H&M’s latest Conscious Collection hit stores on Thursday and what a treat it is. Officially inspired by romantic Swedish folklore - though we also detect hints of Victoriana and just a whisper of Erdem Resort 2012 – we are smitten. But more lies beyond the obviously gorgeous visual aspect of the collection. It’s made from recycled wool, organic cotton and linen, hemp (but not as you know it, we assure you), and the very fancy but complicated sounding silky fabric ‘Tencel’.
So we sent eco-fashion fanatic and blogger Hannah Bullivant to meet Helena Helmersson, former buyer and H&M’s new new global head of Corporate and Social Responsibility to discuss the new collection and try to get under the surface of H&M’s ethical claims....
The Conscious collection is part of the Swedish giant H&M's masterplan to be at the forefront of sustainability on the high street. This plan includes examining the ethics at every stage of the supply chain, dealing responsibly with waste, sourcing recycled materials and making ethical clothes that people actually want to buy. Helena puts it: 'We want the customer to come into our stores and feel secure about whatever they pick, whether it is a conscious item or not, its produced in a responsible way'.
I’m curious about the drivers behind H&M’s ethical ambitions, and Helena explains that their sustainability gives them a competitive advantage, and elaborates that customers have been asking more and more questions about materials and labour practices. I find this heartening; if even the bigwigs at H&M are hearing that their customers want ethical clothes then the ethical fashion movement is clearly doing something right, *pats on the back all round*. Although I don’t doubt that they have some way to go.
There’s no denying that H&M are streaks ahead of most established high street shops on the sustainability front. But is it possible for a cheap, fast fashion retailer to be truly ethical? 'I think it’s a misconception that low price means bad quality, I don’t agree with that.' Says Helena. 'We have strict quality standards we make our suppliers adhere too… we have durable garments'. And on the subject of the ethics of manufacturing fast fashion, she says that their sheer size has enabled them to influence governments positively; 'like in Bangladesh when we wanted them to raise minimum wages for example. That is amazing I feel. Of course we can never prove that their action is because of what we did but we know we had an impact.'
When I push further about the disposability of cheap clothes and their impact on the environment, I am told about H&M’s increasing use of recycled materials in their garments and ensuring that waste is disposed of responsibly. Helena also talks about inspiring customers to look after their garments better so they last longer, using better labeling, information on their website and information at the tills. She added that they are currently designing garments that don’t need ironing, for example, which would help them to survive for longer. They are also considering following in the footsteps of Uniqlo and M&S by offering a scheme that recycles old H&M clothes
They aren’t perfect however. H&M have recently come under fire from Greenpeace for their waste disposal, but, having already banned all hazardous chemicals, they will now audit all the discharge of their suppliers - not just for H&M production - by 2020. That is also the year by which all of H&M’s cotton will come from sustainable sources.
H&M are now famous for their hugely successful designer collaborations, but-one of my bugbears - is that so far none of them have been explicitly ethical. When I asked about this, Helena assured me that her team will be pushing for an ethical designer collection (I’m personally voting for an eco Prada range, imagine…) to which we say ‘Go Helena!’
Until then, you can see the full H&M Conscious collection here and check our top five pics from the collection in the gallery below. But what do YOU think? Who does the best eco fashion? And would you like to see more ethical clothing on the high street? Let us know below!
Thank you Helena.
- Hannah Bullivant.