“We have set the goal to only use recycled or other sustainably-sourced materials by 2030, but there is a lot of technology that does not exist today that is needed to achieve that.”
The fashion industry and consumers are starting to make meaningful changes to the way they shop to help the environment, particularly millennials. A survey commissioned this year by UK-based fashion magazine Elle, found that around 60% of its readers were more likely to buy an item of clothing from a brand that valued sustainability. A total of 55% found it important or very important to know where the clothes they buy come from and that they are ethically made. And nine in ten wanted to know more about sustainability in the fashion industry. In the past, fast fashion earned a reputation for being wasteful. However, with greater consumer awareness, the industry is eyeing opportunities to reduce its carbon footprint without sacrificing the bottom line. Swedish fashion giant H&M is no exception.
Here, Liz Gyekye, senior content manager for Bio-Based World News, catches up with Mattias Bodin, sustainability business expert for materials and innovations at H&M’s Global sustainability department.
Liz Gyekye (LG): What’s the story behind H&M?
Mattias Bodin (MB): It started out in Sweden in 1947. It was founded by Erling Persson who’s grandson is now the CEO. The business idea is to offer fashion and quality at the best price in a sustainable way. The H&M brand (@hm) is the biggest one in the group of course, but we also have other brands like COS (@cosstores), Monki (@monkiworld), Weekday, & Other Stories, and H&M Home. We are also online in 47 markets. We have approximately 4,800 stores worldwide. We do fashion, clothes, cosmetics and footwear etc.
LG: How long have you been with H&M for?
MB: I have been with H&M for almost 16 years. I am a chemical engineer. I started off as a chemist at the quality department. I have been working in different roles in different countries during this time within chemicals and quality management, and managing product regulatory compliance. For the last couple of years, I have been focusing on sustainable materials and production processes.
It is a great company to make a career with and many people stay for a long time.
LG: What’s the biggest challenge in your role?
MB: We have set the goal to only use recycled or other sustainably-sourced materials by 2030 but there is a lot of technology that does not exist today that is needed to achieve that. This takes time and big investments. This is a challenge for us and the whole industry. We need to find those entrepreneurs and innovations and support them in order to take it to an industrial scale. It’s a lengthy process, and a big challenge. We will engage with others in the supply chain and invest in a lot of initiatives. There are so many great ideas around but, of course, all will not succeed.
LG: What are the big opportunities for this industry?
MB: There is a definitely a push from all sides. From a business perspective it makes sense to use resources in an efficient way. From a policy point of view, there is pressure. Customers are becoming more aware. We have an increasing population in the world. We have a growing middle class that are consuming more. We need to use resources in a more efficient way. There will be opportunities in finding those solutions.
LG: What’s the big next trend?
MB: In relation to materials, at the moment, there is a trend in using what traditionally has been considered as waste to make materials. For example, this could be a by-product from other industries to use as a feedstock to make new materials.
LG: What advice would you give to someone who wants to launch a sustainable product in this space?
MB: You need to try and find good cooperation with like-minded companies that have a similar agenda. It’s also about being brave and trying new things out. We need a lot of new ideas and materials.
LG: How have your sustainable clothes been received by your customers?
MB: It’s very well received. There’s definitely a growing awareness amongst customers to purchase sustainable products. Buying sustainably in the future will become something natural for the consumer.
LG: What is your favourite sustainable product?
MB: The whole idea of taking something that is waste and turning into an attractive product, instead of drilling for oil or cutting a tree, appeals to me. This is a great opportunity and makes a great product.You divert waste from landfill, and use less resources. This is the circular economy in action.
Mattias Bodin will be speaking at the World Bio Markets Conference, the leading assembly for the bio-based economy, in April next year in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.