It's a given that fast fashion (big retailers who sell cheap clothes that rotate stock quickly) is not generally a good thing. Buying lots of low quality clothing that you then throw out is not the best way to go about saving the environment.
It's also pretty clear, though, that fast fashion is sticking around and offers many advantages to the buyers who want these clothes (including me).
For trendy things that will be out next season but I want to try now, or crazy colors that I might regret later, I don't want to spend a lot of money and I don't need the garment to stand the test of time. That is why I shop at fast fashion stores.
But some are much better than others, and it seems like H&M is the best of the fast fashion stores, in terms of working conditions for its employees and environmental sustainability.
So my advice is to shop there instead of F21, Mango, Strawberry, etc.
Here is why:
H&M was not always very good. In 2007, workers in Manhattan gained the rights to unionize and improve labor practices.
In 2011, H&M had improved enough to join the Fair Labor Association "a non-profit organization that focuses on improving working conditions from a human rights perspective in factories around the world."
After the collapse of the Bangladesh factory in May 2013, H&M signed a worker's rights agreement (also signed by Zara, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and Izod) that gives workers a say in their conditions and requires more stringent and frequent safety checks. Notably, many other companies including Walmart did NOT sign this.
Info from H&M on their worker's rights programs.
Bad: In 2010, they were caught dumping brand new unused merchandise into the trash that could have been donated. The good news is that they have made large steps in reforming and becoming more sustainable.
They now have a sustainability department headed by Helena Helmersson and have plans to increase their organic cotton consumption more than 20% and other environmental programs.
H&M also started a recycling program called Don’t Let Fashion Go to Waste to take used clothing from any store and process it into new garments. In exchange for bringing in used items, customers get a coupon for 15% off a new H&M item. This has resulted in more than 3.2 million garments being donated to charitable causes.
The Conscious Collection started in 2011 using recycled and sustainable fabrics, and that is the best to buy if you are looking for guilt-free (or reduced guilt) clothing.
There was a large program to reduce water used in the manufacturing process which has already saved 450 million liters.
"Lofty goals abound at H&M, including plans to source 100 percent of electricity from renewables and zero discharge of hazardous chemicals. This year, H&M hopes to have 95 percent of the waste handled in their warehouses to be recycled."
Many companies like to "greenwash" or seem like they are making improvements and pat themselves on the back, but H&M seems to put their money where there mouth is and actually do something.
Ok, enough about the policies, let's look at some clothes from the current Conscious Collection instead!
$7.95 Basic Jersey Tank Top in organic cotton
I like the blue and white striped version of this, or the gray and pink or plain blue.
The shoulders are wide enough to hide your bra straps, which is nice.
$9.95 pack of 3 briefs in organic cotton
These undies are 95% cotton which is great and comfortable.
$17.95 Men's sport shorts in recycled polyester
Good workout shorts that dry quickly.
One thing I've learned from writing this post is that it is realllllllly hard to shop online at H&M for their Conscious Collection. I will be writing them a letter about how they should add it as one of their filters and overall categories to sort by as well.