Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The cost of fashion: H&M Conscious review

Images of child workers
Fashion is a creative medium with an extreme price range. From Primark slave-made skirts starting at £3, to Alexander Mcqueen skirts at £3000 (on sale), we are simultaneously asked to aspire to the ridiculous and supplement our aspirations with the badly made copies. I am not afraid to agree with the common opinion held outside the fashion industry, that £3000 for a skirt on sale is ridiculous. But I am also going to say that £3 for a skirt is equally so. Yes, people may not have the spare cash to buy clothes and therefore £3 is an attractive sale. But it is also an irresponsible purchase if it is not brought second hand, and it is not hard to see why. How can a company’s supply chain cost so little? How can their shipping be so miniscule? How can their store cost nothing to run and their shop workers be paid and for them to make a profit, if a skirt is £3? Somewhere down the line, someone is being exploited so you can add yet another skirt to an already packed wardrobe.

Meanwhile a skirt that is brought for £3 is fast fashion and will sooner or later end up in one of our extensive land-fills as a forsaken textile. £10 ought to be the minimum spend on a skirt, and if you can’t afford that, why not buy second-hand? Should we try to change this culture of entitlement to constant new clothes that harm the environment and workers?
H&M eco dress

Recently companies such as H&M have been trying to clean up their act with H&M conscious range. Perhaps it is green-washing after all those factory fire deaths, but at least it is a start to making all H&M products ethical. Meanwhile are these products actually any good?

I review some for your pleasure today.

This €99 dress shows H&M's foray into digital printing, Mary Katrantzou style. Opting for an easy to wear, flouncy girly tulip shape, this will flatter most figures which it should, at the price of £83.81. This dress takes khaki colours onto a whole new level of sexy sophisticated wearing, with sparkle detailing and water-colour design. Easy to wear, very on trend, what's not to love? To be honest, the price. If I am going to spend that amount on a dress I am a label snob and would buy into a designer I resonated with rather than H&M which I associate with my fifteen year old self. However it is a cool dress and if only it was £40 I would be more tempted.

H&M Formal eco wear for men, apparently.
Do we finally have ethical clothes for men?
It did take me a while to realise this beautiful model was actually a man, score one for androgyny. Yet how many men I know are on the look out for some male eco clothes! Would they be excited about this? So far H&M have brought out only suits for the testosterone crew, which seems yet another thing to add to the huge list about how unfair male fashion is. However, from a person who knows little other than the best suits are always tailored, this does look rather nice. All in all the waistcoat is €34,95, jacket €79,95, trousers €49,95, shirt €39,95, shoes €39,95. €244.75 in total (thanks iPhone calculator), which is £207.18 (thanks Google). This to me, doesn't sound entirely unreasonable for formal wear - please do enlighten me if that is wrong.

The eco Miss Havisham lace dress met modernity
Ah the little lace dress rears her head again. Well, maybe we should accept that prancing around in a 'Miss Havisham meets her modern wedding day dress because online dating and therapy now exists',  is going to be around forever. The truth is I recently had a huge clear out of my late adolescent wear and I was still unable to detach myself from a flimsy lace dress made with the cheapest of polyester and machine made cream lace that I purchased years ago in Camden Market on a delicious whim. Needless to say I have full understanding now with the whole machine-made lace lovers that are still running around, and it comes as no surprise that mainstream swedish brands are still offering us these handmade lace fantasies. However what is less understandable is the price tag. At €299, it is the most expensive item on the conscious range which leads me to believe that is in fact actually hand-made. Which does not really make sense for a mass-produced brand - so what gives? There are no product details on the site, which is odd for any clothes, especially an eco-conscious range. As with the last dress if I am spending £253, I wouldn't think H&M, eco conscious range or not, is the place to do it. As much as I am loving the 'Miss Havisham meets her lover' dress, and am actively on the lookout for one to replace my adolescent lace obsession, this will not be it.

In conclusion, there are some great items in the H&M conscious range, and we really all should applaud their sustainable chat (although quietly request that they sort out their health and safety in their Bangladesh factories). However eco-friendly does not have to mean prices which are incompatible with previous branding and product values. I welcome that eco-friendly means generally a higher price, but as with the Alexander Mcqueen skirts, we need price perspective. I do hope that this conscious range is a success and that they manage to secure some new customers as well as introducing their old customers to new ways of thinking about clothes. And hopefully they will have justifiably good sales for the above items so most of us can actually buy them.

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