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With Fashion Revolution week and Fashion Transformation Week coming up, Lisa thinks about cynicism and change.

I have a friend on Facebook, Sébastien Kopp, one of the founders of sustainable sneaker brand Veja, who thinks it’s cynical for H&M to arrange a World Recycle Week (starting 18 April) to coincide with the Rana Plaza disaster anniversary.

During World Recycle Week, H&M aims to collect 1,000 tons of clothes for recycling. Lucy Siegle points out in The Guardian that 1,000 tons roughly equals the clothes a brand of that size pumps out in 48 hours, and that the voucher schemes associated with the collecting schemes often fuel more purchasing.
Siegle’s main objection is however also that of timing–World Recycle Week clashes with grassroots campaign Fashion Revolution Week. Fashion Revolution Week is a non-profit that aims to raise awareness of the true costs of fashion around 24 April every year since that day in 2013, when 1,134 people were killed as the Rana Plaza complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Orsola de Castro, one of the initiators of Fashion Revolution, calls the timing “disrespectful”. “We’re remembering the carnage, not staging a carnival where people go around dressed in fashion waste.”
And although H&M claims the clashing dates is a coincidence, that’s some heavy criticism to tackle from a heavyweight like Orsola de Castro.

But that is of course what H&M needs to do. Tackle it. Keep having the conversations–and not only the conversations they’ve initiated themselves. That’s hopefully what will get us somewhere.

Because different initiatives can co-exist. I believe “pop” events such as recycling initiatives, commercial or not, are needed alongside the independent ones, to get people talking, to challenge other brands to consider the triple bottom line, to encourage consumers as well as producers of fashion to consider consequences of fashion. On some level.
And events such as Global Change Award and hopefully also World Recycle Week provide with opportunities for actors within different parts of the supply chain to get together and discuss. (I will myself participate in one of the group discussions on Fashion Transformation Day on 23 April in Stockholm, which is a part of World Recycle Week.)

Having that said, it is vital for H&M not to hijack Fashion Revolution’s message. While H&M engages a consumer, Fashion Revolution engages a citizen. And yes we’re all both sometimes, but not all the time. If we’re reduced to being consumers only, we might as well just use the discount vouchers handed to us when recycling our old stuff to buy more, more, more and more.
I too can feel tired of initiatives, including some of our own, that focus only on parts of the problem (and that often implies focus on what consumers can do versus what the producers have to do). Being “part of the solution”, something everyone engaged in sustainability and fashion aims to, means not shying away from the very dark sides of fashion. We cannot only talk about “cool” ways of being sustainable. It’s not all “cool” and tackling only the “cool” is a possibility only for the ones of us in the value chain who don’t work on low wages in dangerous factories.
But, however cynical it may seem and however hard I think it is to accept sometimes, there has to be space for all parties to progress, whatever the starting point. As M.I.A tells Vogue: “If all [H&M] do is go and inspire another high-street brand to get in on caring and being conscious, or if H&M gets criticized for any of their factory processes, these are all good things. We should discuss them in public and we should have this back and forth. At least they’re even stepping into the [environmentally conscious] arena. Any of those things is progressive, and I think you have to give it a chance.”


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