The fashion industry needs to rethink the future of fashion. Clothes are and will continue to be an everyday necessity, but the fashion industry is today too dependent on virgin and non-renewable resources, in the view of the H&M Group of retail brands. That’s why it’s pushing promoting sustainability with a shift to a circular model, where materials are maximized and waste is minimized.
Case in point: H&M’s 2018 Conscious Collection of eco-friendly clothing, which features Econyl—a 100% reclaimed nylon fiber from fishnets and other nylon waste. Its ad campaign features Christy Turlington Burns, Aamito Lagum and Giedrė Dukauskaitė and arrives in stores on April 19th.
H&M was one of the first fashion brands to publish its suppliers, and it constantly monitors the working conditions of the factories where its products are being produced. The company’s annual sustainability report is how it reviews its performance against key goals, sets new goals and lays out the challenges it’s facing—and possible solutions it’s now working on.
The report is how H&M updates its customers and other stakeholders, and an important internal management tool—as well as its North Star for how it conceives and produces fashion, even as critics still hold its feet to the fire and it has contentious relations at factories in Myanmar and Bangladesh, for example.
“I don’t believe that providing fashion on a large scale and working in a sustainable way needs to be a contradiction,” Anna Gedda, H&M’s head of sustainability,” states in the company’s just-released 2017 sustainability report.
“Like many other industries, there are inherent challenges, but for truly systemic change to take place, industry-wide collaboration is essential. At H&M Group, we are positive that by working to achieve a 100% circular and renewable value chain, that treats people in a fair and equal way and makes it possible for our customers to make more sustainable choices, we can lead the way to this systemic change and provide truly sustainable fashion to all our customers around the world.”
As outlined in its new CSR report, the company is working to ensure that everyone in its supply chain has access to a fair job, treatment and opportunities. This sustainability commitment includes everything from supporting a well-functioning relationship between workers and management to the safety and wellbeing of factory workers, as well as fair living wages. Another important part of H&M group’s sustainability strategy is to identify, invest in and promote sustainable innovations necessary for transforming the fashion industry.
Change is happening through innovations
“Innovation is key to solve many of the challenges the fashion industry is facing. Especially when it comes to accelerating the shift from a linear to a circular model. But it will not be one technology, one innovation, that will do the trick; instead it will be several ideas, scientists and companies putting the puzzle together, pushing the development forward. That is why we invest in and partner with innovation companies such as re:newcell and Treetotextile,” says Cecilia Brännsten, Acting Environmental Sustainability Manager at H&M group.
Towards only recycled or other sustainably-sourced materials
“Every year we take new steps towards our bold goal to only use recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030. This significantly reduces the use of natural resources and the negative impact our business has on the climate. It’s important to use already existing sustainable materials but also test completely new fabrics. When it comes to recycled materials, they are truly a win-win since they stop waste material going to landfill and at the same time reduce the use of virgin raw material,” says Mattias Bodin, Sustainability Business Expert – Materials & Innovation at H&M group.
Tackling challenges together
“Collaboration is the best way to tackle the challenges connected to working conditions and wages within the textile industry. That is why we value the ground-breaking collaboration with 16 other global brands and trade unions within the ACT platform. Our joint goal is to establish mechanisms to support freedom of association and industry-wide collective bargaining,” says Cecilia Tiblad Berntsson, Social Sustainability Manager at H&M group.
Highlights of H&M’s 2017 Sustainability Report
• Recycled or other sustainably sourced materials made up 35% (26%) of H&M group’s total material use. The goal is to only use this kind of material in 2030.
• H&M group partnered with the innovation company re:newcell whose unique technology recycles used cotton, viscose and other cellulosic fibers into new textile fibers.
• H&M group became one of the two core investors in the innovation company Treetotextile developing a new sustainable textile fiber based on forest raw materials.
• 59% (43%) of the cotton H&M group used came from sustainable sources. The goal is to only use this kind of cotton in 2020.
• H&M Group used recycled polyester equivalent to 100 million PET bottles.
• Weekday debuted its first-ever sustainable swimwear collection made from recycled polyamide and recycled polyester.
• H&M debuted garments made from recycled shore-line waste Bionic within the annual H&M Conscious Exclusive Collection.
• H&M Group collected almost 18,000 tons of textiles through its garment collecting initiative, or the equivalent of 89 million T-shirts. 61,000 tons of textiles have been collected since 2013.
• 96% of H&M group’s electricity came from renewable sources. The goal is to become climate-positive across the entire value chain by 2040.
• New retail brand ARKET introduced a new way for customers to filter products based on country of production and material type – increasing the level of customer transparency.
• 458 supplier factories and more than 620,000 workers were reached by H&M Group’s workplace dialogue programs. This means one of the goals for 2018 was reached already in 2017.
• As part of the 2018 goal, 100% of the garment manufacturer units in Bangladesh conducted democratic election of worker representatives. In total, 2,882 persons were elected and 40% of those were women.
• 227 suppliers’ factories, covering over 375,000 workers, implemented improved wage management systems. They help to create a dialogue between management and workers on wage-related issues and ensure that wages take skills, experience and responsibility into consideration.
• H&M Group, IndustriALL and other brands within the ACT (Act on Living Wages) platform signed an MoU (memo of understanding) to support the development of industry-wide collective bargaining agreements and purchasing practices supporting a fair living wage.
• Expanding on its ongoing commitment to recycling, H&M will pilot the innovative concept Take Care, aimed at inspiring customers to prolong the lifespan of their garments through refreshing, remaking and repairing. [The pilot project kicks off this week in Hamburg, Germany.]