As its name “Looop” suggests, the garment-to-garment recycling system is meant to close the loop on fashion — what is described as a container-sized machine that converts their old textiles into something new while shoppers watch. Striving for a seeing-is-believing approach, H&M is not only showing the process to consumers but also trying to encourage them to change their purchasing behavior.
The introduction aligns with H&M’s goal to have all of its materials be recycled or sourced in a more sustainable way by 2030. As of last year that figure rested at 57 percent, according to the Stockholm-based conglomerate. Seven years ago H&M started a global garment collecting program, claiming to be the first fashion retailer to do so.
In a phone interview Tuesday, H&M’s director of sustainability Pascal Brun said the new initiative in Stockholm shows how garments can have value at the end of their lives and also is an engaging and educational process. While it reflects a small version of how recycling is done, it shows only one way that it is being done.
Brun said, “Obviously, our whole agenda around circularity is much bigger than that. It’s from taking care of how our products are designed, to choices of materials, the processes that are required for our products, the suppliers we are using, how customers are consuming, the end use of products, how they are disposing their clothes and so on. The whole ambition is to basically close the loop.”
From his standpoint, circularity is what needs to happen now. “It’s not a choice of doing it or not doing it. It’s our responsibility. It’s taking that agenda and scaling that agenda.”
The Looop garments will cost loyalty members about $11 and non-members nearly $17. As of Oct. 12, visitors to one of H&M’s stores on the major pedestrian street Drottninggatan in its home city of Stockholm will be the first to see Looop up close and in action.
Brun said it is a bit early to formalize the plan as to how many stores may have similar 40-foot Looop machinery – comparable in size to two cars parked end-to-end. He declined to discuss the investment. The name is meant to imply “closing the loop and the whole circularity of that,” and the third “o” gives it a certain identity, Brun said. To that end, the Looop will have its own Twitter account when it goes live Monday to keep customers in the loop about what progress and technology is coming.
Looop was enabled by the H&M Foundation, with the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel and Novetex Textiles, a Hong Kong-based company. Together they created the first prototype of Looop. Garments are cleaned, shredded into fibers and spun into new yarns, which are then knitted into new designs. The eight-step process does not use water or chemicals to decrease the environmental impact compared to creating a new garment.
Brun said the pandemic has made it obvious to the consumer that not following environmental guidelines has dramatic impact on the world. “It became obvious that the world needs to change, and there is a need for greater awareness about sustainability. For us, sustainability has always been a core to our agenda. The pandemic has just accelerated our agenda,” he said.
Conversely, H&M is a huge manufacturer as well, in essence aiming to correct a problem that the company helped create. Given its annual production runs and hundreds of store locations, the company takes the responsibility that comes with that seriously. Brun said, “Absolutely. We have a responsibility about how we are doing things — with our size comes responsibility. That is exactly the reason why circularity and the whole climate agenda we have of becoming climate positive by 2040 is so important. Circularity, to me, is the only credible answer toward who we are as a business and toward consumption. If we are not circular, our business model won’t survive.”
Given the drastic rates of unemployment globally, some have speculated whether fast fashion will benefit from the pandemic due to consumers’ financial restrictions. Brun said, “I’m not sure if fast fashion will benefit from the pandemic. I think that sustainability has benefited from the pandemic, because of customer awareness. Obviously there is an economic element that the pandemic has created as well – the whole unemployment [situation]. We see everyday people losing jobs due directly or indirectly to the pandemic. Right now our focus of offering sustainable fashion to our customers is the right thing to do. It has to become affordable. Sustainable should not come at a price. In order to create an impact, sustainability has to be at affordable price. It cannot be a luxury to be sustainable.”