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H&M head of design on making fashion sustainable

By Olivia James | China Daily Asia | Updated: 2018-03-14 10:07
Ann-Sofie Johansson - Creative Advisor of H&M [Courtesy of H&M/Provided to China Daily]

H&M's head of design, Ann-Sofie Johansson, on the challenges of making fashion sustainable and sustainability fashionable.

Some people say sustainable fashion can only comes when we change the business model – when profit doesn't drive everything.

We want to change the model. We're a big business, but we want to move into circularity, and the vision is to lead that change towards circular and renewable fashion. Yes, we think that's kind of a ballsy vision – as it should be. We know people will always love fashion; I love fashion. But we want to know that what we consume is good. Moving into circularity is because we know resources are scarce and we can't go on using things in the same way we have for the last 30 years. Circularity is both our mantra and our vision, so we can continue to make new fashion out of the old. And we do have some tough goals – by 2030, all the fabrics we create will be from sustainable sources.

How tough is that to achieve?

It's quite tough, because we don't have those fabrics yet today. We have organic cotton and we have recycled polyester, but there's only so much you can do with these fabrics. For a smaller range, we have our Conscious Exclusive collection, which is limited. In that, we try out new sustainable fabrics, which hopefully can be scaled up and applied to more of our collections, but there are challenges.

What are those challenges?

Well, there are new fabrics on the market, like grape leather, for example, but the quantity is just so small. So the crucial part is scaling up for us. But we also invest in a lot of different companies and work with scientists. Here, we work with the Hong Kong Research Institute for Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA). The non-profit H&M Foundation did a collaboration with HKRITA; together we have – or they have – come up with a groundbreaking innovation, which is how to recycle blended fabrics. Recycling up to now has been mechanically made, where materials are ripped apart into separate ones. But with this innovation, we can recycle blended materials without any quality loss. For us, that's really exciting, and also scalable on a larger and more practical level. This applies to all fashion businesses, not just H&M. That will be interesting to watch. The CEO of HKRITA, Edwin Keh, is someone you should talk to – he's scientific and also really candid about the challenges.

Do you think people's clothing labels will one day proclaim: "Made in such and such a laboratory"?

Maybe! We want to be as transparent as possible – to say this product is grown from this, or to identify a waste product that has been used. Like grape leather, for example – the leftovers from the wine industry. So now we all have to start drinking more wine! There's something called orange fibre from the citrus peel, which could become something new.

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