Yes, some might say that it is a bit daft that I’m choosing to place my first article on haute vert on international company H&M. But I have to say I respect the role that H&M plays in international fashion by allowing all income levels to have access to fashion. Their motto is literally fashion for all. That is why I was so impressed with their new line, The Garden Collection. This is not the first time H&M has worked with sustainable materials. Back in 2007 H&M launched an organic clothing line, albeit small, which offered muted colors and supple heavier weighted fibers that added to their more casual lines.
Since then H&M consistently increased their organic clothing line, with Head of Design, Margareta van den Bosch proclaiming at the 2008 season launch that:“Our organic cotton collection is also high fashion, as customers are becoming increasingly aware of both fashion and the environment. We are proud to offer clothes made from organic cotton in nearly every H&M department.”
However, this spring was a step away from the predominantly drab colors that H&M had used in their sustainable clothing lines, and what ensued was a garden collection that was clearly taking it’s nod from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
The pieces in the collection, however, are not what I am most interested in exploring here. Those are easy enough to find at your local H&M and clearly they are in sync with the characteristically deep distillations/interpretations of designer’s runway looks, as you would expect from the brand. What is most interesting is how H&M has chosen to use sustainability in it’s messaging to the customer. They’re placing an importance on the actual materials that they’re utilizing to enable the consumer to “contribute to a more sustainable world.”
This to me is radical for a merchant, who is charging a mere $12.95 (USD) for a cotton floral dress, or $14.95 (USD) for a pair of flower lined ballerina flats. They are in some sense pioneering a new relationship with the customer; one in which they are assuming an ecological value system to color their commodity with.
This awareness towards sustainable consumerism has extended to H&M’s launch of a new organic skin and body care products in 2010. Their messaging about these projects suggested that the company was dedicated towards forging ahead with environmentally minded products in the future. On the company’s website they note that, ” H&M’s work, with a commitment to increase the use of organic cotton by 50% each year until 2013, while projects like H&M’s Garden Collection for Spring 2010 show how organic and sustainable materials can take their place at the very heart of fashion.”
All of this attention to sustainability and organic materials has me questioning the role of merchants such as H&M, Target, and even Walmart in the perpetuation of wide-spread attention to eco-fashion. Is this a way to promote green consumption within the realm of the frugal? Or is it a way for international corporations to green-wash their practices with visible causumer-ism, which Margaret Sarna-Wojcicki discusses in her paper on the Journal of Pan African Studies?
I’m looking forward to hearing your take on this subject, and your thoughts on what it means to be a consumer of eco-fashion on the cheap?