While it’s the world’s biggest fast fashion retailer, H&M wants everyone to slow down and think about the impact of consumption on the planet. To mark its first World Recycle Week, H&M this week aims to collect more textiles than ever, inspired by a music video and collaboration with British rapper M.I.A. to get toes tapping and hands carrying garments to recycle at its stores.
The sustainability-promoting event is part of its ongoing Garment Collecting initiative, which was launched in 2013. Through April 24th, everyone is invited to recycle unwanted clothes at any H&M store and receive 30% off their entire purchase—or just donate and don’t purchase. The goal is to collect 1,000 tonnes of garments by Sunday, while raising awareness that people can recycle all year long at any of its 3,500+ stores worldwide — or at the recycling partner of people’s choice.
Extending the exclusive “Re-wear It” music video by M.I.A. (above), bloggers, artists and others featured in the video will film rehaul clips, showing the pieces they’re recycling through the H&M Garment Collecting project during World Recycle Week — meaning the opposite of a “haul video” where people produce and share a video showing items recently purchased.
The public is also invited to share their own clips using the hashtag #HMrehaul on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social networks, then bring the garments to any H&M store, becoming part of a global fashion movement to make Garment Collecting a natural part of the life of clothes.
The global recycling campaign aims to demonstrate and underline H&M’s commitment to environmentally conscientious manufacturing and corporate citizenship, as detailed in its latest annual sustainability report, which was released last week.
Using unwanted clothes as a resource in product manufacturing is a central part of the brand’s “Closing the Loop” model below and a central commitment of H&M’s Conscious Actions for sustainability: “The aim is to create a closed loop for textiles, so that unwanted clothes can be reused and recycled to create fresh textile fibres for new products.”
Beyond this global recycling week, H&M states that its “long-term goal is to have zero garments going to landfill, as well as saving on natural resources. By recycling just one T-shirt 2,100 litres of water can be saved — so “imagine the impact of 1,000 tonnes garments collected during World Recycle Week. All textiles are welcome – odd socks, old towels, the dress with a hole – and nothing is too torn, worn or used for a second life.”
As with any such effort, the charges of greenwashing arise: damned if you do, damned if you don’t — or simply can’t. That’s because it’s not entirely possible for H&M to “close the loop” in its fast fashion business model and recycle unwanted garments to create recycled textile fibers for new products, as Quartz points out in discussing this World Recycle Week campaign:
The biggest strike against H&M is the giant pile of clothing it produces every day. The Swedish retailer is one of the largest fashion brands in the world in terms of sales volume. It’s staggering to consider: The quantity of cheap t-shirts, jeans, dresses, jackets, and everything else it produced and sold reached about $25 billion in global sales in 2015.
To grow the materials, dye and finish them with chemicals, manufacture, and ship all those clothes puts a tremendous strain on the environment and consumes vast resources. That volume is the primary sustainability challenge H&M faces, and it knows it. It also wants to make sure shoppers are aware it knows, by promoting its sustainability efforts in its marketing—which is where things get tricky.
Lucy Siegle, a journalist at The Guardian who writes on sustainability, is one of those who has expressed skepticism about H&M’s recycling campaigns and “Conscious” clothing lines. She has pointed out that given the limitations of current technology, it would likely take H&M up to 12 years to use just 1,000 tons of clothing waste. Meanwhile, it produces that same volume of new clothes in a matter of days.
“Unfortunately it is not possible to close the loop and recycle all types of materials into new textile fibres today,” a company spokesperson commented — material blends can be impossible to separate, while recycling cotton reduces its quality.
— Kitty Ferreira UK (@KittyFerreiraUK) April 18, 2016
— IndustriALL (@IndustriALL_GU) April 18, 2016
In tandem with the brand’s global recycling campaign kick-off today, there are signs outside some H&M stores today as picketers urge the retail giant to keep its factory workers safe as part of the global Fashion Revolution Week and the return of the #WhoMadeMyClothes social awareness campaign to mark the third anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory tragedy.
Undeterred, H&M is promoting conscious consumption, even as it does promote consumption with a 30% incentive to shop in its stores after dropping off a garment or two this week. By the end of World Recycle Week, H&M aims to collect 1,000 tonnes of unwanted or worn out garments from customers worldwide in its more than 3,600 stores.
To raise awareness M.I.A. wrote the song ‘Rewear it’ exclusively for H&M and the World Recycle Week campaign. H&M worked closely with choreographer Aaron Sillis to interpret M.I.A.’s music and lyrics into dance moves for the campaign’s video.
The result of this collaboration is an original song and dance video—one of the most extensive environmental projects that H&M has undertaken—featuring M.I.A. together with an eclectic cast of young global influencers.
The featured players in the branded entertainment music project include a Saudi Arabian stand-up comedian, a Chinese actress, a ballet dancer from Sierra Leone, dancers, environmentalists, models and others with a passion for environmental and social impact, “all with a strong personal style and attitude. In this video they all come together in a dance to highlight the importance of garment collecting and recycling.”
To set the stage for World Recycle Week, and in anticipation of the Fashion Revolution Week supply chain debate, H&M opened a dialogue by hosting a workshop/debate in London with BSR on April 14th around its 100% Circular Lab. The Circular Economy theme, as you can watch below: Turning from linear “take, make, waste” to circular production where products and resources are used again and again, which H&M acknowledged “is a key challenge for the fashion industry.”
H&M adds that its “journey started some years ago when we established a worldwide garment collecting system. Since then, we launched the first collections made of recycled material from unwanted garments collected in H&M stores all over the world. Even so, the fashion industry relies on further innovation to create full circularity.”
At the H&M 100% Circular Lab, H&M and industry experts presented future solutions — and now customers can do their part by donating their unwanted clothing to the world’s biggest recycling drive at H&M stores.