without knowing the meaning behind it, or that the influx of recycled Western clothing into developing countries can actually lead to local textile industries being undermined and livelihoods threatened? Although H&M is undoubtedly doing more than most retailers to raise awareness of important issues facing the fashion industry, I can't help but remain cynical about the fact that their Conscious Collection is still a tiny proportion of their total product offer, and as of this year only 2% of the cotton they use is certified Better Cotton, Organic or Recycled.

What do you think? Is H&M's Fashion Recycling Week a step in the right direction for one of the world's leading clothing retailers, or a greenwashing marketing ploy?

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Images via Ecouterre and Harper's Bazaar.


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