One small step for fashion, one potentially giant leap for sustainability

Friday, May 25th, 2012 | Our Philosophy

This blog post originally appeared on Melba Foggo’s Logica blog

In the crucial battle for the hearts and minds of trendsetters, the fashion industry is better placed than any other to encourage consumers to be greener.

In recent times it’s been heartening to see a number of major brands taking great strides to becoming more sustainable. Nike, Levi’s, Timberland, North Face, Gucci, YSL and Puma have all made efforts to reduce the environmental impact of their products.

But what stops them from going further? A common theme among high-street brands we’ve spoken to at Global Cool is fear of putting their heads above the green parapet. There is no shortage of will to make supply chains more sustainable, to create greener production processes and even to educate staff on environmental issues; but when we’ve suggested that they could use their influence with consumers to make an even more significant difference in the fight against climate change, we’ve been met with looks of horror.

That’s why the launch of H&M’s Conscious Collection last month feels like an important step. Of course, there is no shortage of places for the ethically aware consumer can go to get their fashion fix: sites like Fashion Conscience, Annie Greenabelle, People Tree and THTC (which has featured in Logica’s Sustainability Stories series ) have all played an important role in showing bigger brands that sustainable fashion can be both aspirational and profitable.

The Conscious Collection – all the garments are made from organic cotton, hemp and recycled polyester – is a rare attempt by the high street to take ethical fashion to the masses. Crucially, as well as being sustainable, this line is affordable for the average customer and, because it comes with the full weight of the H&M brand behind it (including celebrity endorsers like the Hollywood actress Michelle Williams), it ‘s been well received in mainstream media. Even the Daily Mail, a newspaper not usually known for its support of climate change, gave the launch a positive review.

That’s not to say H&M and other fashion brands do not have their detractors; there were no shortage of people queuing up to point out the fashion industry’s shortcomings around labour rights on the The Guardian’s coverage.

Clearly this kind of scrutiny is important to ensure that the fashion industry lives up to its environmental claims, especially as a recent survey found 52% of consumers are skeptical about brands’ ethical claims.

Less helpful, though, are those detractors who argue that the word sustainability is incompatible with an industry whose lifeblood is the creation of new trends that ensure the old trends have a very short shelf life. Not only is this attitude defeatist, it also fosters the kind of fear of criticism that has held brands back from being bolder in their sustainability initiatives.

Of course, there is still a lot more that fashion brands can do – not least making their entire range sustainable. Marketing Week also pointed out that H&M could do more to promote sustainability by making their customers feel good about buying these products. At Global Cool we think they have a part to play in encouraging wider green behaviours, too, such as efficient home energy use. But this is certainly a step in the right direction and one that we hope many more fashion brands will follow.

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We run Global Cool, the only online magazine in the UK truly inspiring the mainstream to live greener

We create content about music, fashion, celebrity and lifestyle trends. We use this content to inspire people normally turned off by climate change to lead greener lives. We reached more than 200,000 people in 2011 and we don't preach to the converted. In fact, 93% of our audience say we are the only green organisation they engage with.

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