Can H&M’s Sustainable Clothing Line Make Up For The Damage Fast Fashion Has Already Caused?

Published on May 2, 2019

H&M announced recently that it’s created a sustainable clothing line in an effort to become more eco-friendly. In the world of fast fashion, though—is that enough? The global retailer revealed just last year that it was sitting on around $4 billion worth of unsold clothing. Despite massive sales and liquidations, fast fashion is still a major contributor to the world’s waste issue. Nevertheless, H&M is determined to earn a good reputation in the eyes of eco-friendly shoppers.

The Problem With Fast Fashion

When high fashion designs hit the runways during fashion week, fast fashion companies are there, picking up on the latest trends to mass produce and sell cheaper versions for a profit. Companies like Forever 21, H&M, Fashion Nova, and Missguided (to name a few) are among the biggest names in the fast fashion industry. These companies bank off of the hottest trends (tiny sunglasses and raceway print, anyone?) in order to sell their products. Customers would be hard-pressed to see a Forever 21 window display last longer than a week, and it would be even more rare to find clothing in these stores that will last longer than a few washes.

They’re made that way on purpose. Clothing companies know that younger people are more likely to buy into trends, especially for music festivals and other social events. Fashion Nova and Misguided, on the other hand, make a lot of money by ripping off celebrity looks and selling cheaper options within hours. The styles don’t last long, but they make the companies a lot of money. While fast fashion serves one major purpose—providing affordable, stylish clothing to the masses—it comes at an even bigger cost: the planet.

H&M revealed that in 2018 it was sitting on a $4.3 billion dollar pile of clothing it was unable to sell. When fast fashion companies are unable to sell these items, they discard them in order to maintain brand reputation. In some cases, they burn them. H&M denies allegations that it burned excess clothing, but reports are adamant that the company has practiced this policy in the past.

“The scale of the problem illustrates H&M’s vast size — as one of the world’s largest clothing manufacturers, it produces hundreds of millions of items each year,” said The New York Times of H&M’s waste issue. “There are so many that a power plant in Vasteras, the town where H&M founded its first store, relies partly on burning defective products the retailer cannot sell to create energy,” the newspaper continued.

Sustainable Clothing

Despite the fact that fast fashion remains a major contributor to the world’s waste issue, companies like H&M are determined to earn a good reputation. The company announced its annual sustainable clothing line. This years’ line is sourced and created from plant based fabrics like pineapple and banana leather. In the past, H&M has created clothing from fabric made from recycled fish nets and other harmful materials that are often turned into waste.

The fact remains that unless fast fashion companies were to start creating clothing that’s 100% eco-friendly for all of their lines, the industry is going to contribute to a massive waste issue. Not only that, but cheaper clothing comes at another horrific cost—particularly the wellbeing of the labor that creates it.


Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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