By David Marte
Master of Communication in Communities and Networks
Sustainability within the fashion industry is a big, and growing, challenge. Clothing production is incredibly resource-intensive and, as such, leads to an industry that is rife with ecological and ethical strains. I conducted an in-depth analysis of the H&M Group, one of the largest producers of apparel in the world, and a controversial figure within the discussion of sustainability in fashion. In doing so, I wanted to simultaneously raise awareness about the unexpected strides the company has made in the fight for sustainability, while assessing the seeming hypocrisy of some of the actions a “fast fashion” giant conducts.
This project proposes a radical, hypothetical rebranding activation event for the company through their namesake brand, H&M, and the H&M Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the H&M Group. This would be done without forewarning, with signs on the doors leading potential customers to a popup experience. The purpose of the popup concept experience is twofold. First, it challenges public conventions about H&M and its own sustainable practices, which are perceived as worse than they actually are. This is in due part due to “greenwashing” — the phenomenon where, either purposefully or not, a company’s sustainability efforts are seen as diverting attention from unsustainable practices; as well as “greenwhispering” — when a company keeps its sustainability work under wraps, often due to lack of knowledge on how to communicate their work. Second, it communicates the strides that the H&M Group has taken to work towards a sustainable future in the fashion industry.
The campaign would publicly launch as soon as all H&M stores would normally open on Black Friday 2019, except that all stores in the Manhattan area would be closed for the day. To emphasize this, the windows would be covered in black paper, echoing the many other retail spaces lacking tenants that have only become more common in New York. Referencing the Nordic origin of ARKET’s name (simply meaning sheet of paper), single sheets of paper would be taped to the inside of all ground-level windows of all Manhattan H&M stores. The message on each sheet reads: “There are 13 H&M stores in Manhattan, but one matters more today than all the rest. Come join us at [designated pop-up address] to see everything we’ve been working on for the last five years.”
From there, the route of action would be towards influencing consumers to shift towards minimal, longer-lasting, versatile wardrobes through transparency in their brand network. This would be supplemented by also establishing themselves as paragons of sustainability through future activations, policies, events, and services as they seek to achieve their already self-proclaimed goal of being part of a circular economy, and becoming a net-positive emissions and waste company.