On 12th April high street mega-brand H&M launched the Spring-Summer collection of their sustainably produced Conscious Collection. The expansion of the line to include an Exclusive Glamour Collection alongside the usual daywear and casual eveningwear has sent the blogosphere into overdrive with dedicated fashionistas across the globe becoming widely excited at the prospect of looking beautiful whilst acting ecologically.
This is really the crux of why H&M’s Conscious Collection appears so groundbreaking – it offers the possibility of adopting an ethical approach to fashion for those not wishing to look like they have been yarn-bombed. Too many eco-ranges to have appeared previously have equated having a conscience with a penchant for outdated boho chic.
So the news that H&M has taken up Livia Firth’s Green Carpet Challenge and produced clothes that not only would you and I want to wear, but that have been spotted on the likes of Michelle Williams, Kristen Davis and Viola Davis, sounds almost too good to be true. And perhaps it is, but before summarising the criticisms of the range, let’s looks first at its desirable qualities.
I first fell in love with the last season’s range after walking in to H&M in Knightsbridge and finding a sea of Erdem-inspired deep purples, vibrant oranges and luxe silk floral prints just right for banishing winter blues. Versace for H&M looked beyond brash in comparison.
This season, the amethyst and tiger’s eye have made way to rose quartz and pale gold in a collection which embraces the best of the Louis Vuitton pretty pastel trend whilst carefully avoiding the saccharine. A 100% organic cotton dress rose-hued with tie straps looks Provence-ready, and immediately produces dreams of Clemence Poésy’s cameo in Gossip Girl a few seasons back, whilst a raspberry lace pencil skirt (with 100% recycled polyester lining) offers a more chic Carine Roitfeld look.
Moving away from France and into the Glamour Collection, a slightly longer take on a skater dress with cut out back in neon green will appeal to Christopher Kane fans and answer any Great Gatsby-longings with its Art Deco embroidered piping on the top section. It is, however, the dizzying digital print of the figure-defining floral dress which has received most attention. Bringing to mind the luscious late artworks of Rossetti, this dress makes flowers look borderline obscene and combines a vintage glamour with the supremely modern methods of digital printing (oh, and it’s 75% recycled polyester too).
None of which sounds remotely like anything likely to make people think you have just returned from a gap year. What is more, the range also covers clothing for men and children too (two area of fashion research I always hideously neglect). If, for instance, I had a child or a doll I might well consider dressing it in an organic cotton bony Breton top and probably feel marginally smug whilst doing so.
So what exactly are the aforementioned criticisms? Lucy Siegle, author of ‘To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?’ has posited that the entire idea of Fast Fashion is essentially incompatible with being eco-friendly. Additionally, she states that massive companies like H&M who do not actually own any of the factories their clothes are produced in can sidestep issues around workers’ rights, such as the right to unionise and fire safety, because they are not directly in their remit. This means that whilst the fabrics may be changing, there may still be big issues around the actual production of the garment.
Siegle’s point on the strange marriage of Fast Fashion and eco-fashion cannot be ignored, however, without wanting to be defeatist, it is a much harder job to change the entire face of the retail sector than it is to work within the existing structure and implement changes like H&M Conscious Collection. Furthermore, unlike with the ethical food movements, such as organic meat which is often out of the majority’s price range, H&M is allowing those who care about the environment, but cannot always afford to show it, the chance to register their support for such movements in sales.
Essentially that is what matters. The fact items for H&M’s Conscious Collection sell out on the first day they hit stores, sends a great message to the companies: we care and we want – fashionable not neo-boho – change.