It may surprise you that 95 per cent of all textiles thrown away across the globe each year could be recycled. With this in mind, in 2013 H&M launched the world’s biggest retail garment collecting system. Since then the high-street retailer have introduced new collections which contain 20 per cent recycled cotton from their garment collecting programme. There was more exciting news from the press room yesterday as H&M have just announced an exclusive 2017 Conscious Collection using Bionic material - a recycled polyester from recovered shoreline waste.
Additionally, this week Emily O’Dowd spoke to Mattias Bodin, a Sustainability Business Expert for Materials and Innovations at H&M. He explained that the company have been very early contributors to the sustainable economy. In this interview, Mattias provides an insight into his role and his 14 years of experience with the company, along with some of the solutions that H&M have been making to improve their sustainability performance. He is just one of 200 employees looking to explore how this retail giant can improve their sustainability targets. With the ethos, affordability meets responsibility, H&M believe that “looking good should do good too.”
H&M (Hennes & Mauritz) is a Swedish multinational clothing corporation identitfied on the high-street for its fast fashion in 62 countries across the world. It is the second largest global retailer. But as more of us are becoming aware, the textile industry is the second most polluting industry in the world. This negative media attention has meant that retailers like @hm are finding solutions across the supply chain to make their businesses more environmentally friendly. Mattias informs @Bio_BasedWorld that H&M was one of the first clothing retailers to set the benchmark for sustainabe business. So in 2013 they launched a garment collecting initiative in an attempt to change some of their customers' mindsets as well as their attitude towards recycling textiles. As part of the scheme, a shopper can donate second-hand clothes to H&M in any UK store and they will receive a £5 voucher or a 15% discount in participating European shops.
H&M then sells the donated clothes onto I:CO (I Collect) a Swiss based recycling start-up who sells the garments onto second-hand or vintage markets. The clothes in poor condition are then converted for other use or upcycled into textile fibres. Like most other retailers, the company do not own any factories but work with independent suppliers instead.
What are the challenges?
Unfortunately, the amount of textile recyclers in the market to promote this activity are very few and far between. Whilst, many polyester manufacturers will now offer recycled polyester, the uptake of other recycled textiles remains small. Additionally, the textile industry is lacking essential technological advancements to convert unwanted fabrics into their natural fibres. The only method at the moment - mechanical recycling, is still costly and far from perfect. It looks highly unrealistic that clothing will become 100 per cent recyclable any time soon. Despite this, since H&M launched the initiative, 32,000 tonnes of garments have been recycled and reused amounting to the production of 100 million t-shirts. So any step, however small in this polluting industry is a step in the right direction.
H&M's brand new Conscious Exclusive range
H&M are excited to announce their new Conscious range which is hoping to change the stigma towards environmentally friendly fashion. The collection will be available in 160 stores worldwide and online from April 2017. But for the first time in the high-street fashion history, H&M have designed bold statement dresses made from recovered plastic from shorelines. The Bionic Yarn is soft and adaptable, flexible enough to make anything from jeans to cocktail dresses.
“For the design team at H&M, this year’s Conscious Exclusive is a chance to dream and create pieces that are both quirky and beautiful. It’s great to be able to show just what is possible with sustainable materials like we have done with the delicate plissé dress made of BIONIC," Pernilla Wohlfahrt, H&M’s Head of Design and Creative Director. In addition to a full collection for women and relaxed formal wear for men, the collection will for the first time include kids’ pieces, as well as a Conscious Exclusive fragrance made from organic oils.
Conscious Exclusive is the drive in H&M’s move towards a more sustainable fashion future. Across all of H&M’s product ranges, 20 per cent are now made from more sustainable materials (2015), with the aim each year to increase the share. H&M is one of the world’s biggest users of recycled polyester and one of the biggest buyers of organic cotton. The goal for cotton is that it is to be 100 per cent sustainably sourced by 2020.
The Journey of a Dress. New for the 2017 H&M Conscious Exclusive collection is the material bionic
To find out more, Mattias provides a personal account of his experience with H&M and how we can all help to improve the future of the textile industry.
Mattias Bodin will be a guest speaker at this year's Bio-Based Live conference in partnership with the University of Amsterdam. Find out how you can secure your visit and network with some of the industry's entrepreneurs and start-up businesses.
Emily O’Dowd (EOD): What first led you to your role with H&M?
Mattias Bodin (MB): Environmental issues have always interested me. I studied a chemical engineering degree at university and I hadn’t even considered working in the textile industry before. It wasn’t until a friend of mind told me that H&M were looking to fill a chemist vacancy that I conducted further research into the company and the textile industry as a whole. I came to the conclusion that there are some big environmental challenges within the industry, so I wanted to be part of finding solutions. Since then I have been with the company for 14 years working with sustainablity concerning chemicals, product safety, regulatory and the supply chain. Last year, I changed roles within the company so now I have an even broader focus on the environment.
EOD: How has H&M’s sustainability focus changed over the 14 years that you have been with the company?
MB: H&M was very early to begin working with sustainable materials, but during the last 14 years it has become a very important topic on everyone’s agenda. Consumers are more informed today the industry's efforts have increased drastically and our knowledge has improved. I believe we are in a position to be an important change-maker to really contribute and make a difference to the sustainable industry.
EOD: What do you enjoy most about your role?
MB: For me, I think H&M’s resources and their strong commitment to sustainability is very important. It not only helps our production process, but it also has the potential to make an impact in the industry as a whole. Additionally, the company’s management team have a long-term view when it comes to improving our environmental efforts. This means we are more successful when it comes to implementing longstanding solutions.
EOD: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in the industry?
MB: I think at the moment it is a combination of two things – investment and commitment. Our biggest challenge has been sourcing and testing new materials. When they need to be produced on a large scale it means that more investment is needed to develop a new material or process. As a result, this can be a barrier for the textile industry.
EOD: What advice would you give for someone starting work in the sustainable/bio-based industry?
MB: I would say that it is very difficult to do it yourself. You need to look for opportunities to work with other like-minded individuals, companies or organisations. At H&M, we even like to work with our competitors to help each other’s confidence and improve all of our positions when we are working with the supply chain.
EOD: When you say that you are collaborating with your competitors, what sort of competitors are they?
MB: In my case it would be other retailers, because we are all sharing the same challenges. Therefore, it is better if we come to new solutions together.
EOD: What single change would help develop sustainable industry further?
MB: I think that consumer understanding is key. If we can get concrete examples to show the number of possibilities of how unwanted clothes can be turned into new garments, I think this would really help consumers engage and contribute to the sustainable economy. If materials were better benchmarked to help both the consumer and the producer make informed decisions we would see even bigger changes in the industry. Recycling technologies also need to develop to enable a circular economy.
EOD: Where do you hope to see H&M in 5 years’ time?
MB: We are already in a position to be change-makers in this industry, so I would like us to continue leading this change. Additionally, I would like to see us using more recycled and sustainably sourced materials in our manufacturing processes. Bio-synthetics are also developing, so I hope that these will become a natural component for all retailers to use in the textile industry.
EOD: How successful has the garment clothing collection been?
MB: Since launching this initiative a couple of years ago, many fabrics have become new products that we now sell in store. We are however still in the process of improving our technology because there is a lot of potential here. It would be a real success if we could upcycle as much of the fabric as possible. We appear to be only one of the retail companies actively pushing this so we hope this will eventually work in our favour. After all, it has the potential to benefit the consumer, the sustainable supply chain and ultimately the environment.
EOD: Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to Bio-Based World News today Mattias; we wish you success with the new launch of H&M's Conscious range!
To find out about other retailer's sustainable solutions, you might be interested in: