H&M: The Real Price of Fast Fashion

Courtesy of H&M

I’ve often referred to H&M as the “IKEA of fashion”. The stuff looks nice in the store, but like any other product of “fast fashion”, the quality turns out to be less than ideal. I know I have bought quite a few things at H&M in years gone by, but somehow none of them remain in my wardrobe. I’m not sure how much we are really saving if we have to replace our items each year with the newest styles replicated in cheap-form for the masses. Also unsurprisingly, this dirt-cheap fashion also comes with a few other strings attached. Environmental mishaps and labor tragedies are the ultimate price paid for our desire for cheap trendy clothes.

Item Found: None

Made in USA Alternatives:

American Apparel – trendy basics

American Pretty – trendy women’s fashions

Bullet Blues – jeans, dresses and tops

Future Standard – ethical fashion*

MiUS – contemporary fashion

Modcloth – vintage, retro and indie fashion*

Nectar Clothing -trendy apparel*

Ruche – vintage-inspired dresses and apparel*

Shop Adorn – boutique featuring local designs*


Common Countries of Origin: China, Bangladesh, Mexico

Courtesy of GreenPeace

Corporate Info: First, the bad news. H&M most recently made headlines when the New York Times exposed a NYC store that was destroying new clothing. They were found to be slashing and cutting off parts of their unsold stock in an apparent attempt to prevent them from being re-sold or donated. If clothing being destroyed in a city where many go cold living on the streets wasn’t tragic enough, mass faintings of workers in a Cambodian factory manufacturing H&M clothing have been reported. Initially blamed on mass “psychological hysteria”, the workers have now received treatment for illness caused by their poor labor conditions. H&M also took a beating from GreenPeace who exposed that their factories were responsible for the massive polluting of Chinese waters. Toxins used in the materials of their clothing were to blame for the pollution.

On the plus side, H&M has a long-standing partnership with UNICEF to improve the well-being of children around the world. They have also taken strides in their efforts to go green. They unveiled a new “Conscious Collection” for the Fall featuring organic cotton and recycled polyester. But the cynic in me wonders whether, like the pinking of October, there might be a touch of “greenwashing” at play here? I hope H&M will expand their idea of being a conscious corporation to include respect for factory workers.

Overall: I appreciate H&M’s efforts and understand the constraints they are under to produce their collections at low price-points. When it comes to making real change, it comes down to us as consumers. If we are wiling to invest more in clothing that is not only more durable but is made with ethical and sustainable labor practices the demand for fast fashions like those made by H&M will go down. You may have to forgo replicating the latest runaway trends, but classic looks made by quality lines will never go out of style.

Does knowing the real price of cheap fast fashion change your shopping plans? How do you feel about the waste, labor and environmental issues H&M has faced? Do you applaud their efforts to become more sustainable, or do you see it as greenwashing?