Is H&M Ethical?
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H&M was one of the first mainstream fashion brands to release a “more sustainable” collection, which they term the H&M Conscious Collection.
Initially creating quite a bit of buzz in the sustainable and ethical fashion realm when it launched in 2010, the line seemed to signify one way forward for an exploitative and toxic fast fashion industry. The Conscious Collection includes recycled textiles and organic cotton, and marketing is often accompanied by recycling initiatives.
But it didn’t take long for conscious consumers in the know to raise concerns.
Lack of Transparency
The problem is that the conscious line makes up a minuscule portion of H&M’s total production. Additionally, in 2019, the Norwegian Consumer Authority (CA) pointed out that H&M’s claims are so vague that it’s actually impossible to know if their production practices are sustainable.
Even if one component is labeled organic, that doesn’t mean that there has been any attempt to provide a safer, less toxic factory environment. It also doesn’t point to any kind of circularity.
Sustainability ≠ Ethical
The other problem is that H&M’s line focuses exclusively on incorporating more eco-friendly textiles without thinking about labor ethics. The company’s CEO admits that they haven’t been transparent about factory worker wages, and that more can be done to address exploitation. Currently, they use conventional factories used by other fast fashion brands.
Good news on the horizon?
Still, things aren’t all bad. H&M is one of the largest garment producers in the world. CEO Helena Helmersson would like to achieve goals of using “100 per cent recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030, along with the ambitious goal of becoming climate positive by 2040.” More sourcing data is now available on each product listing, providing greater transparency. And she says she’s committed to making sure workers are safe and being paid fairly.
The current Conscious Collection is made “from at least 50 per cent sustainably sourced materials,” according to Vogue UK.
So, if the Conscious Collection is your best bet for affordability, size, or style, I think it’s ok to support their efforts. Just know that there’s a lot more to be done.
If you’re looking for alternatives…
Ethical Alternatives to H&M
Made ethically in audited California factories, Backbeat Co. prioritizes natural, sustainable fibers like GOTS-certified cotton.
Urban Outfitters’ Urban Renewal
The Urban Renewal line features reworked vintage and deadstock items like Levi’s, flannels, and more.
Sizes vary by item
Cotton classics in modern cuts and styles, produced with a traceable supply chain in a regulated factory.
Ethically made dresses, separates, and more, produced with deadstock/overstock fabric and sustainable materials.
Sizes 0-12, 1X-3X, Petites
*A reader pointed out that employees have spoken out against a racist workplace environment. Because the CEO has since resigned, I am leaving them on this list due to their size options, but please keep that in mind.
Using sustainable fabrics in their collection, Valani is also committed to zero waste production practices. They find ways to use fabric scraps instead of tossing them, incorporating them into scrunchies and stuffed animal stuffing.
Clothing, accessories, and jewelry produced with transparent and fair wages. ABLE is working to make their prices and sizes more accessible this season.
Denim produced ethically with nontoxic, OEKO-TEX certified dyes and low-water usage.
Big Bud Press
With ethical production in LA, Big Bud focuses on unisex and size-inclusive offerings in fun, on-trend styles.
Ethically made in the USA with sustainable fibers like organic cotton, linen, Tencel Modal, and Tencel Lyocell.
With a focus on reworking streetwear to give it a new life or bespoke design, Frankie Collective also offers vintage denim.
Sizes vary by product