H&M | RED CARPET & RED FLAGS?
Why this retailer is causing NZ to roll out the red carpet and the media to raise the red flags?
Last Thursday, Tom and I strolled/strutted/stumbled down the red carpet towards the iconic red logo that is H&M.
It's a store that I'm certainly no stranger to - trips to see family in London usually include a quick trip into H&M - but it's all too new for New Zealand; this store being the first to ever open in our little corner of the world.
So, just like when any big brand descends on our small country, H&M was the subject of much excitement, eager anticipation and an abundance of media attention. However, the brand hit the headlines for two different - and rather contrasting - reasons:
1. That H&M was finally in New Zealand after taking so long to make its way here, but;
2. Now that it's here, the insane speed in which it will bring in and churn out new styles.
The first was cause to roll out the red carpet. The second reared the red flags of the fast fashion phenomenon.
Industry jargon that talks to how big retailers have put their foot on the accelerator in recent years; speeding up production and how quickly new styles can hit the shelves in the hope that shoppers will keep up with the pace. Once upon a time, two seasons defined the fashion calendar - designers worked tirelessly and lovingly to craft two collections each year, Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer - however these days, a year seems to be made up of 52 micro-seasons. Every week, new looks hit the racks in mass retailers around the world, mass retailers just like H&M.
Their business model is simple: high volume at low, affordable prices (which in turn usually means low quality). Or, in other words, because us fashion fanatics like to constantly refresh our wardrobes, retailers are creating the supply to meet our demand. Or, conversely, our demand is created by the retailers' ever-changing supply... Chicken and egg.
But whichever way round it is, whoever is the cause, fast fashion retailers are finding themselves praised as much as they are persecuted. I love being able to change up my look, add a new piece to reinvigorate old outfits, rock a new trend when it breaks without breaking my bank balance, replace my basic t-shirts when I need to - all of which these fashion giants enable. And as much as I would love to always invest in high quality and always buy local, I can't afford to - and neither can the majority of the population. That's why I, and we, will shop at H&M.
It's what happens before and after the styles hit the shops that is the reason these retailers get crucified. Cheap prices for us means cheap fabrics and unfortunately cheap labour (which leads down the path of sweatshops, unsafe working conditions, unfair wages etc). And at the other end of the product life-cycle, because we haven't invested in these pieces financially, we're less likely to be invested in them emotionally - we take less care of them, care less if they get damaged, aren't too bothered about throwing these items out, and it doesn't cross our mind that they then contribute to the 1.2 million tonnes of clothing that goes into the landfill each year (and that's in the UK alone).
I'm not one to get all political or join in on the protest - it will only take a quick Google search to uncover the unethical and environmental debates that fast fashion provokes - but I will say this. No, I don't condone any unethical practices and processes that are said to be behind this side of the fashion industry. But yes, I do own and buy clothes that fall into this category - including buying three pieces last Thursday night.
For me, it's not about where I shop but how I shop. I do buy fast fashion but I don't operate (or consume) at the same speed - the likes of H&M, Zara, Topshop, Forever New, Glassons, Kmart etc etc may add new styles to their stores every week, but that's certainly not how often I'm adding to my wardrobe.
It comes down to shopping smartly and spending wisely. Don't buy just because you can, just because a new trend has hit, because everyone else has it, because it's cheap and won't break the bank - don't buy for the sake of buying.
Buy because you love it, because you need to, because that's what the budget will allow, because wearing it makes you happy.
If you want it to last and go the distance, slow down and invest. If you want it now, hit the accelerator and hit the aisles of H&M - but speed at your own risk; know that the faster the fashion, the more of a gamble you take on quality, lifespan etc etc.
So I'll see you in the aisles of H&M. Just not too often.