Tuesday 25 June 2019

recycle your clothes

Over the years as I've taught lectures on fashion and sustainability I've shown my students the below ad from H&M about recycling your clothes.

I haven't always had kind things to say about H&M, but I love this ad from 2015. It's provocative, has great imagery, promotes body and cultural diversity, and whoever is doing the voiceover is mesmerising.

Typically the ad generates a lot of discussion from students. Fashion or clothing is something most people feel comfortable talking about, and H&M elicits a range of responses and emotions from different students. There's always a lot of support for the diversity shown in the ad, though it's often tempered by criticisms of overconsumption (this is a fast fashion company, after all), and there is always discussion about the role fast fashion companies play in providing fashionable clothing at a low cost for those with those on constrained incomes. But the message about recycling is what really gets people fired up. (Watch it and let me know what you think!)

So here's the deal - you can take any of your used clothing and textiles to H&M and they will recycle it for you. There is a range of things that may happen to the items. If they are good quality, they may resell or donate them. If not, they may be recycled into their base fibres to be remade into fabric again, or perhaps ragged and used in various industries. This is a global campaign, so no matter where you live, you can take things to any H&M store for recycling. And (naturally) they give you a discount for your next purchase.

Despite seeing this ad dozens of times, I've never taken my used clothing to H&M, mostly because I don't usually shop there. I appreciate the strides they have taken toward sustainability through research and innovation, but I don't like to support their overall fast fashion business model. Then last week I found myself with a number of used garments that just did not feel good enough to donate to a charity shop - and some items that are not meant to go to charity shops (hello used bras!) - so I thought I'd take them to H&M since I knew they would not end up in landfill this way, or cost a charity money to dispose of properly on my behalf.

It was very easy. There was a huge sign behind the counter, and the cashier kindly helped me put my bag of donations in the very large (and empty!) bin. She then handed me a coupon for 15% off one item from the store.

And, you know, since I was there...I shopped. Actually I had planned on picking up some long sleeve tops for my son now that winter has finally set in. I know that H&M have a decent range of Conscious Collection basics for babies made from 100% organic cotton. I've written before about building a sustainable baby wardrobe mostly using secondhand items and special pieces from small businesses, but I tell you what, now that he's eating and walking and going to daycare - the mess! Multiple outfit changes are not unheard of in a given day, and I'm getting a glimpse into the rips and stains that will surely mark my 'parent of a toddler' years. My early supply of hand-me-downs have slowed (probably because everyone else's children are wearing out their clothing), so affordable sustainable basics are a good way to add to his wardrobe. (In other words - I finally really understand what people who have attended my workshops in the past have been talking about when they talk of the difficulty in sourcing sustainable children's clothing.)

I bought some long sleeve tops, which were all on a "Buy 3 for the Price of 2" promotion and seemed like a money-losing deal to me since the full price was already so low. I briefly hesitated. Even with all the work H&M claim to be doing to improve working conditions and transparency, how can a garment be made for such a cheap price? And out of organic cotton? Who made those clothes? How much were they paid to sew these adorable nautical-themed onesies?

2-pack long-sleeved bodysuits - Dark blue/Anchors - Kids | H&M CN 1
I really am a sucker for stripes.

And yet, I bought them all the same.

And then I made an impulse purchase of an item that I didn't even know that I needed until I saw it - an adorable shoe organiser that hangs on the back of my son's door and has a bear face. His shoes had been making clutter and driving me crazy, so perhaps I subconsciously was looking for a solution, but it was definitely an impulse purchase. No denying the fact. Since this was the highest-priced item in my basket (at a whopping $25), it was the recipient of my 15% discount.

Image result for hm wall tidy bear motif grey
I mean, c'mon, the adorableness of being tidy!

And so, to sum up, I've basically been putty in the hands of H&M's marketing geniuses - they've received my used clothes, from which they will make money through recycling, and they've also received more of my dollars from buying brand new items.

Some sustainable lifestyle guru I am! I literally have a PhD on the topic, teach university students to think critically about the offer, and yet take me to a well-presented retail space and I get blinded by the lights.

At least I followed the one unbreakable fashion rule - I recycled my clothes.