A look from the Lee x H&M collaboration.

Collaborations are a dime a dozen, but H&M and Lee may be paving the way into companies teaming to further their commitments to sustainability.

Launching next month, the Lee x H&M collection showcases an environmentally minded selection for women and men. The alliance could potentially lead to working together again, although executives at both brands aren’t saying for certain yet.

Lee’s global brand president and executive vice president Chris Waldeck said Friday, “We wanted to start with a collaboration. We both have a passion around sustainability. H&M really wanted to come together with us,” adding that both parties wanted to improve the look of denim and its sustainability. “We’ll see in the future what this means, if there are additional collaborations or what we decide to do.”

Combining two highly professional teams is always a plus, but doing so during the coronavirus pandemic presented a different paradigm. Unable to meet in person, they exchanged ideas via Microsoft Teams and Skype. “Whenever you can get incredibly passionate people together, world class designers, a great retailer like H&M and also combine that with our rich heritage and iconic items, it was a really fun collaboration,” Waldeck said.

In addition to trumpeting the importance of sustainability, the union brings together two global forces. More than anything, they want to show consumers what sustainability means to the marketplace and how they aim to further that cause. While all of the collaborative styles have sustainable features, Waldek was not certain what percentage of Lee’s own collection is made up of sustainable designs.

Encompassing more than 50 pieces for women and men, the Lee x H&M collection features classic Lee styles like the Rider jacket (reimagined in a cocoon shape), relaxed carpenter pants and  dungarees. Overshirts and buckets hats are also in the assortment. The line features H&M’s first 100 percent recycled cotton jeans that are made from 80 percent post-industrial waste and 20 percent post-company waste. There is also cotton-free denim made from manmade materials. Shoppers will find the assortment in stores and online via H&M’s site starting on Feb. 4. On closer inspection, they will see that each style carries a Lee x H&M label.

Focused on the current collaboration, an H&M spokesman declined to say whether the Swedish retailer is considering selling Lee branded products or other items from other brands at H&M that are not collaborations in the months ahead. What collaborations the company might be doing in the future will have to be addressed at a later stage, he said.

Rather than tap into Lee’s production line, H&M used its own facilities, using suppliers that it regularly works with to produce its denim. Accustomed to using sustainable processes and environmentally minded materials for its denim, H&M shared that knowledge and experience with Lee through its collaboration. Every component was analyzed from a sustainability perspective, according the spokesman for the retailer.

As part of its ongoing effort to improve transparency in relation to products, H&M enacted Life Cycle Assessments, which measure the potential environmental impact of a product throughout the stages of its existence, from raw materials to end-of-use. For their project, the latest LCA methodology was used to determine some of the potential CO2e, freshwater and primary energy savings that can be created by using more sustainable materials. Different dyeing and garment finishing stages, which reduced water consumption compared to standard processes, were also used.

Describing the new collaboration as “an extensive and important collection,” the H&M spokesman declined to comment about projected volume. Lee executives also declined to pinpoint the sales, how the proceeds would be divided or any other terms of the deal.

The Lee and H&M combination will retail from $12.99 to $59.99. H&M designer Jon Loman said, “We looked at every detail and challenged each other in a positive way.”

The Lee president said, “We do a lot of collaborations all around the world with a lot of brands and artists. This was one that was an easy one to do from a corporate and design standpoint and all the way through.”