For H&M‘s new Conscious Exclusive collection, the Swedish brand has created a stunning new rosy pink, ruffled, and pleated gown made from recycled plastic bottles. In fact, the dress is made of approximately 89 plastic bottles. Yes, the same types of water or soda bottles you might spot on your desk right now, in your fridge, and in any deli in New York City.
It’s an understatement to say that H&M is hoping to shake up the sustainable fashion game with this new collection.
The gown is made from a revolutionary new sustainable material that H&M has developed called Bionic. It is created with recycled polyester from plastic shoreline waste off the coast of Hainan, China, where H&M’s suppliers are situated.
The dress is just one of several new stylish and sustainable offerings from H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection. For this year, the human senses served as the biggest inspiration. To be able to connect our senses, whether it’s our sense of touch, hearing, or smell — all of these elements played a pivotal part in the collection.
When Yahoo Style spoke to Anne-Sofie Johansson, H&M’s creative adviser, she showed us the “human senses” component firsthand by literally shaking the earrings on her ears, which proceeded to click and clack against one another. At the time, she was wearing a pair of the new baby blue ornamental earrings made of recycled plastic.
To complement the baby blue, Johansson wore a jacket from the new line — a stunning floral mixed velvet embroidered baby blue jacket made of organic cotton and recycled polyester. The tactility of the jacket’s ornamentations reflected the collection’s core focus on the senses.
However, Johansson notes that both dreams and surrealism were also influential during the design process. She explains, “We talked a lot about dreams … dreaming and a little bit of a surrealistic feeling to it, but I think you can see that a little bit by the distorted flowers, beautiful flowers — but still distorted, and the inspiration comes from the artist Gerhard Richter.”
Richter’s influence can be seen in H&M’s new Mulberry dress, which is made of organic linen and silk. Its façade displays white lilies as if they’re being brushed away — playing off of the distortion and surrealistic aspects that Johansson touched upon. It also appears in the organic silk asymmetrical skirt featuring blurred colored lines, which were often seen in Richter’s most prominent artwork.
Looking back to artists like Richter was a main focal point. Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, whose artful sketches of the female body gained tremendous notoriety in the early 1900s, became another point of influence for the collection. As seen on this peach-colored organic silk blouse, the thinly traced female silhouette appears a bit surrealistic from afar as well.
And for the first time, H&M is expanding the collection to include men’s and kids’ clothing as well as beauty. Now men can shop for black-tie-style suiting with a conscious mindset. As for your kids? You will find adorable feminine dresses in vibrant shades of pastel yellow and pink for the girls; a Brit-style pinstriped shirt, four-button blazer, and skinny trousers for your little hipster boy in the making.
On the beauty end, H&M is launching a series of unisex organic fragrant oils in scents like peony, rose, sweet orange, and lemongrass. The perfumes were inspired by Paris’s most revered perfumers such as Frederic Malle and Jean-Claude Ellena.
H&M continues to push the boundaries of what sustainable fashion can be, look, and feel like. However, it didn’t used to be this way. Johansson explains that one of the first times H&M forayed into sustainability was in an experimental collection during the 1990s when the trend surrounding “unbleached linen, beige things, you know” was at its peak.
H&M “started a collection that we called Nature Calling. We thought it was a clever name,” Johansson says, laughing. It wasn’t until H&M collaborated with Stella McCartney, who is a big proponent of sustainability and ethical practices, that the Swedish company began to look at sustainability more intensely.
“She [Stella] herself believes so strongly in it. And when a high-end brand like Stella McCartney [is] working with it, we thought of course, we had to do something also. You know, to contribute. And after that, it was kind of a snowball effect,” says Johansson.
No longer does green fashion need to be relegated to dull colors or scratchy fabrics, but in fact — the very opposite. Beautiful, wearable clothing that is on-trend and stylish, yet completely sustainable, can be a reality. Of course, there are complications, and there is still a long road ahead.
Implementing materials in H&M collections such as recycled polyester and Bionic in addition to developing new recyclable fabrics is one thing, but how do you take it one step further?
By 2020, the global Swedish brand hopes to have 100 percent of its cotton be sustainably sourced. As for its long-term goal? To be 100 percent circular. Which is essentially done “by including only recycled or other sustainably sourced materials in our [H&M] production … we [at H&M] will exhibit a circular approach to how products are made and used,” stated Anna Gedda, head of sustainability. It is a lofty, ambitious goal, but as a company worth billions, H&M has the size and scale to effectively create immense change.
You might say, but H&M is a fast-fashion company. How can it be sustainable?
Well yes. Johansson says, “We are a fashion company. We can react fast to trends, of course. But we also do these kinds of things [like Conscious Exclusive] that take over a year to actually develop. We want to be the best alternative. If you buy something at H&M, you should know that it is produced with care for people and for the planet also. And that is what we are aiming for. And sustainable fashion should be for everyone. To make it more accessible and affordable for everyone. And I think when it comes to size, it is a good thing you know. We can really make a change because we are so big.”
And that’s exactly what H&M is using to its advantage. Cecila Brännsten, H&M’s environmental sustainability business expert, explains that by being one of the biggest buyers for organic cotton and polyester, the company is able to put the pressure on suppliers to offer more sustainable materials. Perhaps it can even open the field up to smaller businesses who wish to use sustainable materials but who don’t have as large of a voice as H&M to influence the supply market and implement major creative changes.
“We can make a big impact. And I think we can inspire other companies to work in a sustainable way, and we also do a lot of collaborations. … To be able to share knowledge. To be able to work together with other actors in the fashion business. I think that is the way to go. I believe in collaboration so much for the future also — on all levels, to be honest. So that is how we see it. And moving into the circular economy,” says Johansson.
Brännsten adds, “We have a very important role to play. We believe we can lead the change within the industry and put this demand [forward].”
H&M already offers its customers the option to donate their worn clothing. But now H&M is taking it a step further by directly investing in programs like Worn Again to develop new “chemical recycling technology” to change how sustainable materials are produced and reduce overall textile waste.
H&M has also launched its Global Change Award, which is in its second inaugural year. It is an international award in which H&M offers 1 million euros to be split among five winners. “It’s a competition about early stage innovation, constructive innovation, circular materials, circular processes, and circular business models — so it’s very exciting,” says Brännsten.
Will H&M succeed in achieving its sustainability goals? Only time will tell. However, in the meantime, you can learn more about H&M’s sustainable practices and initiatives and keep track of its progress on sustainability.hm.com.
The H&M Conscious Exclusive collection will be available in over 160 H&M stores worldwide and online at hm.com on April 20, 2017.
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