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Photo: Courtesy of H&M
It was over 10 years ago that H&M debuted its first capsule collection made of organic cotton. What felt like a novelty at the time has become mainstream and almost expected; if you aren’t using organic cotton, then what are you even doing? It’s a pattern H&M is hoping to repeat with its latest eco-forward materials, which debut today in its new Conscious Collection.
Ranging from startlingly high-tech to almost-DIY, the collection follows last year’s push into bio-based materials and a move way from strictly-recycled fibers. The most surprising, potentially game-changing one is Vegea, a soft vegan leather alternative made from the byproducts of wine; H&M discovered it through its own Global Change Award in 2017. You’ll find the Vegea “leather” on chain-strap handbags and a few pairs of shoes. Also rooted in nature but ostensibly less complex is a new dye made from the coffee grounds in H&M’s offices in China.
“Going forward, we need to be using more bio-based materials and use more waste in our collections,” Pascal Brun, H&M’s sustainability manager, explains. He’s still excited about recycled materials, but is focused more on “fiber to fiber” recycling, like Renu’s recycled polyester, which comes from actual garments, not plastic water bottles. Similarly, a new material called Circulose is made from recovered cotton and viscose—making it 100% natural—and is making its worldwide launch with H&M. Brun hopes it will eventually become a permanent part of the collection, not just the Conscious Exclusive capsules. “These collections are here to help enable the scale of these new innovations, and make them more commercial [to us and to other brands].”
Still, buying a dress made from recycled viscose or polyester isn’t a shortcut to “being sustainable.” Brun and Ann-Sofie Johansson, H&M’s creative advisor, agreed that the big challenge is still their garments’ end of life; recycled polyester sheds micro plastics in the wash and doesn’t biodegrade in a landfill. “In 2020 and beyond, we need to take the concept of circularity to another level,” Brun adds. “It’s the only way to think about our goals for natural resources [in the next decade]. It isn’t just about materials, though, it’s about how we can design clothes to last longer and to be eventually recycled, and how can we involve our customers to have more sustainable behavior? It’s a holistic approach.”
Johansson also name-checked H&M’s garment collection initiatives—you can take old clothes to any H&M store to be recycled or donated—and a few potential new business models in resale and rental. As far as design, she and her team are thinking about longevity and timelessness rather than trends, falling right in step with the luxury fashion conversation. “We’re talking about making clothes that are more durable and recyclable, but there has to be emotional durability, too,” she said. “If you fall in love with a garment, you take care of it and keep it for a long time. The price doesn’t matter—if you really love it, you’ll care for it, you’ll mend it, and when you don’t want it, maybe you can resell it. The emotional feeling is quite important.”
The one-shouldered recycled polyester blouse with an XXL ruffle Anna Ewers models in the lookbook certainly qualifies: It’s covetable and makes a statement, but isn’t so of-the-moment that it will feel dated. The same goes for the easy printed dresses and recycled glass jewelry. By 2030, those might not feel novel at all; H&M’s goal is that 100% of its materials will be recycled or sustainably-sourced by that time. Until then, mark your calendar for March 26th when you can get your hands on the capsule’s “wine leather” bags and recycled-poly gowns.