Monday, April 18, 2016

H&M Takes Sustainable Fashion Seriously

Hey, if you've been doing Konmari and you find yourself with bags and bags of clothes and linens that do not spark joy, you might want to consider bringing your unwanted and unloved garments, towels, old sheets and such to H&M.

Yes, that sock missing the other pair, that hole-y shirt, that 20 year old dress that nobody wants, whatever brand, whatever condition, they're all welcome.

In case you didn't know, H&M has been running a Garment Collection program worldwide, and in the Philippines, they've already collected 9.120 tons of garments as of January 2016, where for every kilo collected, H&M Philippines donates about Php1 to UNICEF.

Of course, you get something too. As part of H&M's World Recycle Week activity, from April 11-24, every bag of old garments collected brought to your favorite H&M store will entitle you to 2 vouchers (instead of the usual 1) worth 15% off each to be used for your next purchase. 

That said, it's great for the environment too. By collecting old clothing, H&M ensures less garments go to landfills. Two years ago, H&M also introduced its first new garments that used recycled textile fibers, important steps in closing the loop in fashion. 

The long-term goal is to have zero garments going to landfill, as well as saving on natural resources. By recycling just one T-shirt 2100 litres of water can be saved – imagine the impact of 1000 tons garments collected during World Recycle Week. 

Close the Loop is a central commitment of H&M’s Conscious Actions for sustainability. The aim is to create a closed loop for textiles, so that unwanted clothes can be reused and recycled to create fresh textile fibers for new products. 

I managed a quick chat with Fredrik Famm, H&M Philippines Country Manager, to talk about their sustainability efforts, and I'm sharing what I've discovered here with you.

Berry & I, with H&M Philippines Country Manager, Fredrik Famm at the #HMClosetheLoop event at Kidzania, where kids are taught how to strive for a greener world

MFO: I'm curious, what happens to the clothes collected from the garment collecting activity? Where do the clothes go? How does it work?

Fredrik: This is something that we started back in 2013. We are the first fashion retailer which has  started a global initiative for collecting unwanted garments in all our stores. We work together with a global recycling company, and they are helping us to to then recycle everything in the best possible way. 

There's obviously different stages in that process. After the garments have been collected in our stores, these are then sent to a sorting facility, and there are a few sorting facilities around the world. 

In these sorting facilities, you basically make up your mind if you can re-wear the garment as second hand clothes, or if you can re-use for some other purpose like cleaning cloth or for insulation in car seats for example. Or if that's not possible, we are now working on techniques to recycle the garment into yarn that you can use for producing new garments. So basically, to close the loop altogether.

Here's how it works:

MFO: Normally, when you think recycled or sustainable, you think of it as wearing you know, rough kind of  fabrics. For Conscious Exclusive, is that a conscious mindset as well to veer away from the look of what's "green" and "recycled". Was that a way to change the mindset? 

Julia Restoin-Roitfeld wearing a top and skirt from the Conscious Exclusive Collection for 2016
The Helena dress made out of Tencel and polyamide

The Moreau dress made out of pure, organic silk. The pants are made out of Tencel and silk.

Fredrik: I would say that in a way, yes. I think there's a perception among many of our customers that garments made out of more sustainable materials are a bit more boring, maybe not so fashionable, and we strongly disagree. We really want to show that with more sustainable materials, you can still make state-of-the art fashion garments. That's why we decided to do a red carpet collection that you can really wear for special occasions. 

This is absolutely the latest when it comes to sustainable materials. This year for example, in the collection that we recently launched, we have two brand new sustainable materials. One which we call Denimite, which is  denim that has been recycled into a very hard substance that you can use in earrings for example.

Venezia earrings made with Denimite, a material made out of worn-out denim

We also have recycled glass beads. In every year's Conscious Exclusive Collection, we try to work with the latest, more sustainable materials.
The embellishments in this Philotes dress are made from new & recycled glass beads and new & conscious rhinestones

In a way yeah, we try to show the customer that sustainability can really be fashionable.

The Lona shopper made out of recycled polyester, polyamide and metal fiber

The Luna flat made out of Tencel and organic silk, with conscious leather details

MFO: How does that impact your price points given that there's an extra effort to use sustainable and organic materials vs using cheaper materials.

Fredrik: We've been doing this now for quite a number of years, and our firm belief, and our learning is that garments made out of more sustainable materials doesn't necessarily have to be more expensive. 

We can talk separately about Conscious Exclusive, as I mentioned these are garments made for the  red carpet,  in very special materials and with the very latest in sustainable  materials. But in our stores, on an everyday basis, we have a lot of garments made from sustainable materials, for example, organic cotton, organic linen, and recycled polyester, etc. We have that in our stores, in all departments: in kids, in ladies, mens, in the teenage department. 

These garments  are for everyday use and they are priced more or less in the same level as our normal collections. So the vast majority of the more sustainable products you find at H&M are exactly at the same price points as the rest of the collections. 

MFO: How do you manage to bring down the price to a more affordable level?

Fredrik: I think it comes back to how we work: an efficient logistics chain, we are buying in large quantities, we have a very cost conscious mentality within the company.  This is obviously a system that we have been working on for many years, sourcing from the right suppliers at the right time, in the right way, you can of course offer very competitive price points.

MFO: Well, I personally can see that commitment to value as well as quality. I have clothes from H&M from 10 years ago that still look nice up to now.

Fredrik: H&M is fashion and quality at the best price in a sustainable way.  We put a lot of pride in also making garments that should be able to last, that you should be able to wear many times.

Dan Mejia: Would you believe that even the dust from the fabric grinding process during recycling are also collected and turned into new fibres, that will then be turned to garments.

Fredrik: It's amazing, if we close that loop, that is the future of fashion, and then we can be very happy and proud of what we are wearing.


Right after my interview with Fredrik, I brought Berry to check H&M's Upcycling Workshop at Kidzania, one of four stations that make up the Greener World program, designed to teach kids  how to be good stewards of Mother Nature.

At H&M's Upcycling Workshop, kids will learn about H&M's garment collection program, and get to create a bracelet made from fabric scraps. They get to earn 10 Kidzos too by donating a shirt and completing their bracelet! 

#hmclosetheloop at KidZania and the Greener World program runs until June 15, 2016. 

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