Sustainable, Eco-Friendly, Responsible, Conscious, Recycled. For years, these words were front-and-centre on clothes tags from fast fashion brands, but suddenly they’ve disappeared. Sustainability-related keywords are suddenly ‘banned’ from the big fashion retailers’ websites. Merely a year ago, in January 2022, H&M had 7800+ results for items marked conscious, yet today the word is nowhere to be found.
This comes after the Swedish fast fashion giant has committed to ‘adjust or no longer use sustainability claims on their clothes and/or website’. The otherwise proudly promoted sustainability flagship “Conscious Collection” from H&M has been erased from Earth’s surface. After years of tooting the sustainability horn, H&M cannot provide sufficient substantial evidence to back its sustainability claims and quietly rolls back the collection and sinters all traces of it.
Keep in mind that H&M released its first “Conscious Collection” in 2011. It took them 11 years and investigations by three different competition regulators to admit the information “should have been clearer and more complete” and roll back the collection. H&M is by far the only retailer acting and reacting. Multi-vendor marketplaces are also under scrutiny; ASOS removed all sustainability-related keywords just two weeks prior to an investigation by the UK Competition Markets Authority and Zalando has removed their sustainability ‘flag’ after receiving the Greenwashing Award from the Norwegian Consumer Council.
The strategy is clear: they’ll cover their asses and delete all evidence and ties to sustainability-related keywords.
Where does that leave us? Have consumers been fooled by misleading claims for years? Are brands now afraid of labelling their products as sustainable? Are we back at square one?
Maybe but, maybe not. H&M sold us a vision where sustainable fashion is accessible and affordable, which was a utopia in 2011. Personally, I always hoped the “Conscious Collection” was genuinely a sustainably made collection, because how great would it be if brands like H&M could use their power to push the agenda and actually make a difference in the fashion industry? Their sustainable fashion collection would have been accessible, affordable, and maybe also more style- and size-inclusive. But alas, that’s not the reality. The reality is, H&M saw a rise in conscious consumers and their willingness to pay more for sustainable fashion. They used it as an opportunity to exploit consumers’ good intentions, released the Conscious Collection, and created a greenwashed campaign that was so incredibly convincing that it was released year after year, for 11 years. Yikes.
The well-meaning consumers are left to find the sustainable, accessible, affordable and inclusive brands among the giant fast fashion greenwashers.
Should brands be afraid of saying their products are sustainable? No. Should brands be afraid of falsely marketing their products as sustainable if they do not have the evidence to substantiate their claims? Yes. There are MANY genuinely sustainable brands out there, that can easily substantiate their sustainability claims. Buy from them, not the greenwashers.
On a positive end, one thing that H&M (unintentionally) did well was unifying the conscious consumers. Together these consumers have a tremendous impact with their ethos and spending power.