Sunday, 29 April 2012

‘Conscious’ Up Close

I’m over half way through the H&M Sustainability Report (yes a little slow, life is getting in the way perhaps) and on Tuesday evening found myself early meeting a friend in Oxford Circus. Like every girl with spare time on her hands I went shopping. However, unlike every other girl I tend to go ‘comp’ shopping to scrutinise what retailers are selling. Yes I am that cynical; I secretly tell myself ‘well informed’.

Of course I opted for H&M as I wanted to see as much of the Conscious Collection as possible: touch it, fibre comp it, try it, buy it (don’t be ridiculous! Although, I did rather like two pieces).

The window was inviting enough (but, I think I could only find about 3 of the garments displayed here in store):

I was expecting to be greeted as soon as I entered the store by the sustainable collection that H&M are so proud of, instead I found myself in the basement where the only way to distinguish the garments were by their green swing tickets. The garments were dispersed with the usual (is it wrong to say ‘unsustainable’?) collection, or at least the garments that you could/should style with the Conscious Collection.

There appeared to be only a limited number of styles available as to what is visible online, for example I saw none of the stunning evening dresses. Perhaps I had missed the boat and they had already been snapped up, but I expected more from H&M’s flagship store (is it their UK flagship? I assume it is as to the location).

Image source: H&M

I pulled 5 garments to try; all bar one used lace (I’m not sure if this says something about me, H&M or current trends). Lace I would consider to be a difficult fabric to consider sustainable as more often that not usually blends a natural fibre with a synthetic (difficult to recycle) and is energy intensive to produce.

Organic Cotton Lace Dress
Total winner in my eyes for style and cotton content (if I remember correctly the dress was lined in cotton too). Fit was a little off mind: armhole seemed a tad too small, perfect if you don’t want to move your arms much further than your bust point. However on a fit point of view, I could fit my size 12 rear into this size 10 dress! This is a brilliant dress if you feel comfortable and can move easily in, however beware: the back fastening requires someone else to secure you. I have no idea how inner buttons on one side and a side zip on the other is achievable by the wearer. I almost pulled a muscle before admitting defeat.

Organic Cotton/Polyester Lace Vest
This looked awful on me, hense I have not uploaded a photo wearing it. I truly hated the colour and the garish gold zip at the back. I personally didn’t like the feel of either the Organic Cotton/Polyester lace outer or the Recycled Polyester lining. My biggest issue with this vest is the pointless zip at the back neck, not only is the colour awful but its function is defunct: you can easily put this vest on without undoing the zip. This, I consider the most unsustainable design feature: a fastening that is not necessary for fastening the garment. Just think of the number of zips that were produced to fulfil this order (raw materials/energy), sewing them in (man hours/energy) and how many consumers will actually use it (nil).

Recycled Polyester Shirt
What a cool shirt. I did like this garment. The print is gorgeous, if not a little creepy and the fit was easy (cuffs a little tight mind). I do worry about the increase in body temperature from wearing a 100% polyester shirt but it would be easy to care for (low temp machine washable – less energy consumed during use phase). I did notice the H&M quality I am used to however on this shirt: wonky stitching and loose thread ends: but sheer fabric is always the hardest to sew together. Info on the printing method would have been inviting on the swing ticket, but that may just be me geeking out.

Recycled Polyester Dress
‘Meh’. I found this dress a little dull to be honest and felt the recycled polyester rather clingy. Beware lumps and bumps this dress is not going to show you in your best light. This I imagine is due to the garment not being lined (the buyers did well at snipping that out). There was some care label to swing ticket discrepancies: swing ticket states 82% recycled poly whereas care label states 100% recycled poly. That’s one way to confuse the consumer. The swing ticket failed to mention the lace inserts in the dress, therefore we are none the wiser is the cotton is organic in the lace.

That ORANGE Lace Jacket
I truly hated this garment on the hanger, but took it to the changing room for a laugh. Once on it went up in my expectations, but then I looked at the back and it went back down. It felt strangely like Michael Jackson ‘Thiller’ to me, but in orange. I cannot recall the fibre comp on this jacket; I would like to think the lace was organic cotton and assume the lining is recycled poly and the satin outer may also be recycled poly (please don’t hold me to this). The pointless design feature I noticed on this jacket was the functioning jetted front pockets. Don’t get me wrong I love pockets, but as a rule I like pockets I can actually put my hands or something useful in like my phone or oyster card. The depth of the pocket reached the first joint on my index finger (I later measured to be around 2.5cm). I guess the pockets are meant to hold your lipstick or spare change, but isn’t that what handbags and purses are for? I feel this pockets could be non-functional and some pocket bag fabric saved.


Another point I would like to make is I found the pricing structure confusing. I understand that due to large quantities H&M can get a better margin and offer a lower price than the standard organic/sustainable retailers, but retailing an organic lace dress, lined in cotton at the same price as a recycled polyester unlined dress at £24.99 baffles me. Seriously, how do they do that?

I was disappointed not to find any recycled wool, organic hemp, Tencel® lyocell on this visit. I shall have to make further plans to meet friends around said location and take another look see at another date.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Anyone Fancy a Vintage Shopping Challenge?

The Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF) have partnered with both M&S and Oxfam to launch London’s first Sustainable Fashion Lab. Set in the backdrop of the ultra cool and creative Truman Brewery in London’s East End (just off Brick Lane) the Lab will launch tomorrow and run for 2 weeks:

26 April – 9 May 2012
10am-5pm every day (except Mondays)
Open to the public, for entry bring along one item of unwanted clothing.

Image source: CSF, Michelle Lowe-Holder and Noel Stewart

Today CSF have set their first challenge: M&S Heirloom Challenge this Friday at Dray Walk 3pm. The challenge is simple, you get given £25 to hunt out a beautiful, vintage M&S garment over the weekend. Less of a challenge, more of a treat in my eyes (I’ve managed to collect quite a few St. Michael garments through scouring the charity shop rails).  You will, of course, be expected to hand over your find to the Lab to be placed into an exhibition (along with your name). Your chosen garment may also be selected for inclusion in the M&S archive.

Image source: Mike McSharry

I wonder what the purpose in creating the M&S archive is: potential design inspiration? Quality and performance research? Consumer care habits?

Sound like the perfect challenge for you? Well, the only hitch is that you need to be available on Friday 26th and Monday 29th (unfortunate if you are full-timers, like myself). If you’ve the time to spare, be quick there are limited spaces: click the above M&S Heirloom Challenge link to find out how to enter.

Happy shopping (never thought I would ever say that!)

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Shed me Clothes on Ecouterre

Ecouterre featured an article on my project Shed me Clothes in January which surmounted in various other blogs and websites featuring the project. I was even interviewed for the University of Arts student magazine. Below is a snapshot and link to that Ecouterre article.

Today, an extract from Kate Fletcher and Lynda Grose new book Fashion & Sustainability: Design for Change on Biomimicry was featured on Ecouterre. This article featured my Pecha Kucha video on the 2nd page:

I've checked the video on Youtube, it's now received over 1000 views. Let's just say I'm a happy bunny and a tad excited.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Sustainable Fashion: From Awareness to Action

The current MA Fashion and the Environment (FATE) Students at London College of Fashion are hosting a discussion this Friday evening. Contributors include ex MA FATE now sustainable fashion entrepreneurs of Here Today Here Tomorrow Julia Crew, Katelyn Toth-Fejel, Anna-Maria Hesse along with representatives from 12 Rules to Dress By, Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and Textile Futures Research Group.

This is the perfect opportunity to hone your networking skills as well and learn about the variety of approaches taken towards creating a more sustainable fashion industry. Check out the flyer below, it’s free and includes light refreshments!

Image source: Here Today Here Tomorrow

Monday, 16 April 2012

Research for Free

I wandered into my manager's office this afternoon to provide some important supplier communication, when my eyes fell up the 6-8 copies of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing out the World? stacked on her desk. The book, written by The Observer columnist Lucy Siegle, has been on my 'to read' list since its publication last year (I have revisiting my love of literature since completing my MA).

I spurted out my (what I now considered, irrelevant) supplier info and quickly enquired about the tower of books. 'Are you a fast reader?' was her response. Keen to impress, I replied 'I can be, can I read it?'

I walked away from her office with a fresh copy and a skip in my step: free reading. Dickens is now on hold, I'll let you know how I get on.

Image source: Egg Magazine blog

Thursday, 12 April 2012

H&M Sustainability Report

I’ve been waiting patiently since reading Lucy Siegle’s article in Sunday’s Observer for today. At last it is here: H&M have launched their 'Conscious' collection today, along with their Sustainability Report. I must admit I feel much the same as Siegle (‘Full marks for ambition. But do I buy H&M as an ethical paragon? Not quite yet.) upon reading the article so am happy to investigate.

The website welcomes you with beautiful garments and models (if not a little proud with hand on hip and head held high) shot in a make shift jungle; I'm sure to emphasise the new collection’s natural and sustainable credentials. From what I can see the prints on the garments are of plant-life, again I assume to further emphasise this point.

The website identifies the use of the following fabrics: organic cotton, recycled polyester, recycled polyamide, recycled plastic, organic linen, recycled cotton, recycled wool, Tencel® lyocell and organic hemp. All fabrics are described, followed by a list of benefits of use (except hemp, which is a surprise: it’s the fastest growing and most sustainable of them all) as well as links to GOTS and Global Recycling Standards. It’s a shame that H&M have forgotten about the possible energy saving benefits during the use/laundering phase here. Benefits highlighted tend to lean towards production only.

However, the Sustainability Report highlights the use phase, of which they do indicate the high energy consumption during laundering, within it’s map of a product’s lifecycle (pages 6-7). They have reluctantly left out the ‘Disposal’ stage disguising this within the use phase:

We are working to influence how our customers care for their H&M purchases and to promote the recycling of used garments (page 7)

The report is rather long (and so it should be, there’s a lot to cover: hitting 87 pages), so I have only briefly scanned it so far. The bulk of the report briefly highlights H&M’s ‘Conscious Actions’, which are many (and so there should….). They are clearly taking this move towards sustainable and ethical fashion much more seriously that what I originally expected. Below I have listed Actions that particularly caught my eye:

Use only sustainable cotton
Develop sustainability index labels for products
European standard for environmental product labelling
Introduce climate smart washing and care instructions (If anyone knows me, this really excites me – however I was disappointed that they only recommend reducing to 40 degrees.)
Sustainability training for designers and buyers
Supplier sustainability performance index
Integrate sustainability criteria into our order systems
Promote energy efficiency in our supply chain
Help to lead industry to zero discharge of hazardous chemicals
Ban fluorocarbons / Toluene

There is a wealth of information in the report as well as the website, there’s even a page on quality tests (nice to see us tech’s aren’t going unnoticed). However, I do feel this quality page to be a slight oxymoron, does anyone else consider H&M quality to be very poor?

I must say my viewpoint has changed towards H&M becoming the new home of ethical fashion, well at least slightly. They do appear to have covered a large perspective of the supply chain, but are they trying to take on too much at once? Their actions are briefly covered in simple paragraphs. The proof is in the pudding, or organic cotton dress, perhaps the recycled poly dress, but more likely in customer reaction. Is she/he (yes there is menswear) buying it? Let’s wait and see their reaction.

Source (all images): H&M