Model Irina Shayk turned heads in a dramatic black velvet top with ruffles at the shoulders and a black velvet skirt at Harper’s Bazaar Icons, a star-studded event during New York Fashion Week earlier this month. The bodycon look appeared expensive in photos, but Shayk’s outfit is affordable, retailing at $129 for the top and $59.99 for the skirt. Equally surprising, the pieces were made from recycled polyester.
Shayk’s look was from H&M’s fall and winter 2019 Conscious Exclusive collection. New statement pieces from the limited-edition line, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, are made from sustainable materials — recycled brass, recycled zinc and a blend of Tencel and Refibra, a branded lyocell fiber made from discarded cotton.
“We’re always on the lookout for new innovations, new fabrics and new processes,” said H&M creative advisor Ann-Sofie Johansson. “We wanted to show that sustainable fashion doesn’t have to look boring or beige or like a burlap sack.”
Inspired by masquerade balls, the new fall and winter collection includes eveningwear such as a pink tulle ballgown, velvet blazer and pants, and a delicate pink beaded bolero. Prices range from $14.99 for accessories to $299.99 for a dress. The collection of 25 pieces and 11 accessories (including earrings, boots and purses) goes on sale on Sept. 26 on hm.com.
“It’s really cool that fashion brands are starting to move towards saving nature,” Shayk told The Times during an interview earlier this year. “Hopefully other brands will follow and will use sustainable or recyclable products.”
Despite the fast-fashion retailer’s good intentions, its eco-collections haven’t gone without criticism. Some fashion fans have called foul play, pointing out that H&M was preaching sustainability while sitting on $4.3 billion in unsold inventory, according to the New York Times and other news outlets in 2018. (In recent years, H&M has faced financial challenges as well, having announced last year that it would close 170 stores. However, Hennes & Mauritz AB’s recent annual report showed that its net sales increased by 11% in the first half of 2019.)
The company has taken the criticism to heart. Although the brand’s U.S. communications and press director, Emily Scarlett, called the issue “complicated,” she said the retailer has “three big long-term commitment goals” when it comes to sustainability. According to Scarlett, by 2020, all of H&M’s cotton will come from “more sustainable or recycled sources.”
By 2030, she said, everything it produces will come from “more sustainable or recycled sources,” and by 2040, the company wants to reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than it will emit during the production process — and take other eco-friendly steps.
Scarlett said she hopes more people will embrace the company’s garment collecting program, which encourages consumers to bring in old clothing in exchange for 15% off their next H&M purchase.
Launched in 2013, the program aims to reduce textile from landfills. “You can donate or drop off any clothing in any condition from any brand or home textiles to any H&M across the country in any country where H&M operates and we will take the clothing,” she said, explaining that a third-party shoe- and clothing-collecting partner, I: Collect, sorts the garments so the pieces get a potential second life. Some wind up on the vintage or resale market, while others are cut up and turned into cleaning cloths or insulation for stuffed animals. The remaining pieces are broken down and turned into new fabrics.
“We actually have denim within the H&M range that is made out of things that have been donated to the garment-collecting initiative,” Scarlett said, adding that the brand collected “3.4 million pounds of unwanted textiles” in the U.S. in 2018. “But we have a long way to go,” she said. “We have an aggressive goal for 2019. In the U.S., we hope to collect 4 million pounds in 2019 and we’re doing really well so far.”
H&M has also been working with celebrities to draw attention to its sustainability message. In March, Hollywood turned out to support H&M’s sustainability efforts during a party at an airy treehouse in the Hollywood Hills. Dakota Fanning, Amber Valletta, Rowan Blanchard, Alek Wek, Camila Morrone, Abigail Spencer and Shayk were among the stars who attended the event clad in pieces from the Conscious Exclusive collection’s spring line.
“H&M is a massive, global company,” said Valletta, who previously starred in the brand’s 2014 Conscious Exclusive collection campaign. “For them to come out and speak about being sustainable and making major changes in their supply chain and their fabrics and recycling — it’s a major milestone, and it helps amplify the message of where fashion needs to go.”
Blanchard said she has worn pieces from the Conscious Exclusive collection a few times over the years. “I think it’s really neat,” she said. Vegan fashion is “definitely something I would like to be more mindful about. Sustainable fashion is really hard in terms of accessibility, which is why this is great. It’s definitely something I could be more conscious of, but I do try to buy a lot of vintage and thrift clothes, which, I think, is recycling.”