The guilty pleasure of H & M


Image from Clark University’s Ethiopia blog. Do have a look at the linked article.

I really love shopping at H & M, and I feel like I probably shouldn’t.

It all started in late 2013. I know I’d heard of H & M prior to 2013. I’d possibly even visited their stores. It didn’t really leap to my attention, though, until I was in Kuala Lumpur and looking to go on a shopping spree. There was a particularly prominent store in Bukit Bintang, where I was staying, and inside it were three floors of affordable, fashionable clothing. Much of it was even in my size, a refreshing change after Japan, and H & M are Scandinavian and that somehow makes them all the cooler (look at that pun there!).

Fast forward to the present and I find myself shopping at H & M, if not often, then at least regularly, particularly over the last year or so. There are women’s clothes that I like and fit me well, and men’s clothes for R. They sell maternity clothes, a huge bonus when Japanese maternity lines are definitely not designed for my tall, largish build, are very conservative, and often very heavy even during the hellishly humid summer, and they sell baby clothes, including packs of adorable onesies made from organic cotton. There’s now a branch near-ish to where I live and that just makes the whole thing even easier.

They’re cheap, and they even have a nifty clothes recycling program, where they will recycle your old clothes, whatever their condition, and you walk away with a discount voucher. It’s great!

Except it probably isn’t. To be fair, there’s some effort happening on their part. There’s the aforementioned clothing recycling and a big push towards sustainability more broadly. There are a few gestures towards monitoring and improving the working conditions of the factories. It all just sounds a bit too good to be true, though, when the whole system H & M relies on is built on making as many clothes as cheaply and as quickly as possible. As an article for The Guardian notes,

“… to concerned consumers and activists, fast fashion’s rapid-response production system, reliant on low-wage production in some of the poorest countries on Earth, is pretty much held responsible for environmental and social degradation in the global wardrobe.”

And if you want to watch something about the whole problem that’s still entertaining, I give you John Oliver:

As noted in the video, the idea that the production system of a global textiles giant is possibly bad for both the workers and the environment probably isn’t news to anyone. It certainly wasn’t to me.

And yet, I keep shopping there. I want to be the sort of person that buys clothes from People Tree and Bamboo Village, but I’m not managing it yet, not least because of the cost involved. Shopping at H & M is on a long list of consumption choices where it feels like I might be a better person if I chose differently and while I do want to make those choices, they’re difficult, especially over here, and to me, expensive.

In the meantime, H & M is cheap. It’s easy. The clothes fit. Even the mall where the shop I visit is located makes for a fun trip out.

In short, I like them. It’s just it’s kind of in spite of knowing better.