The other day I was scrolling my way through twitter, as I do, and up pops a post from PETA (an organisation I admit I'm already not a fan of) talking about how the "future of fashion is here!". I was intrigued... and then gave the biggest eyeroll imaginable when I see their version of the future of fashion is a vegan collection with H&M. 

PETA, an organisation that consistenly pushes going vegan for the animals and the environment is collaborating with one of the world's largest fashion brands. No you''re not along in thinking that doesn't add up. 

Just as an aside, I know PETA have a track record of doing pretty awful campaigns, I'm not going into detail on all of that now as this post would be very long but just know... they weren't a great organisation before this (to put it mildly). This post is just focusing on this one very greenwashy collection.

Dubbed the "Co-exist story" it claims to be fashions future, with coats stuffed with flowers instead of feathers, knits made from recycled fishing nets, and grape skin leather. All vegan, all sustainable? It all sounds pretty great on the surface, so why is there an issue with this? 

Fast Fashion will never be sustainable

H&M are one of the worlds largest fast fashion brands, in the year 2018/19 they sold 2.2 billion units of clothing, and they work on the same system as the rest of fast fashion. It's sell as many clothes as possible, as cheap as possible, 52 seasons a year, creating clothing designed to be thrown away after a few wears. This business model will never be sustainable and it is the exact opposite of eco-system saving stuff, and that's pretty bad for the animals.

And what happens once these clothes are used? H&M relies on a system that encourages people to buy new clothes constantly and works on a pretty linear model of make, sell, chuck. Meaning clothes sol by H&M, even if they're made from wonderful planet friendly materials are going to end up in landfill pretty quickly.

When these collections go out of fashion, and they will even if temporarily, they end up in charity shops and when charity shops can’t sell then they end up sent to countries like Ghana and Chile as “charity” in markets that receive thousands to millions of pieces of clothing a week. A lot of this clothing is bad quality, unsellable, and there’s way more than any locals ever need, and so it ends up in landfill with a lot more air miles to boot.

Vegan nylon clothing relies on the fossil fuel industry

An awful lot of vegan clothing, see vegan leather, is made from plastic, plastic is made from oil, and so the fashion industry (yes especially vegan fashion) is reliant on the fossil fuel industry which is very much the key contributor to the climate crisis which is harming animals and humans alike.

PETA's response to any backlash of this collection on twitter was to say basically that polyester is better than animal agriculture. First of all they didn't cite where they got this information from, so I can't fact check it, but secondly even if animal agriculture is three times worse than plastic... that still doesn't make plastic good! This statement very much reads as a kid getting caught for doing something bad and saying "but they did something worse"... yeah but yours is still bad!

Now you can also argue that, if you take H&M's word for it, the majority of nylon used in this collection is recycled, so that makes it ok? That's less reliance on fossil fuels. True but we still shouldn't be making clothes out of plastic.

Recycled Nylon still produces microfibres

Most of the nylon used in this collection is made from fabric scraps and old fishing nets, seems pretty sustainable no? According to H&M it actually has 90% less impact than creating new nylon. But the microfibres still have 100% of the same impact whether they're from recycled sources or not.

Every time you wash your clothes they shed fibres, these fibres make their way through the sewage system and out into river systems and the sea. Microplastics are everywhere: polar ice, marine mammals,  deep sea fish, drinking water, us! It's still not clear exactly what impact these microfibres have on anything biological, but there is increasing evidence that it's damaging

It's also worth noting that studies have found that more than 50% of microfibres in the ocean are actually viscose, which is a plant based fibre chemically treated and considered semi synthetic. So even if something is plant based, it doesn't necessarily mean it's planet or animal friendly.

PETA claiming to support animals whilst creating a collection made of plastic fibres does not add up. And fashion should really be moving away from making clothing from plastic, even if it is recycled. There is now more plastic clothing in stores than ever before, just take a look at some labels next time you're out.

And again, there's little point making your clothes from recycled materials when the rest of your business model is still linear (make, sell, chuck). You're not solving the problem, you're still part of it.

Lack of transparency

Despite previously claiming they're the most transparent brand in the world (they're not) H&M don't have a very good track record when it comes to the sustainability of their clothing, or their treatment of garment workers.

When you go to the product pages of these pieces, as with previous "sustainable" collections it states that these pieces are "X% recycled polyester" or "X% organic cotton" but there's no other information, no way to find out where this recycled material came from, or what makes the cotton more sustainable, you can't trace the origins of these materials. Which is not transparent enough to me.

PETA also talk a lot about being kind to animals and ending their exploitation, but there is no mention of human rights around this collection, despite it claiming to "co-exist with all other sentient beings on the planet" do other humans not count?

While yes in previous years H&M have made improvements in the transparency of their supply chains, they still have a long way to go, and being transparent doesn't make them sustainable or ethical.

In 2013 H&M made a pledge to pay all of their garment workers a living wage by 2018, they failed. In fact their workers in Bulgaria in 2018 were being paid a mere 9% of the living wage, with no workers interviewed by clean clothes campaign earning anywhere near a living wage. Many of their workers were described as working under forced labour.

 Plus in 2018 H&M were among brands named in reports detailing the abuse of female garment workers.  In 2021 there is no evidence that H&M is paying all their workers a living wage, or that they’re safe, with H&M making no commitment to extend the Bangladesh accord on building and fire safety, and continuing to produce clothing too low to support sustainable and ethical fashion. 

So they’re not that transparent, and they certainly can’t be called an ethical brand. But as long as they’re not directly exploiting animals that’s ok? According to PETa anyway…

Is this really all we could do for the "future of fashion"?

PETA are a massive organisation, they could have paired with sustainable brands doing amazing things with textiles, collaborated with indigenous designers from around the world doing cool work with plants. But no… they decided to partner with H&M. Is it just me who sees this as more about profit than the planet? 

It’s a collection of fluffy plastic pieces, slogan tees, and puffers.Is this all they could come up with for the supposed future of fashion? Uninspired much? It's really sad to see so many influencers online promoting this as some miracle sustainable and ethical collection. It is just not.

It also is laughable to me that the day of launching this collection PETA posted a tweet calling anyone who claimed to be an environmentalist whilst eating meat a hypocrite…. while partnering with a fast fashion brand. 

Let’s not shame individuals for their behaviour whilst you’re a massive organisation partnering with a corporation helping to fuel the climate crisis shall we? Also you can definitely be an environmentalist and eat meat, there are so many ways to fight for our future on this planet and trying to guilt trip individuals for their choices does not inspire action, it’s just a cheap shame tactic.

TL;DR Fast fashion is inherently unsustainable, PETA talk a lot about animal rights but do not appear to care much for human rights, and this collection is an uninspiring bunch of greenwashing. Don’t fall for it.

Bit harsh? Maybe. But I want better for the future of fashion, and this planet.

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