Fashion conscious

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FASHION shows our desires and our means to achieve them through carefully selected items. In turn it also begins to see our values and how we seek to live them. In an exhibit called Fashion Revolution at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, we are given alternatives on how to live more sustainably through the clothes that we interact in and interact with.

The exhibit, which runs until early April, is a collaboration between The Swedish Institute and various Swedish fashion brands such as H&M, Houdini, and Babybjorn. Along with that, various exhibits are found around a gallery in the second floor to reflect safer alternatives to cleaning clothing (a light pumice stone to “dry-clean” sweaters, for example), or clothes made using alternative materials, such as recycled paper.

H&M, as a global giant, is usually pilloried in the press for alleged unsustainable and unethical practices with regards to the environment and labor. However, Dan Mejia, Head of Communications and Press for H&M in the Philippines, said, “Most of it comes from a lack of information of what H&M is really doing and has been doing since 1990.”

He cites, for example, that H&M requires its partner factories (outsourcing for cheap labor is one of the controversies that H&M faces) to sign sustainability commitments before H&M works with them. He also cited recent developments in production: for example, he points to H&M’s use of organic cotton and its clothing drive. H&M has collection boxes in its stores where shoppers are encouraged to drop their discarded clothing in exchange for discount vouchers — these clothes will be processed to create new garments. The initiative has been in place since 2013. According to Mr. Mejia, the company has managed to collect 18,000 tons of clothing this way; equivalent to 89 million T-shirts.

“Our aim for 2030 is to be able to use 100% recycled material. To be able to [do] that, we need to radically increase the recycling of existing textiles,” said Mr. Mejia.

H&M’s exhibit section in Fashion Revolution includes various clothes made out of recycled materials called the Conscious Exclusive collection. The materials are made from a variety of sources, from discarded fishing nets to coastline waste. The materials have been processed to look like real, actual textiles, resulting in some flowy, stunning gowns.

Mr. Mejia also points out H&M’s continued fight for living wages in the countries where it sources its clothes. Speaking about this practices, and the required cooperation from the rest of the world, he said, “What we just need to do… get all these brands to come together and at the same time, to get the support of the governments.”

The Swedish Ambassador, Harald Fries, told BusinessWorld, “This exhibition is about a new business model for fashion, and to go away from what we call a linear model.”

The traditional linear model follows a make, use, and discard line; while the exhibit calls for a more circular model, where the discarded products can become useful again.

It’s no surprise that a country like Sweden, famously mindful of its environment, would care about the issue.

Said Mr. Fries, “Sweden has a long tradition of caring not just for yourself and your core family, but for society,” he said, pointing out the country’s welfare system. “I think there is a sense that you don’t only look at yourself… look at the whole society. Look at nature, your environment; in the whole country, in the whole world.”

Mr. Mejia, said, “As a human being, as a customer, we all have needs. We need to look good, we like to feel good; but we have to do it responsibly.” — Joseph L. Garcia