The Future of Ethical Fast Fashion | Teen Ink

The Future of Ethical Fast Fashion

April 11, 2019
By hannahjs225 BRONZE, Bellevue, Washington
hannahjs225 BRONZE, Bellevue, Washington
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

H&M, a fast fashion retail giant, comes under fire far too often for a variety of issues, ranging from racial insensitivity in product marketing to the use of unethical labor abuse in Bangladeshi factories. As a result of these scandals and of an increased social interest in the repercussions of the fast fashion industry, sales for H&M have been declining, with the company having seen steady decline in sales throughout 2018. However, H&M has yet to make any significant changes in respect to environmental policies, and this has negatively impacted their personal brand, as well as stigmatized their clothing in many socially conscious circles. With the decline of mall culture and the increased interest in online shopping, curating an online brand and presence is more important than it’s ever been.
This is where I would bring innovation to H&M’s company practices. H&M is a company that relies on youth appeal, but the culture of youth is changing. Rather than the more careless consumerism of previous generations, Gen Z youth are more influenced by social media than they are by old-fashioned television or magazine advertisement. With the foothold of platforms like Twitter, which allow for rapid dissemination of information, scandals surrounding issues that youth care about are very dangerous for a company’s image. Alongside this, the culture of being ‘woke’ is prevalent in teens across many countries, who are no longer as willing to overlook ethical issues surrounding their favorite brands.
H&M’s path to innovation would be to prioritize improvement of worker conditions, as well as taking steps to reduce environmental impact. In regard to worker conditions, the company has come under fire for exploitation of female and child workers at foreign production plants in Bangladesh, which is a perception that still circulates in the public sphere although the company has taken steps in response to the backlash following the revelation surrounding the labor exploitation. The brand has already begun to take steps in this direction, through their recycling program for fast-fashion clothes and longer-term goals of sustainability. Although H&M has pledged to be ‘100% climate-positive’ by 2040, this long-term action is simply not feasible as a way to improve public perception, as well as only being a goal and not a concrete plan of action.
Youth are very aware of this. Fast fashion and clothing in general are, according to the analysis of the Pulse of the Fashion Industry Report, responsible for about 5.4% of world carbon emissions, making them the fifth most environmentally taxing industry on the planet. This stems from the unsustainable fast fashion model that H&M leads in, which leaves a great area for improvement. As a leader in the industry, H&M has the opportunity to make real change for the benefit of the planet by taking steps towards a more sustainable method of producing clothing, which is a move that could be used to generate positive feedback on social media and increase the brand’s clout among the younger generation. This is an urgent need, and should be enacted as soon as possible, or the brand risks a continued decline in sales due to the continuation of negative perception.
Another change that is needed in the industry is a larger awareness of the social climate, in order to add to a potential reputation as a socially conscious and active company. The scandal last year surrounding a racially insensitive advertisement for a hoodie, which led to the closing of several store locations in Africa and was followed by a drop in sales overall, is a prime example of the image that H&M is pressed to overcome. By showing an increased interest in social justice and ethical issues, H&M could start to shake this perception to regain some degree of clout with youth.
All these steps towards a stronger ethical and moral core, besides being good for the planet and for the fashion industry in the long term, can be used to cultivate a stronger online presence. The Internet is the new frontier of fast fashion—one needs only to take a glance at brands like Fashion Nova, which is currently very popular on Instagram and other social media channels, to see evidence of this. Influencer culture is also not to be overlooked and would be crucial in a theoretical rebranding of H&M’s public perception. Youth no longer listen as intently to TV and radio ads, but advertising has shifted to a more grassroots, word-of-mouth method of dissemination. Influencer culture is a prime example of this, as many social media stars use a sense of relatability and intimacy with their following in order to sell products, as well as a sense of ‘coolness’ and to serve as a role model or a lifestyle goal.  
H&M is in no sense a startup that needs to curate a brand image, but rather must reshape what is already in the public sphere. By harnessing more masterfully the power of social media advertising and influencer culture, H&M has the potential to change their public perception. By working with influencers focused on social justice issues with a strong and loyal following, H&M can destigmatize their clothing and work to develop a stronger relationship with the public. A focus on the efforts towards sustainability that have already been taken, as well as a deepening of involvement in social justice issues, needs to be the forefront of this social media rebranding.
Alongside a public rebranding, H&M needs to catch up in an increasingly digital age. With the boom of online retailers like Asos and Fashion Nova, it is clear that a strong online presence is almost a necessity of succeed in the current fashion market. Accompanying a public perception rebranding, H&M could use a stronger online ecosystem to increase the potential market for their product, with an overall aim to increase sales.
With its current size and influence, H&M could easily usher in a new model for the fast fashion market by rebranding from a problematic staple to a leader in social and climate issues, both of which are of increasing importance to many youths. By reducing use of glues and fabrics that fuel the unsustainable fast fashion model and taking a more eco-conscious approach, as well as publicizing this shift, H&M could cut out a niche for themselves as a cutting-edge innovator in the future of fashion.

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