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The Impact of Fashion’s ‘Sustainable’ Capsule Collections (Vogue Bussines)

March 16, 2020


As a fast-fashion behemoth, H&M’s sustainability practices are subject to criticism.


Environmentalists claim that H&M’s attempts to go greener, particularly with its Conscious collection, are nothing more than greenwashing. The most common complaint is that for a retailer that brought in $24 billion in 2019, the fraction of business that “consciously” made clothes represents is a meagre response to the scale of the climate crisis and doesn’t touch the issue of labour conditions.


According to Pascal Brun, H&M’s head of sustainability, the criteria for Conscious products is that they’re made with 50 per cent “sustainable” – such as organic or recycled – materials, or 20 per cent recycled materials in the case of cotton, because of technical limitations. Conscious products are marked by green hang tags, while H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection, through which it experiments with new materials and practices, is released twice annually. The company wouldn’t share sales figures or how much of H&M’s total business it represents.


“Conscious”, “eco-friendly” and “sustainable” capsule collections are popular among retailers whose main collections aren’t made following such practices. They’ve become common but are not exclusive to fast-fashion companies: Asos, Zara and Mango are among the brands that, in addition to H&M, put out special collections they label eco-friendly. 


Retailers test sustainability in limited product runs in part because of the added costs that can come with implementing sustainability measures. But beyond that, material supply may not be available yet, the suppliers themselves may not be equipped or, in the case of new technologies, they may not have been scaled yet. A company might also be divided, internally, on the best ways to push sustainability forward — or whether to prioritise it at all. 

While these collections may get called out for not doing enough to drive meaningful change, a number of industry experts argue that they can be useful for companies to build up sustainable practices by testing out new materials, processes or sourcing strategies. But there needs to be a viable plan for a company to scale the progress; and messaging matters. 


“Consumers would care if marketing teams did a better job to make them care,” Ayesha Barenblat, founder of the California nonprofit Remake, says. 


Capsules as experiments


Starting small has allowed Levi’s to expand both its “Water<Less” technology, which cuts the amount of water used in its denim manufacturing by up to 95 per cent, and its “cottonised hemp”, a proprietary fabric with a smaller carbon footprint than traditional cotton. Over three seasons, Levi’s had to figure out how to spin and weave the cotton-hemp blend, dye it and finish the fabric, improving the processes along the way before expanding them to other products over time.


“A small fashion capsule is useful because you can test or validate good or bad ideas at a scale that’s safe,” says Paul Dillinger, VP of global product innovation at Levi’s. “The last thing that the cause of sustainability in fashion needs is a big failure to cause everyone in the C-suite or the top-floor offices to question whether we should be doing it at all.”


Humble beginnings allow brands to work out kinks. When Reebok rolled out a sneaker made with cotton and corn-based fibres, president Matt O’Toole says they were able to integrate consumer feedback on comfort and performance when designing the next generations of the shoe; those releases have expanded in variety and in quantity over time. 




The full article read on the Vogue Business


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