Viewpoint: Fast fashion needs to face up to sustainability challenge

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H&M is one of the leading fast fashion businesses but this massively successful company has recognised that a growing group of environmentally conscious shoppers are giving it – and the other fast fashion brands – a bit of a headache.

Its core, young, customer is at the forefront of finding the wasteful nature of fashion – and in particular fast fashion – increasingly unpalatable. They are no longer willing to accept the unsustainable ways in which fashion companies have traditionally operated.

According to The British House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee the fashion industry (in particular the fast end of the market) is responsible for 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissions each year.

To address this situation H&M has put in place a strategy that involves it hopefully having every product it sells produced from entirely recycled materials. It is also due to open a store in Stockholm that moves it decidedly away from its fast fashion heritage. The shop will have only a limited selection of products that are of a higher quality. I guess we could say that to customers these items will be less disposable than has been the case with H&M’s goods in the past.

H&M: feeling the pressure to be conscious of their sustainable agenda

H&M has grown successful on its young customers finding it unacceptable to wear the same products more than a handful of times. In today’s Instagram-driven world this thinking has led to almost two-thirds of 24-to-35-year-olds stating that they do not want to be seen on social media wearing the same outfit twice, according to research from clothes rental service Panopoly.

While this phenomenon has served fast fashion retailers well, the shoppers that are more environmentally aware now have the option of using the likes of Panopoly that offer subscription services for renting out clothes. It has followed the model of Rent the Runway that has moved away from its focus on renting out just expensive designer clothes to also including more everyday wear. The idea is that these companies become a shoppers’ complete wardrobe.

While we might be some way off this type of model enjoying mainstream adoption it is clear that a growing number of people are equally conscious about the environment as they are about fashion. H&M and the other fast fashion businesses have to adapt if they are to retain the loyalty of their young shoppers.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider

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