Ahead of the March 26 launch of H&M’S SS20 Conscious Exclusive collection, we take a virtual sit-down with the brand’s Head of Design, Ann-Sofie Johansson.

For H&M’s SS20 Conscious Exclusive collection, it’s all aboard Le Train Bleu, the elegant sleeper train that ran from Calais to the Côte D’Azur in the 1920s. The collection brings together flamboyant evening gowns in midnight blue and sandy-hued tulle, taffeta and silk, as well as gauzy cobalt mosaic-print day dresses. 

Passions Arabia: Where is fashion in general on sustainability? H&M were one of the industry’s pioneers way back in 2012. What are the key initiatives you’ve seen others doing, and how much further can H&M go in terms of its other collections?

Ann-Sofie Johansson: It’s true that sustainability has been a key tenet for H&M for a long while. It’s part of our business proposition: “Fashion and quality at the best price in a sustainable way.” We talk a lot about “emotional durability” as a design team, working out how versatile and durable a design is, so that our customers will continue to love it for years to come. In terms of how far we can go? Well, we set ourselves ambitious targets: We are proud to announce that as of 2020, all of our cotton is now organic, recycled or sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI). By 2025, we aim 100% of our plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable. The next big step in regards of our materials use is the goal, to achieve 100 per cent sustainably sourced materials by 2030. We also work continuously on our long term goals, one of it becoming climate positive by 2040.

PA: What are some of the most interesting materials you’ve used in the process of creating this latest Conscious Exclusive collection?

ASJ: For SS20, the design team was really focusing on circularity, on maximizing resources and minimizing waste.  So we have used for example Circulose®, a natural material harvested from used textiles, for the first time. Then there is VEGEA, a vegan leather alternative made from the byproducts of winemaking which we are using for accessories, and RENU which is a recycled polyester yarn we’re using in our gorgeous swimwear. It’s so satisfying when we can finally use materials we have been monitoring and evaluating for a long time.

PA: Does the ethos of sustainability extend beyond fabrics and sourcing in to the process of manufacture and distribution?

ASJ: Absolutely – we are always looking to improve sustainability across the whole supply chain and business. It’s important to know, that our strict regulations in regards of working conditions and environmental standards apply to all our products, no matter if they are made of sustainably sourced materials or regular sourced materials. Everyone who is interested to learn more, can find detailed information on our Sustainability Commitment online on hmgroup.com, We can see a growing interest in sustainability related topics amongst our customers and we live up to that by continuesly increasing our transparency. Additionally to our supplier list, which we first published in 2013, we launched an extended transparency layer for all garments on hm.com in 2019, sharing extended and detailed information on where each of our garments are made. For each garment we share details such as production country, supplier names, factory names and addresses as well as the number of workers in the factory. In addition, customers can find out more about the materials used to make a specific garment and learn how to recycle it.

PA: Can fast fashion and sustainability ever be long-term partners?

ASJ: As I mentioned, sustainability is a crucial element of our business proposition and is something in which we are truly invested. We know the fashion industry has to change. But, as Pascal Brun our sustainability manager always says, we also know that we can’t do it alone. We need to collaborate with governments, NGOs and other brands to achieve our common goals. The future of fashion depends on it. Added to that, we are always trialling new ideas, for instance, in Stockholm at the moment we are piloting a clothing rental scheme so that our customers can rent dresses from previous archive Conscious Exclusive collections. This in turn helps to make our business model more circular.

PA: What other ways are there for people make their fabrics and fashion eco-friendlier? What are you doing in your own life in this regard?

ASJ: I think it’s really about conscious purchasing and then caring for your clothes. H&M launched an initiative called Take Care, which aims to encourage our customers to mend, clean and care for their clothes effectively to extend their lifespan. It’s so important to look after your clothes and to get good wear out of them – that’s something I strive to do in my personal life. I still have jackets I have owned for 20 years which I wear religiously.

H&M’s SS20 Conscious Exclusive – Drops 26 March! Read more here