This spring, sustainability is top of mind for a host of fashion brands on my radar – from high-street to high-end luxury – as consumers increasingly expect the labels they choose to wear, to have an ethical standpoint and transparency at the heart of their manufacturing process.
Nurturing sustainability innovation
H&M has just announced the winners for its annual Global Change Award, now in its second year and originally set up to help back fledgling design and innovation talent, in order to help the fashion industry to be more sustainable.
With the premise that progressive ideas in fashion will drive future change, the H&M Foundation and a panel of experts select the five most promising innovations (from nearly 3000) and between them, they get a share of the €1 million grant money.
The top innovator and winner this year was Wine Leather, a company that uses natural grape skins recycled as zero-emission nylon or synthetic leathers. It collects a €300,000 grant which will be spent on the company’s aim of reducing the damage that producing animal and synthetic leather does through its water, chemical and energy consumption. Second in line was Solar Textiles winning €250,000 for its bid to harvest the Sun’s energy to develop new textiles using only water, plant waste and solar energy in its production process.
Further winners include Denim-dyed Denim that looks to the use of old jeans scraps for new denim colour dyes, in a bid to reduce the amount of water, energy and waste the industry uses to produce jeans today; also in the top five is something called Content Thread, a fibre that is RFID-enabled and can be woven into the fabric of clothes to provide a digital list of ingredients that item is comprised from, meaning it is easier to recycle at the end of its life.
Red carpet ready & recycled
And the Swedish fast-fashion giant continues to push its premium approach to sustainability with its Conscious Exclusive collection that has just launched into stores and online on April 20. The new spring/summer 17 range features pieces made from recycled fabrics and shimmering partywear that uses recycled plastic bottles for the sequins or pailettes. Highlights include a sweeping blush-coloured red-carpet-ready ‘Bionic’ dress that uses fluid fabric repurposed from plastic water bottles harvested at sea. ‘We know our consumers want to see more sustainably produced fashion, so with the Conscious Exclusive collection we try to make that choice as premium as possible,’ says Caterina Midby, head of sustainability design for H&M. Midby says H&M’s Conscious collections are made with 20% of fibres recycled from its in-store garment collecting programme and it is current limited to that 20% because fibres become shorter when they are recycled so need to be blended with organic or other sustainable materials for durability. ‘Conscious Exclusive is a limited edition range and it usually sells out quickly. We know our customers want more of this so we are investing in more sustainability-focused manufacturing processes so we can produce more pieces and get them into more stores,’ she adds.
With the luxury positioning of H&M’s Conscious Collection (red carpet and celebrity endorsements) combined with the brand’s focus on innovation in design, consumers are left with a luxury impression of the brand putting it on a par with designer sustainability brands such as Edun or Moynat.
Upcycled denim on the high-street
Staying with Swedish fashion retailers, Lindex is another brand ramping up its sustainability offer. At a press launch last week, the fast-fashion retailer was promoting its latest clean indigo dye treatment which is now used across nearly 90% of the brand’s denim. Cleaner denim production is better for the environment and the people working with it, says the company. ‘This step forward in our denim manufacturing means we are closer to our goal that 80% of all processes will be more sustainable by 2020. We work on reducing the environmental footprint in all part of our denim production, from fibre to finished product.’
The retailer has just launched its Re:Design range of upcycled denim pieces, which builds on its Better Denim branding across the whole range in-store. There is a bespoke element to the Re:Design pieces – a kimono coat is reconstructed from several pieces of denim that were once jeans or a jacket, while the panelled jeans feature contrasting coloured pieces of denim – they are all made from previously unsold denim ranges that Lindex does not want to send to landfill or sell on to third parties. ‘We have established the Better Denim branding across the collection now,’ says Sara Winroth, production sustainability manager for Lindex, who says the Re:Design range is Lindex’s latest initiative that aims to offer something a touch more exclusive while utilising fabric the company has already accounted for.
Sustainability campaign messages
Designer e-tailer Not Just a Label has collaborated with washing machine brand AEG to launch Care Label Project, a sustainability initiative that encourages consumers to prolong the lifespan of their wardrobe and reduce the environmental impact of washing clothes.
14 emerging designers from across Europe have joined AEG’s own-label platform, the Care Label Collection help to promote the washing advice on labels. The collaborative design project features advice such as instructions to ignore ‘dry clean only’ garments that can in fact be washed on a gentle or low temperature wash, while they have added a label that reads ‘don’t overwash’ for current collections available on the Not Just a Label website.
‘If you buy good-quality denim jeans, you could wear them for maybe 10 or 20 years. If you know how to look after, wash and care for them, they could live with you for ever,’ says Han Ates, a collaborating designer in the Care Label Project.
Meanwhile in a similar vein, designer Stella McCartney has launched a new sustainability campaign Clevercare, which is a care symbol, a website featuring simple clothes washing advice and a communications campaign including several humorous Youtube videos.
Retail Planner take-outs:
- Consumers have an increasing appetite for sustainability messaging from high-end luxury initiatives such as Kering’s EP&L app, the Stella McCartney Clevercare campaign, or the more recent Not Just a Label x AEL labelling collaboration, through to high-street brands and their continued efforts to produce premium pitched collections made from recycled fabrics.
- Retailers need to ramp up their sustainability communications in-store; telling the story of transparency is more meaningful when there is an ethical standpoint across the marketing spectrum.
- Denim is a crucial product category for sustainability innovation and many retailers are now utilising this wardrobe staple to leverage their sustainability messaging to consumers.