As the push for sustainability becomes heightened, many fashion brands have found themselves in crisis. Particularly in fast fashion, there is demand for quickly-made, cheap products, and that demand is met through means that compromise the environment. In order to stay in people’s good graces, some brands are amping up claims of being eco-friendly as the ultimate marketing ploy.
H&M, a brand that started as a single store in Sweden in 1947, has become one of the biggest fast fashion retailers of our time. Despite the harmful nature of fast fashion, H&M saw immense success all over the world. That was until the world caught wind of the actual impact of companies like this on the environment. In 2017, it was reported that fashion companies including H&M and Zara were linked to health-damaging pollution in China, India, and Indonesia because of the sourcing of viscose. Consequently, H&M, which was at its peak in 2017, saw a decline in sales that amounted to the loss of over $4 million the following year.
Seemingly in response to their declining sales, H&M launched its “sustainable” collection, Conscious Choice, in the Spring of 2019. Every piece from this collection was said to be “made from a sustainably-sourced material, such as 100% organic cotton, Tencel or recycled polyester.” The items in this collection were priced higher than most of H&M’s clothing, but the cost was a small price to pay in order to ensure safer practices. Despite the long way to go before the brand became truly sustainable, this initiative seemed to be a step in the right direction.
Source: Just Style
It was not until years later, in 2022, when it became clear that H&M was not actually moving in the right direction. In July of last year, a class action lawsuit was filed against H&M LP in the state of New York for falsifying information about their sustainable initiatives. An example cited in the lawsuit states that one dress in particular was said to be made with 20% less water, when in reality it was made with 20% more water. It was found that the “environmental scorecards” claimed that the items were better for the environment, but in actuality they were no less harmful to the environment than the rest of the brand’s clothing. H&M blamed these discrepancies on “technical issues,” implying that it was all a mixup and they were not to blame.
Months later, H&M was slammed with another lawsuit in the state of Missouri for deceptive marketing of the Conscious Choice collection. The filing delved into the unethical practices that went into the making of the clothing, including the weakening of recycled polyester fibers, and concurred that the Conscious Choice clothing actually contained 11% more synthetic materials than H&M’s main collections.
Both of these lawsuits accused H&M of “greenwashing,” a term that would become very widely used in the conversation about fast fashion. Essentially, companies began making claims of sustainable practices as a marketing tool, when the reality is that they made no notable steps toward environmentally friendly practices.
While H&M is one of the biggest examples of greenwashing gone wrong because of the lawsuits filed against them, they are likely not the only ones. With Gen Z consumers increasingly favoring brands that they see as ethical, fashion companies are rushing to alter the narrative surrounding their products. Unfortunately, this does not always mean they are actually altering their practices. Fast fashion in particular is meant to be consumed quickly, and these clothing items are not necessarily meant to last a long time. For this reason, the nature of this industry as a whole is flawed. Brands can try to fix their images, but the act of consuming fast fashion is inherently harmful, something that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of. Because of the short-term financial benefits of buying cheap clothing, consumers cannot be individually blamed for shopping with retailers like H&M, but these brands have a duty to tell the truth about their practices.