Thursday, to much fanfare, M&S launched shwopping.
M&S were concerned at the billion items of clothing that go to landfill every year. They wished to do something about it, bring your unwanted clothes to M&S and M&S will recycle the clothes.
A dumb video featuring Joanna Lumley emptying her wardrobe and taking her unwanted clothes to M&S to be recycled.
The CEO of M&S was asked could people bring their unwanted clothes to M&S and not buy anything. The fraction of a second hesitation, before he answered yes, said it all.
The day after the launch. I checked out shwopping.
A big poster in the window of M&S, very much in your face as you walked into and around the store, even the staff wore badges encouraging you to shwop. You could not miss that shwopping was the next big thing, the future of fashion, as M&S claim.
The store was not, as I expected to find, awash with unwanted clothes.
I asked a very helpful lady, had they been inundated with unwanted clothes all day.
No, she replied, she did not think any clothes had come in.
She pointed to a small box where people were to dump their unwanted clothes.
Could we please have a look inside, I asked.
We looked and found a couple of carrier bags of what we assumed to be clothes.
Is, this it, I asked.
Looks like it, she replied.
She then explained how the scam, oops sorry, scheme worked.
People were to go through their wardrobe, find all what they did not wear and bring it into M&S so it could be worn by someone else.
So far, so good, but not quite the stopping unwanted clothes going to landfill as the clothes were not going anywhere, the clothes were sitting in a wardrobe.
She then went on to explain that whilst in M&S you could buy new clothes, and that there was an incentive to do so as you could enter a prize draw and win £100 of M&S vouchers.
The helpful lady then handed me a leaflet, a step by step guide to shwopping:
Come in store for those new season’s ‘must have’ and bring an old item of clothing with you.
And there you have it, this is not a green initiative, this is about shopping, buying those ‘must have’ fashion items, consumerism writ large.
The very name says it all shwopping not shwapping. The emphasis is on shopping not swapping.
Deborah Orr could not have put it better in an article in The Guardian:
One is tempted to suggest M&S would achieve its aims better if it discouraged feckless clothes-buying, by specialising in more expensive investment items, made in Britain, like it used to. Or refrained from selling so much of its food in plastic packaging.
But all retailers want consumers to keep consuming. If they can market the idea that it’s green to do so, they will. And “Shwopping”? It’s an ugly word for a mildly dubious enterprise. I don’t suppose there’s much harm in it. But I can’t help feeling it’s not good enough for such enthusiastic endorsement from Lumley.
Some apologists say it closes the loop. No it does not, as you are going out and buying new clothes.
Shwapping, closing the loop, would be to buy from charity shops, donate to charity shops.
M&S are to be complimented on a very slick marketing campaign, ease the conscience, whilst carry on shopping.
This is a bit like airlines who offer to plant a few trees to offset the carbon of the flight. Only it does not.
The carbon of the flight is emitted over a period of a few hours. The tree absorbs the carbon over seventy years for a fast growing tree, a few centuries for a slow growing oak. And this ignores who looks after the trees, who safeguards the trees.
Fast fashion is a very dirty industry. Growing of and processing cotton (unless organic) is highly polluting. Irrigating cotton leaves the land coated in salt, the hazardous chemical sprays pollute the land and water supplies, processing of cotton, the bleaching and dying, more hazardous chemicals. Then the cotton goes into the sweatshops to be turned into the clothes we wear.
Anything that closes the loop, that uses natural materials, is to be welcome. But that is not what M&S is doing.
Slow fashion: Clothes that are well designed, clothes that look stylish, clothes that we value, that we launder and repair, clothes that can easily be recycled.
Fast fashion: Cheap clothes (though at a cost to people and planet), clothes we throw away, that cannot be easily recycled and end up in landfill.
Slow fashion will come from a small designer, we can ask where the clothes come from, how they were made, the materials used.
The CEO of M&S claimed they were buying British.
Thursday evening In Business on BBC Radio 4 looked at what was left of the textile industry in Lancashire. One of the mills had M&S pull the plug and they collapsed overnight.
The CEO of M&S claimed they were the No 1 High Street retailer on the environment, way ahead of other High Street retailers.
Really, thought I, is that why you import King Edward potatoes from Israel?
What of Lush, thought I.
Next visit was to Lush. I told them of shwopping and the claim from M&S No 1 on the environment.
To say they were incredulous would be an understatement.
Why do you not shout about your environmental credentials I asked.
We do not need to all the staff chorused, all you have to do is look around our shop and you can see with your own eyes.
They were right.
We then had a long discussion on environmental matters and I signed their petition calling for a ban on animal testing of products.
How many products in M&S are tested on animals?
It is not what M&S say they are doing, but what they are doing that matters.
I picked up from M&S a prawn and avocado sandwich. It was inside a paper bag with a plastic window. The paper bag was lined with plastic. Virtually impossible to recycle. When I opened up my bag, I Found my sandwich to be inside a plastic tray!
The only positive thing about the M&S cynical greenwash exercise, is that it has highlighted the amount of clothes that go to landfill. But you do not solve this by emptying your wardrobe and restocking it from M&S.
You solve it by adopting slow fashion. Slow fashion is the fashion of the future simply because it is the only fashion that is sustainable.
Will M&S be advising to buy quality clothes, to not buy so many clothes, to look after our clothes, to recycle our unwanted clothes to extend their useful life?
I somehow think not.
- M&S cynical exercise in greenwash
- Lush Cosmetics – Our Environmental Policy
- ‘Shwopping’? An ugly word for a dubious enterprise
- Do we recycle enough of our clothes?
- Disposable clothes
- M&S launches ‘shwopping’ scheme
- Joanna Lumley joins M&S to launch shwopping
- Joanna Lumley launches Marks & Spencer’s Shwopping campaign