Sustainability Climate Change

Billie Eilish says her new clothing line is sustainable — but what does that mean?

Billie Eilish’s style is just as unique as her real name — which is, incredibly, Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell. 

She says she dresses “really different from a lot of people” in part because she wants her signature baggy clothes to ward off commentary about her body and sexuality. At the same time, Eilish is a committed vegan and environmentalist who bans plastic straws and single-use plastic bottles at her concert venues.  

It should come as no surprise that her new line of clothing for H&M combines androgynous fashion with sustainability. Her collection, which debuted last week, includes oversized t-shirts are made of sustainable fabrics.

H&M has been touting sustainable textiles for years, and it hopes that Eilish’s star power will bring more attention to their policies, created in part to counter criticism that the global retail giant, like other Fast Fashion companies, are dumping cheap, disposable clothing throughout the world. 

Many eager consumers may not realize that most of these cheap jeans, sweaters and dresses are made of polyester, a man-made fabric created with a polymer derived from petroleum. The textile industry is already one of the biggest polluters on the planet, dumping more than a billion tons of CO2 equivalent in the atmosphere every year — or about 5 percent of the world’s total man-made greenhouse gases.

Worse still, it’s estimated that 60 percent of polyester clothing is trashed within a year of manufacturing and is then incinerated or heaped into landfills. Less than 1 percent is recycled into new garments.

Eilish’s branded clothing will presumably adhere to H&M’s sustainable guidelines, which call for petroleum-based polyesters to be recycled. Most of the recycled fabric is derived from trashed polyester clothing, but one popular man-made fabric known as polyamide is actually recycled from old fishing nets and carpets.

So, will you be able to wear one of Eilish’s $34.99 oversized hoodies secure in the knowledge that it’s 100 percent recycled? Not quite. H&M is admirably transparent about the fact that not all of the sustainable fabric it orders actually makes it to their shelves intact. Over the long journey of international shipping and manufacture, recycled fabric is inevitably mixed with other textiles. 

But the fashion company says that it is like producing electricity from solar panels and adding it to the grid — the sustainable energy may not be responsible for lighting a single, individual lightbulb, but it is helping to improve the overall equation. 

If more companies — and celebrity fashion lines — insisted on sustainable fabrics, the number of recycled textiles circling the planet could increase. And that would benefit not just consumers and retailers, but the planet as a whole.