H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection sends out a strong message about sustainability

H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection sends out a strong message about sustainability

Conscious choices

Text: Amelia Chia

There’s no better reason to buy evening gowns made out of discarded plastic bottles

If there's one message that fast-fashion retailer H&M wants to send out loud and clear, it is to buy less and recycle more. While their coveted fashion designer collaborations are highly sought after items which sell out within hours, it's the H&M Conscious Exclusive collection that they care about most.

Here's why: Humans are causing climate change at an alarmingly fast rate, and a large contributing factor is growing consumerism. The use of synthetic fibres and polyester in clothing, for example, emit three times more carbon dioxide in its life cycle than cotton. Let's be honest here — we may be switching out paper coffee cups for our trusty KeepCup, but we don't seem to be as conscious about building an eco-friendly wardrobe. Understandably so, given that hemp and bamboo don't sound like the most appealing of fabrics.

H&M, Conscious Exclusive, fashion

H&M's Conscious Exclusive collection is about to change mindsets surrounding that stigma. Last year's archival haute couture drop featured clothing inspired from the 18th Century to the Art Deco era, proving that eco-friendly threads don't always equate bland pieces in hues of beige and grey. This time around, the freshness of spring is palpable in the range. The star of the show is a pleated, blush-colour gown with swirling ruffles and a long, flowy skirt, worn by Natalia Vodianova in the Conscious Exclusive campaign shots. Their choice material? Bionic Yarn, a sustainable fabric made from recycled plastic from waterways and shorelines (and also championed by Pharrell Williams).

"Plastic pollution is a problem that we feel is extremely urgent," says Cecilia Brannsten, H&M's sustainability business expert, in an interview with us in Beijing. "The amount of plastic in the oceans [grocery bags, takeout containers, mineral water bottles] is expected to double in the next 10 years and triple before 2050. By 2050, there will be as much plastic in the ocean as fish."

H&M, Conscious Exclusive, fashion

We're in China's capital city to preview the brand's sustainable clothing line. There are one-of-a-kind embroidered jackets, sleek skirts with screen-printed florals and fun cocktail dresses with recycled sequins. Over in the exhibition space, there is a work table lined with sketches and material prototypes, and a music booth featuring tunes inspired by various sustainable materials. "Our design team is like a family — we often go off on our own to different venues where we can chat about what's going on in the world and striking a chord with us. With this collection, we were inspired by music and modern contemporary composers," explains Ella Soccorsi, H&M's concept designer. For the first time ever, the collection also features fragrances, with a unisex range of ecological oils that can be worn separately or layered together.

H&M, Beauty, Ecological Oils, Conscious Exclusive

H&M's sustainability efforts aren't just limited to a special collection. Across the brand's entire offering, 26 percent is now made from sustainable materials, with a goal each year to increase that share. As an example, by 2020, H&M aims for 100 percent of its cotton to be sustainably sourced.

"We cannot continue to use resources in the same way as we have done in the past," says Brannsten. "Our vision is to move from a linear to a circular system, where we employ a 100 percent closed loop system and only use sustainable recyclable material." Since 2014, H&M has also incorporated clever care labels, which offer tips on how to care for your garment more sustainably. These include washing clothes at a lower temperature and hanging clothes up to dry instead of using a dryer. And when its lease of life is up? Send it to one of H&M's recycling bins, where more than 32,000 tonnes of threads have been rescued from ecological havoc.

For a fast-fashion retailer, we applaud their efforts. Mark your calendars, because the full Conscious Exclusive collection drops in stores and online tomorrow. Soccorsi's picks? That gorgeous embroidered jacket, and black pantsuit with the ruffled leg. Ready, set, save the earth.

Shop the Conscious Exclusive collection in stores and online from 20 April