H&M Encourages Consumers to ‘Wear the Waste’ With Conscious Exclusive

H&M is redefining leftovers to try to encourage shoppers “to wear the waste.”

With the launch of its fall Conscious Exclusive collection, H&M is unveiling apparel and accessories produced in sustainable materials that were made from waste. Nearly all of the styles qualify under that criteria and are meant to show the potential that waste holds as a resource for sustainable fashion. The materials and initiatives that are new to H&M are Agraloop, Hemp Biofibre, Eastman Naia Renew, We Are SpinDye and Made of Air. Other sustainable materials that have been used by the chain and will be offered again include vegan leather Vegea. The use of these materials addresses the need to be clearer to customers about what they are, according to H&M’s head of sustainability Pascal Brun.

In an interview Tuesday, he noted that Eastman Naia Renee is 60 percent wood-based and 40 percent recycled plastics. That material — along with Made of Air, a recycled plastic made of CO2 from the atmosphere — are global launches. Made of Air is being used for sunglasses in the new collection. “One of the purposes of the Conscious Exclusive is to use it as an innovative lab to launch new materials that will be scaled at a later stage within the normal H&M assortment,” Brun said.

Shoppers will find black and green jacquard evening gowns adorned with dusty green flowers and choker necklaces and earrings made from Made of Air, a material made partially from waste biomass, and shoes made from Vegea, vegan leather that incorporates wine byproducts. Men’s wear is also back in the mix with such options as a classic men’s tuxedo, suiting, shirts and a yellow jacquard jacket. The collections features items that involved transforming food crop waste into a natural fiber in order to create sustainable materials.

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Brun declined to comment on projected sales for the new collection.

Made of Air, Agraloop and Vegea previously were winners of the H&M Foundation Global Change Award. Agraloop technology transforms low-value natural fiber including food-crop waste into new natural fibers called BioFibre. H&M does not have a stake in either company, nor does it get a percentage of either company’s sales. H&M is also using We Are SpinDye, a sustainable dyeing process, for select styles that uses less water and less energy than traditional dyeing and is CO2 efficient.

As for whether the complexity of the waste-made materials that are being used in the new collection will be lost on many consumers, who are overwhelmed with pandemic-related concerns, Brun said, “I actually think the opposite. Our customers need to get excited from different aspects. The period that we are in is very awful for many of them this [collection] brings hope that a new sort of fashion is possible. I’m pretty confident that during this pandemic, our customers are very concerned about the environment, sustainability, how things are made and where things are made. This comes at a time when people need to get a bit of hope about how things are done.”

However foreign using waste-made materials for fashion might sound, that was once the case with food waste recycling, which has become more prevalent in different countries to provide a source for composting, help those in need, reduce the release of greenhouse gases and lower cities’ expenses for trash collection.

The assortment will be available exclusively online starting Dec. 3 in the U.S. In perhaps what is a sign of things to come as more brands shift to rental options for their environmentally conscious shoppers, two H&M stores in Stockholm and Berlin will offer a rental service for six different fall pieces. Some will be available solely through the rental service and others will be offered in exclusive colorways.

Brun said, “I’m very excited about all these initiatives. I think innovation is what drives sustainability further. Every innovation that we get to scale is basically what will make the difference in the future. A textile to textile closed loop system around recycling materials is obviously a holy grail. The innovation that Made of Air has developed is really groundbreaking,” he said, referring to how the carbon negative process removes CO2 from the atmosphere for the recycled material and also weans companies’ dependency on natural resources.

The global retailer is featuring the London-based ecologist, activist and model Zinnia Kumar in the latest Conscious Exclusive campaign that touts “wear the waste.”

Given the pandemic’s seismic impact on retail across different industries, many brands have been left with an abundance of merchandise. Asked if H&M has had to destroy any excess merchandise, Brun said, “No, we didn’t. We don’t and we never do. We basically are trying to get as close as possible to what we sell, trying to quantify as much as possible. Obviously, the pandemic has affected that but we have managed our stock level in a very impressive way. We have as well, from time to time, made donations to different initiatives and organizations in the U.S., Europe and Asia for different products that were needed for different communities.”

As for how the coronavirus crisis is affecting business versus last month, Brun said, “There have been further lockdowns in different countries in the world, which has obviously affected the business. It’s still too early to compare the full amount. Obviously, there will be an impact compared to last month.“

Looking ahead to December sales, Brun was reluctant to speculate about how any further lockdowns may affect sales. Noting that some countries are expected to be coming out of lockdowns next month, he said, “We have some expectations that some European countries will go back to normal in December so let’s see. Right now we are monitoring the situation day-by-day. It’s very tough to keep track of the full picture.”

In terms of what is ahead for next year, Brun said H&M will engage with its customers and encourage them to make conscious decisions in a manner that “we have not been doing in the past. We are really going to engage our customers with the word sustainability to enable them to act sustainably, too.”

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