H&M, the Scandinavian retail giantTravelling around Europe, you quickly get the impression that there is an H&M almost around every corner of every city, be it small or big. The impression is right: H&M is actually the second largest global clothing retailer, just behind Inditex, Zara's parent company. It is present in 61 countries with over 3900 shops, and employs around 132,000 people.
In Scandinavia, the presence of H&M is even more evident. That is so because H&M (original name, Hennes & Mauritz) is a Swedish company and because it owns not just H&M, but additional brands COS, and & other stories, among others.
A friendly giant ? Living wages and sustainabilityWe are unfortunately familiar with tragedies in the garment industry in emerging economies. That is not good PR, and companies that were quite happy with turning a blind eye about conditions and wages among their suppliers in poor countries, started to rethink that strategy.
H&M's efforts towards "friendliness" in the form of decent working conditions really took off in 2012, after outrageous tragedies in Cambodia. Then, the company published a near-complete list of the factories that supply its garments. This transparency is laudable, as makes possible to check working conditions at their factories, something most brands do not offer.
Additionally, the company committed in 2013 to pay all textile workers a "living wage" by 2018. They have made other commitments, like implementing a garment collection scheme or aiming at more environmentally friendly products, but those strategies are still to be fully realized or their impact to be evaluated to be considered positive. It is true that there are those products, but they are only a small percentage of the total, and the company stresses above all fast and repeated consumption of cheaply made items that will not last. No recycling campaign can keep up with that.
I like to think of my blog as encouraging responsible consumption of well made garments, investments that will be enjoyed for years, so I approach H&M exclusively as a source for very specific, very carefully chosen, items.
PROs and CONs of shopping at H&M
I talked some weeks ago about H&M as fast fashion retailer and how you can get the same for less there if you keep an eye of their frequent stock updates.
- Democratic sizing. although their Plus collection is often of the lowest quality.
- Up-to-date silhouettes and colours. This is a double-edged sword: it can update your wardrobe instantly but it goes without saying, not everything will flatter you.
- Some good-fitting jackets, really well cut, but only very few are made of something other than polyester.
- Some eco-minded products.
- High fashion collaborations that result in some very special pieces. Their Balmain and Louboutin collaborations have been especially reknown, although I am afraid I have never got to see any of the items "in the flesh", as people queue in front of the shops before opening hours and all items disappear first thing in the morning... the first morning!... And I do not queue for clothes.
- A Premium collection at really good prices, well made and in lasting materials. These are the pieces I always check first.
|Mixing high and low by C. Grant. The jacket above is a great find at H&M, stunningly beautiful. It is also really well made and well finished, which is always and issue with embroidered and/or embellished items in any shop. The t-shirt, also from H&M, is made of linen, and comes in three soft colours. I have included two options for shoes: a pair of pink coral walking shoes by Ecco and a pair of khaki sandals from Clarks US. These basic pieces are affordable, so you can go now and invest in the Gucci handbag, which is a veritable work of art.|
COS Skirt / H&M Jacket / H&M Coat / Ecco Shoes / Gucci Handbag / Marni Necklace / Tom ford Lipstick in Blush Nude / Tom Ford Eye Quad in Cocoa Mirage / Tom Ford Nail Lacquer in Show Me the Pink.
- Their business model. As I mentioned above, H&M is a fast fashion emporium and does not really produce those basic pieces that are the cornerstone of any grown woman's wardrobe: a good quality black/navy tailored something. When they do (their Suiting, they are mostly 100% polyester. A young woman at an entry level position may get away with their best pieces if she takes good care of them so they look impeccable for maybe some months, but that is about it.
- It's a nightmare to find something in the shop. The overabundance of products makes it hard to locate a specific item, and that they change the location of EVERYTHING every week makes it even worse. I ask a shop assistant whenever possible and always check first on their web page.
- Client service is generally OK and sale assistants - when and if you find one - try their best to locate products, but sometimes they themselves seem to be overwhelmed by the fast pace.
- A not easy to navigate web page, with filters that are next to useless. The stock in the website is different from the one online.
- Ordering online does not include collecting in-shop, as Zara does, or returning there.
- Overabundance of low quality materials: polyester reigns in H&M, and not the recycled type.
- Jerseys have the expiration date of fresh milk, both material and dyes.
If you are on a budget, H&M is the place for you, but you will need to invest some time to get something worthwhile there. On the other hand, any good purchase you make will make you proud!
- Always check first online so you know what you are looking for. Then check with reality, as surprises go both ways (for better, for worse) with this shop.
- Choose carefully, considering quality, longevity and sustainability.
- Consider the possibility of personalizing through changing belts, buttons, etc. for a more upscale look.
Good luck hunting there!
H&M Dress / H&M Jacket / Hispanitas Handbag / Giuseppe Zanotti Lace-up Shoes / Marni Leaf pendant Necklace / YSL Lipstick in Corail Legende / Dior Nail Lacquer in Corail Divin.
The Guardian H&M: how does the fashion retailer's sustainability report stack up? 24 April 2013
The Guardian Is H&M the new home of ethical fashion?
The Huffington Post H&M’s “Conscious” Collection? Don’t Buy Into the Hype 21 June 2015
clean clothes campaign H&M's sustainability promises will not deliver a living wage 9 April 2015
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This post first appeared on The Red Lipstick: Own Your Style, on April 15 2016.