Recently, I’ve been studying female executives and the difference in the way they pursue business decisions. Read what H&M’s global head of sustainability Helena Helmersson is doing about sustainable fashion.
Inside H&M’s Quest For Sustainability In Fast Fashion
“In the midst of retailers are making headlines for what they’re doing wrong (hello JCPenney) Swedish juggernaut H&M is trying to do right. Hard on the heels of debuting its latest “Conscious Collection” filled with fibers of the recycled and organic cotton varieties, the world’s second largest apparel company also publicly released a list of its suppliers, something many retailers keep tightly under wraps.
Like the trend toward sheer garments, H&M’s global head of sustainability Helena Helmersson is interested in transparency, both at the corporate level and from H&M’s suppliers.
That’s particularly interesting given that just before Helmersson joined the company, H&M hit several bumps on the road to pursue sustainability. Back in 2010, brand new, new clothing was found shredded in the trash outside a Manhattan store and a few months later, H&M conceded that GMO cotton could have been used in its eco-friendly Spring Garden Collection.
Helmersson says that in 2012 H&M increased the use of organic cotton by more than 20 percent to become world’s largest user. Helmersson asserts that the company’s overall goal is to have all the cotton it uses to be sustainably produced by 2020.
To further illustrate her point, Helmersson trotted out the company’s other initiatives including the recent Don’t Let Fashion Go to Waste campaign which invites customers to bring in bags of apparel –from any store– to be recycled. They get vouchers in exchange for the used goods ( a coupon for 15 percent off a new item). So far the company’s donated more than 3.2 million garments to charitable causes.
The company’s also made strides to save water –a huge part of the garment production process. 450 million liters of water were saved in the production of denim and other water-intense products by applying water-saving production techniques.
Helmersson says that H&M is making progress in transforming factories, too. For compliance issues, she says that for the factories that do go on to work with the company as “strategic partners,” H&M offers assistance in the shape of management systems to streamline compliance but also ensure that workers are able to voice complaints if they are being treated unfairly. H&M’s order volume increases for those partners that perform the best, incentivizing the process.
And let’s not forget those workers. Fashionistas often have a love/hate relationship with retailers like H&M because they equate the inexpensive price tags to the company’s ability to manufacture its merchandise in sweatshops filled with underpaid workers. Helmersson says it’s been a challenge on two fronts. “We are misunderstood,” she explains, “because we do have a big passion for fashion.”
That said, Helmersson believes that the days of short lived trends are fading and people are moving away from tossing garments after a season of wear. She acknowledges that people in some countries cannot even afford H&M’s brand of cheap chic and that just reinforces the company’s “huge responsibility” to ditch the throwaway attitude in favor of sustainability.
As for the workers, off-shore minimum wage was first set in 1994 and only revised twice, in 2006 and 2010. So far, the company has invested more than $6.4 million in communities in Bangladesh and India and helped to create 7,402 additional jobs.
Now, says Helmersson, there is an opportunity to gain ground by engaging customers and educating them to shop consciously. She says that, too, will come, especially as U.S. e-commerce launches later in the summer.” – Condensed from an article by Lydia Dishman, contributing author for Forbes.
Question: What can I do to encourage sustainable clothing?