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The Cost of Fast Fashion: H&M’s Alleged Dumping in the Global South

Fast Fashion H&M

In 2013, H&M made history as the first fashion retailer to launch a global clothing collection campaign. Since then, other brands under the H&M Group, such as Monki, Weekday, Cos, Arket, and & Other Stories, have also joined in by placing collection bins in their retail outlets. The goal of this initiative was to address the issue of textile waste, with H&M promising that 95 percent of the thousand tonnes of textiles thrown away each year could be recycled or repurposed.

Close the Loop, not really!

The company’s commitment to sustainability was evident in their “Close the Loop” graphic, which depicted a process of innovation where discarded textiles were transformed into new fabrics. These fabrics would then be used to create new products for H&M’s “Conscious” collection. It was a vision that inspired consumers, offering them the belief that their old clothes could have a second life through recycling.

Ten years later, it has become evident to both consumers and industry insiders that recycling textiles into new textiles is a much more complex process than initially anticipated. The main challenge lies in the fact that textiles are typically made from a combination of different raw materials, primarily cotton and polyester. This poses a significant obstacle for the industry, as only one percent of all used clothing is currently being successfully transformed into new clothing.

It is important to note that H&M and other fashion companies cannot be solely blamed for this issue. Developing the necessary technology takes time, particularly when it comes to creating commercially scalable solutions.

What happens to the old textiles?

Unfortunately, the fate of these textiles is not ideal. Some are incinerated, while others end up in landfills. Alternatively, they may be shipped thousands of kilometres away to the second-hand markets of the Global South. However, due to the diminishing quality of many of these garments, fewer and fewer of them are suitable for resale. Consequently, they eventually find their way back to landfills. The only difference is that these landfills are located far away from our own doorstep, effectively out of sight and out of mind.

A simple solution

It may seem like a simple solution to address the textile waste issue by starting at the source and producing less, but this is not always feasible within the fast fashion business models of companies like H&M. These business models rely heavily on overconsumption and overproduction, making it challenging to reduce the flow of clothing.

Consumers are aware of this dilemma, yet they tend to be appeased by initiatives such as the “close the loop” campaign, “conscious” collections, in-store recycling programs, and recycling weeks. These initiatives create a façade of circularity and allow for a sense of absolution when purchasing fast fashion. However, consumers may not realise that these programs incentivise even more consumption through credits that solely apply to new products. As revenue increases, so do the mountains of discarded textiles.

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