Tag Archives: h&m

Spring in Full Swing

It’s going to be a really busy week here at Closettour.

“Where, at Closettour?” You might ask, and you would not be wrong, since the office travels where I do, whether the San Juan Mountains, San Clemente or Sweden. But for the moment, when I’m not wondering what to wear from my closet in Williamsburg, I’ll most likely be here: the newly minted Center for Journalistic Innovation at CUNY.

This is where a few of us working with grants from Jeff Jarvis Entrepreneurial Journalism class will be working. As you can see, it’s still a place in progress (more computers to come), and I’ve been told I’ll be responsible for the layout, as the aesthetically inclined chick in this incubator.

File:Pink peeps.jpg

This is a very different role from my one at Edun, where I simply packed boxes and got out of the way when we moved our offices from SoHo to Tribeca. But here, it’s a wholly different crowd of co-workers. For the last several months, I’ve worked back-to-back with Joe Filippazzo and Tom Clark, who founded Knotebooks, an open-source site for physics lessons.

Yesterday Tom asked me whether I felt pressure to always dress the part of a person covering fashion. And yet, I could have asked him the very same question–see his tee-shirt below, which reads, “No, I will not fix your computer.” Incidentally, that was what I had just asked him to do. Who’s dressing the part now?

Actually we both are.

I happened to be wearing this little Loomstate vest, a favorite layering piece this time of year. On the subway a few days ago, I ran into Berrin Noorata, who I used to share that SoHo office with when Loomstate, Rogan and Edun were all under one roof. Berrin organizes the brand’s parties, and she told me not to miss the one to celebrate Earth Day tomorrow night. I will not, and you shouldn’t either. They even have a school bus for downtowners.

And speaking of Earth Day, it will be interesting to see what comes of the CEO Water Mandate Meeting, also happening this week, over at the United Nations. Henrik Lampa, H&M’s Environmental Supply Chain Manager, who I met in Stockholm, told me one of H&M’s main issues when it comes to water conservation is denim washing, and he’ll be looking at how the clever application of chemistry might reduce the water footprint of a pair of jeans. H&M has had their fair share of environmental missteps over the last few months, but there’s no denying that they apply some serious manpower (and money) to investigating how the fashion industry might leave a lighter footprint on the planet.

jeans H&M Shop Online

It’s a complicated relationship, and one I’ll explore further on a site I’m developing about sustainable style, based on material from Sweden. So, that’s what I’m working on between the lines of the blog here, and I’m looking forward to sharing more of it soon. Assuming I sustain until the end of the week, I’ll be styling pre-loved prom dresses for their new owners on Saturday morning–email operationfairydustnyc@yahoo.com if you’re interested in joining me–or you can always find me right here, wondering what to wear.

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Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: Workers’ Rights 99 Years Later

Yesterday marked 99 years since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory burned on New York’s Lower East Side, killing 146 of its 500 workers, who were locked inside the building.The fire, and the campaign and reform for garment workers’ rights to follow, is well chronicled in Cornell’s Triangle Factory Fire online exhibit, where you can find photos, letters and original articles from 1911. It’s well worth a look, especially since nearly 100 years later, garment workers around the world still have to fight for a living wage, the right to organize and even their basic safety.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Photographer Unknown

Earlier this year, 21 workers were trapped and killed in Bangladesh when a fire swept through the Garib & Garib Sweater Factory, which made clothing for companies like H&M. The factory had been audited just months before, but clearly key safety issues had been missed. (Ken Silverstein touched upon the issue of ineffective audits in his Harper’s piece “Shopping for Sweat,” which I linked to in January.)

This past Tuesday, in Stockholm, I met Malin Eriksson, who coordinates the Clean Clothes Campaign, a worldwide network committed to improving working conditions in clothing factories. She talked about how a well organized workforce could essentially serve as an in-house audit team on a daily basis. But that barely seems realistic when most of these workers have no job security and can’t afford to jeopardize their income by protesting unfair conditions. (Another CCC representative estimated that in countries where the organization is active, less than 5% of the garment workforce is unionized.)

When I asked Malin about Nicholas Kristof’s argument that abominable work conditions in a factory are better than no work at all, she explained that’s why the CCC’s urgent actions, which directly implement workers’ wishes usually involve letter-writing campaigns, rather than boycotts of the garments they produce.

In the case of the Garib & Garib fire, CCC has organized campaigns to demand medical care for injured workers, compensation for deceased workers’ families, a criminal investigation of the fire (CCC claims it wasn’t only preventable, it was predictable) and the direct support of these demands from brands doing business with the factory.

H&M Corporate Social Responsibility Manager Ingrid Schullström announced today that the company would donate 1 million Swedish Krona (about US $135,000) for preventative safety measures at factories in Bangladesh, and that they are waiting for reports commissioned from Save the Children and Incidin Bangladesh before deciding on further reparations for bereaved families.

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Heavy Metal: H&M Strikes Again

It’s the third strike this month against H&M: first there was the disposable clothing incident, then the not-so-organic cotton, and now a settlement over unlawful levels of lead in their handbags. 

From the Center for Environmental Health

A federal law that went into effect last year requires that materials in products for children contain no more than 300 parts per million (ppm) of lead. But there is no federal standard for lead in purses. Under the CEH agreements, purses sold in California from all of the companies will ultimately be made with materials that contain no more 300 ppm of lead, with an even stricter standard for some materials.

Last year, CEH found purses and one wallet from the four companies that, according to independent lab tests, contained between 13 times and more than 115 times the 300 ppm standard reached in the settlement. Testing on a small sample of other purses also showed that weathering can dramatically increase the amount of lead that wipes off of them, suggesting that lead in purses can become an even greater hazard as the purses age.

Lead is listed by the EPA and other federal and state agencies as a cancer-causing chemical, and lead exposure has been linked to higher rates of infertility in women, an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure, among other health problems. Scientists are increasingly concerned that there is no safe level of lead exposure, especially for pregnant women and young children.

Those bags might not come so cheap after all.

A few of the other brands with high lead levels included on CEH’s list include: American Eagle, Charlotte Russe, Billabong, Bloomingdale’s, Diesel USA, Volcom, Coldwater Creek, Forever 21, Kate Spade, Saks & Company, and Tory Burch.

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But is it Kosher?

Last night, when I saw the news about the alleged presence of genetically modified cotton in 30% of H&M’s tested “organic” garments, I had some questions about genetically modified crops. I emailed my former professor, the food writer Fred Kaufman. 

I was thinking of “The Nucleotidal Wave,” a piece he wrote about visiting the UC Davis Plant Transformation Facility, where  he watched scientists shoot DNA at fruits and vegetables with a gun he described as a cross between a “1950s gas pump and a mini fridge.”

I assumed Fred would invoke some nucleotidal knowledge, but he actually sent me to “The Secret Ingredient,” a different, but no less entertaining, story he wrote for Harper’s about the kosher certification process, suggesting the kosher model might be applicable to GM cotton. I downloaded it from the sidebar of his website, and laughed out loud several times as I was reading it, but in the end I was a little troubled.


It seemed to me that the kosher certification process turned out to be a highly marketable myth based on little more than, well, faith.

Then this morning I read Julie Roads‘ comment on my original post on the topic:

…and I also think that, like most things, organic was very special at first, but it’s become so mainstream that people are now using it as a buzzword – obviously – to sell. They’re selling organic out which basically sucks.

Same thing is happening with food. The flimsy rules around what can be labeled ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ or ‘all-natural’ will make your head feel like cauliflower. And that’s just not pretty.

In the end, what do we get? The destruction of trust and, sadly, we end up not caring as much about ‘going organic’ anymore – because we have no faith in what it stands for.

So while I’m not entirely sure if this is what Fred meant when he sent me to “The Secret Ingredient,” I think both he and Julie are right: a lot of this is about faith. 

We can’t go around testing our organic cotton clothing any more than we can taste whether our non-GMO grapes have been spliced with jellyfish DNA, or know for certain that our kosher Oreos are indeed kosher. Honestly, I still can’t quite figure out exactly what that means, much less what it’s worth.

But, as Julie wrote, it would be a shame for the manufacturers to sell out “organic” without even giving customers the chance to believe in it.

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H&M Busted Again

I got this dress at H&M a couple of summers ago. It’s got a little inverted pleat in the front, a nice wide hem at the bottom, a woven pocket on the chest, and it’s made of the blackest black knit cotton–the tag says it’s organic. But after the news that a German lab found genetically-modified cotton in 30% of the garments H&M labeled as organic, one has to wonder whether it’s quite so black and white.


I was wearing it one sweltering day at Ellen, a great little vintage shop on the Lower East Side, when the owner complimented me on it, and, as any curious clothier might do, asked where I acquired it.

“H&M,” I said. “It’s part of their organic line,” I added, attempting to justify my guilty foray into fast fashion.

Ellen is the type to smoke incessantly in her store, fawn over you if she likes what you’re wearing, and say something like this if she doesn’t:

“Oh, I am so f—ing sick of that shit.”

Oh! My friend and I were done browsing and struggling to stifle our giggles, so we left without pursuing the conversation. But it seems Ellen was onto something. That day I assumed (never wise) she was sick of would-be customers like me patting myself on the back for my “responsible” choice–vintage might have been better. But maybe it was a witchy ESP of something rotten in…Sweden, although the news broke in Deutschland.

But what exactly was rotten? 

Well, according to the federal regulation of the National Organic Program, to which cotton is subject:

A variety of methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are not considered compatible with organic production. Such methods include cell fusion, microencapsulation and macroencapsulation, and recombinant DNA technology (including gene deletion, gene doubling, introducing a foreign gene, and changing the positions of genes when achieved by recombinant DNA technology).

Which is to say, if it’s genetically modified (ie: injected with a gene to make it resistant against herbicides or bugs), it ain’t organic.

According to the Organic & Non-GMO Report‘s interview with Terry Pepper, an organic cotton farmer in Texas, contamination can occur fairly easily if organic cotton is processed at the same gins that work with genetically-modified cotton. (Sounds like the disclaimers about peanut in M&M factories, no?) Pepper made a distinction between GMO free and non-GMO, telling the Report that, “GMO-free is not possible, but we can maintain non-GMO with some work.” 

If Terry Pepper in Texas can maintain non-GMO, it seems H&M should be able to do better than 30% for a line they label organic. But who’s at fault when a Swedish company that manufactures clothing from supposedly organic Indian cotton in a factory god-knows-where (not checked the latest labels in the organic collection) to be sold in 35 different countries mislabels their goods?What link in the supply chain should be required to test and prove the cotton is indeed organic, and by whose standards?

And why are everyone’s conventional cotton panties in a bunch over the alleged fraud? Is it because we’ve been lied to? Paid more for an item that might not be all it claimed to be? Just like to see big chains like H&M get busted? Or, are we, as Ellen said, just sick of this shit?

And here I thought it was just a little black dress.

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Disposable Clothing?

This story from Tuesday’s Times about H&M throwing away unsold clothing brings new meaning to the term “throwaway fashion.” What a terrible waste. Kudos to Cynthia Magnus, a CUNY graduate student for reporting it to the newspaper when H&M ignored her queries.

image from Stylefrizz.com

From the story:

During her walks down 35th Street, Ms. Magnus said, it is more common to find destroyed clothing in the H & M trash. On Dec. 7, during an early cold snap, she said, she saw about 20 bags filled with H & M clothing that had been cut up.

“Gloves with the fingers cut off,” Ms. Magnus said, reciting the inventory of ruined items. “Warm socks. Cute patent leather Mary Jane school shoes, maybe for fourth graders, with the instep cut up with a scissor. Men’s jackets, slashed across the body and the arms. The puffy fiber fill was coming out in big white cotton balls.” The jackets were tagged $59, $79 and $129.

This week, a manager in the H & M store on 34th Street said inquiries about its disposal practices had to be made to its United States headquarters. However, various officials did not respond to 10 inquiries made Tuesday by phone and e-mail.

Directly around the corner from H & M is a big collection point for New York Cares, which conducts an annual coat drive.

“We’d be glad to take unworn coats, and companies often send them to us,” said Colleen Farrell, a spokeswoman for New York Cares.

In an update posted the following day, both H&M and Wal-Mart pledged they would donate unsold clothing, rather than cutting up clothing and throwing it away. Now that’s citizen journalism.

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Vacation Reading

You might have noticed that I took a break from blogging after my stint in California over the holidays. I needed to unwind a bit, so I spent about a week on “staycation” here in New York, engaged in two of my favorite winter sports: reading and knitting. Today I’ll tell you about the reading.

I started a few books I picked up on the third floor of the Mid-Manhattan Public Library (pictured above), but I found this Harper’s article, “Shopping for Sweat” by Ken Silverstein, particularly interesting. It’s only available to subscribers on the site, but the January 2010 issue, where it appears, is still on the stands.

In the story, Silverstein illustrates that despite Cambodia’s growing garment industry and reputation as a “sweat-free” clothing producer (thanks in part to a 1999 bilateral trade agreement that favored Cambodian garments for import into the U.S. provided factories met international standards), the country’s factory workers are still sweating for about 33 cents per hour.

The writer attacked Nicholas Kristof’s assertion that sweatshops provide an escape from poverty, or at least an alternative to scaling a garbage dump, comparing Kristof to those who defended child labor in America in the early 1900s. Interesting, and great to see two serious thinkers engaged in this conversation. (And fun, when Silverstein describes Kristof’s “trademark tone of a den mother addressing a troop of Brownies,” and footnotes that the columnist regularly earns approximately $30,000 per hour to publicly address global poverty.)

The point most seem to agree on is that it doesn’t really matter what governments or NGOs do to improve factory conditions–as long as clothing companies demand garments at a certain price, factories will find a way to deliver, especially in this economy. And that’s likely to get worse as the American demand for cheap goods rises in the recession. Silverstein cited the same New York Times story about Chinese production that I did a few months back, where  the head of trade at a southern China-based jeans factory said that American buyers “offer $2.85 per pair of jeans for a package of a dozen, when the reasonable price is $7.”

So how can consumers who don’t like the idea of cheap clothing at some greater human cost start to tell brands (Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, and H&M all appear in the piece) they might pay more for a tee-shirt made by a fairly-paid worker? Boycott? Write letters? Support pricier products? I’m not sure. I’m still working on this, as I wonder what to wear.

I also read Vogue.

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