H&M Goes Organic for Spring. Too Little Too Late?

Last Updated Jan 14, 2010 2:47 PM EST

H&M was once the undisputed darling of high fashion for masses of cost-conscious fashionistas. Trendy threads birthed by in-house talent and designer collabs with the likes of Jimmy Choo, Sonya Rykiel, and Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld carried the Swedish retailer handily through the beginning of the '09 holiday season with a sales increase of around 11 percent during the first two weeks of December compared to the same period in 2008.

For their next act, they'll release "The Garden Collection," a whimsical line loaded with flowery frocks, drapey tops and ruffled hot pants on March 29. Apparently there seems to be no end to the demand for boho chic.

But get this -- it's all green (as in eco-friendly, not monochromatic). The company says all these fetching garments have been produced using organic cotton and linen, sustainable Tencel, and polyester from recycled PET bottles or textile waste.

Which begs the question, why then did one of their stores trash so many potentially useful items?

I'm referring to last week's imbroglio, when, in a New York minute, a rather ugly skeleton in H&M's closet was revealed. A student, walking along 35th Street in Manhattan discovered bags of slashed clothing, piles of hangers, and damaged shoes (or was it the Choos?!) kicked to the curb, awaiting trash pick-up. The New York Times broke the story and the blogosphere went wild.

The brand's Facebook page is peppered with vitriol and disparaging Twitter comments are still rolling in.

H&M responded with a wall post on Facebook and offered disgruntled consumers a quasi-apologetic statement in Fashion Week Daily claiming their policy is to donate unsold items to charity, unless they are damaged. They claim it will not happen again.

With over 1,700 stores in 33 countries, it's surprising this hasn't happened more often. Despite anecdotal evidence (ie: my own shopping experience) that their sales people are often unaware of what is exactly in the store and somewhat reluctant to help find items, they've built up a strong global brand. This latest attempt at bringing eco-consciousness to what is basically a disposable commodity is laudable.

This morning, they've reached out to Haitian earthquake victims, tweeting, "H&M has donated 100,000 USD for relief aid to Haiti through UNICEF. Visit www.unicef.org to contribute."

Is it enough to save them from the misstep of the 34th Street store?

All I can say is: H&M you are lucky that trends are transitory and those who follow them are fickle.