Sustainable Fashion: H&M laying out its sustainability credentials



Welcome to a monthly column within our broader sustainability section which is going to focus on what fashion is doing to address the issues in its industry.

H&M laying out its sustainability credentials – brought to you by Retail Insider with Clipper and Give Back Box

Fast fashion is a byword for poor sustainable practice – whether it is fuelled by consumers’ insatiable demands or by clothing companies telling people they really need a new OOTD (Outfit Of The Day) every day is probably an unanswerable question. What is clear, however, is that pretty much neither side is valuing clothes as durable goods but choosing to see them as disposable items.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has done research with truly shocking results – from 2000 to 2015 the number of times a garment is worn has decreased by 36% with a large number now worn fewer than 10 times before being disposed. Even worse, and almost incredible, is the fact that global clothing sales doubled in the same time frame from 50 billion units bought every year to 100 billion. Unsustainable in every sense.

Every part of the chain needs to do its part and this column looks at what H&M is doing, arguably more than some of its competitors, to combat the worst excesses and to tell us about it.

Pernilla Haldin, public affairs and engagement lead for climate and circular sustainability at H&M, has outlined the company’s purpose-driven approach as follows “We want to be 100% renewable, 100% fair & equal and 100% leading [on sustainability].  We need this for us to survive and be a successful company.”

On recycling it has been at least making efforts since 2013 when it began offering a garment recycling service. All H&M stores worldwide take part and customers bringing in a bag of clothes for the scheme will receive a £5 voucher to spend in-store. It is the perennial conundrum – to reward the customer for recycling unwanted clothes involves giving them money to buy yet more clothes.

Shoes made from waste pineapple leaves

But potentially more interesting is its use of sustainable materials to make the clothes in the first place. Currently around a quarter of the stock is made in this way with the aim of reaching 100% by 2030. The clothes are sold under the Conscious Exclusive brand line and this year features shoes with soles made of repurposed algae bloom called BLOOMFoam, a leather alternative derived from waste pineapple leaves and a silk type material from discarded orange peel.

It sounds amazing but even this is not a panacea however because turning anything including plant waste into new clothing is energy and resource intensive, difficult to scale and doesn’t touch the main ongoing problem of massive overproduction no matter how eco-friendly. But no-one can say H&M is not being inventive and many items in the range are sold-out, which is encouraging.

Tencel: wood pulp fibre is used to make this jacket

The Fashion Transparency Index monitors how open companies are about their sustainability and production practices. In the 2019 index H&M came fifth overall with a 61% rating with the top performing brand Adidas only three percentage points ahead of it.

And in April 2019 H&M announced it was going to put the provenance of its garments on the website and scannable garment tags for consumers to be able to view. Details such as the country of production, supplier names and even factory names and addresses along with worker numbers will all be viewable.

H&M’s head of sustainability Izak Roth noted: “We want to show the world that this is possible. By being open and transparent about where our clothes are made we hope to set the bar for our industry and encourage customers to make more sustainable choices.”

Over to the consumer now to make sure they use it. The ball is definitely in their court.

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