It’s a crisp winter’s day in Berlin. But off the windy cobblestone streets and inside the Charlottenburg showroom where H&M is launching its Conscious Exclusive 2019 collection, it’s summertime. The display racks are filled with floaty bohemian dresses, gem-encrusted jewellery and on-trend tortoiseshell sunglasses. Wearing a light organic linen suit and animal-print slides, H&M creative advisor Ann-Sofie Johansson introduces the range, “This is the ninth edition of H&M’s conscious collection and we really wanted to raise the awareness of sustainability. The best way to do that is with really beautiful fashion.”
The vision for the Swedish brand’s latest offering was sparked two years ago at the Venice Biennale in Italy, where the theme was humanity and community. “A lot of the artists at the Biennale were celebrating the glory of the Earth and the magic of nature,” explains Johansson. “From there we started working with prints inspired by insects, plants and crystals – keeping in mind nature’s healing powers.”
Designer Ella Soccorsi looked to the planet for inspiration and material, using new textiles including Piñatex (a natural leather alternative made from pineapple leaves), Orange Fiber fabric (which is made from citrus peel from juice production) and Bloom foam (a flexible foam made from algae). Finding ethical material to work with is a full-time job; and more than 30 people work in H&M’s global sustainability department. Cecilia Strömblad Brännsten, the group head of environmental sustainability, sees sustainability as a collective responsibility. “[It] is part of everyone’s work,” she says. “It’s in the business idea and brand; fashion equality at the best price.”
Founded in 1947 by Erling Persson, the iconic brand has always tried to take an ethical approach to fashion. “Erling used to say that he wanted to sleep well at night, knowing that we had done the right thing,” explains Strömblad Brännsten, who has continued that mission during her 15-year career at H&M. “We know that by 2030, there will be 8.5 billion people on this planet, and they will all wear clothes. But if we continue to use resources as we do today, we will need two planets by 2030. That’s one planet too many, right?”
Right! To combat the enormous waste problem, H&M launched a garment-collection initiative in 2013 and has collected more than 57,000 tonnes of unwanted clothing since then for reuse and recycling. Today, 57 per cent of the material they use is from a sustainable resource. And by 2040, H&M aims to have a climate positive value chain.
This year’s Conscious Exclusive collection is the jewel in H&M’s sustainability crown. As well as being eco-friendly, Soccorsi describes the occasionwear collection as “magical, effortless and flattering”. As a designer, naturally, she hopes women feel good wearing her pieces. “We want people to feel happy when they wear the collection and be inspired by the sparkly sequins, precious amethyst stones and beautiful colours,” she says. Her favourite piece? The sheer beaded top made with recycled glass and sparkly crystals.
When asked about their hope for the future of fashion, all three women give the same answer. At H&M, the future of fashion is circular. “We have set an ambitious mission, to become 100 per cent circular and renewable,” says Strömblad Brännsten. “That means finding different ways of prolonging the life span of clothing and ensuring it never becomes waste, with care, repair, reuse and finally recycling.” Johansson adds, “I hope one day we can just talk about fashion, because sustainable fashion will be the only fashion.”
H&M’s Conscious Exclusive 2019 collection hits stores on April 11.
This article originally appeared in the May issue of marie claire magazine.