Items from H&M's fall/winter Conscious Exclusive collection.

Every Conscious Exclusive collection brings H&M that much closer to its 2030 goal of only using 100 percent recycled or other sustainably sourced materials in its collections. The Swedish retailer develops and tests new technology for Conscious Exclusive that it hopes can have wider applications across the company. H&M on Sept. 27 will launch online its eighth sustainable collection and first for the fall season, filled with recycled cashmere sweaters and pieces made from recycled polyester disguised to look and feel like velvet. 

“We’re pushing the boundaries of fashion and sustainability,” said Cecilia Brännsten, environmental sustainability manager of the H&M group. “We’re using new materials that we later on can scale. We’re now one of the largest users in the world of Tencel and recycled polyester.”

“We’ve struggled with being able to do everything we wanted to do with the Conscious Exclusive collections in the past,” Brannsten added. “We used recycled wool. Now, [we] have recycled cashmere. It has a lot of benefits from a chemical and water and land perspective. Last spring, we launched recycled silver jewelry. We worked with Econyl left over from the previous collection. It’s made from recycled plastic and we used it for earrings.

“The collection is an opportunity show that sustainable fashion can be on-trend and use beautiful fabrics,” Brannsten said. “It’s not burlap and hemp and unfashionable.”

The latest collection was inspired by a fragment of ancient tapestry. Pieces include a black recycled wool blend coat with oversize collar; sequin jacket made from recycled PET bottles; organic silk long printed dress with voluminous sleeves and deep-V back detail; black recycled polyester sock booties, Tencel and recycled polyester slingback stilettos with ribbons; Tencel-blend fringed printed scarf, and black vest with recycled velvet circles attached to long ribbons.

A luncheon on Thursday to celebrate the Conscious Exclusive collection’s launch was hosted by Susan Cohn Rockefeller and the retailer at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, chef Dan Barber’s acclaimed restaurant. The restaurant, which is surrounded by a working farm and within the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., seemed tailor made for the sustainable line. Clothing was displayed on a patio amid fresh-cut flowers in vases and on mannequin heads.

Rockefeller, who sits on the board of Stone Barns Center, said she’s been learning about environmental issues related to fashion and was “interested that H&M is taking a leadership role and is one of the biggest users of organic cotton. The issues aren’t black and white, they’re quite gray. I’m interested in the complexities. If you look toward the future of fashion, you have to have [H&M’s] kind of innovation. They have the reach.

“A lot of people will say this is fast fashion, why are you supporting a fast-fashion company,” Rockefeller added. “The majority of the world’s consumers can’t afford items from most brands. I wouldn’t have gone to H&M if not for the Conscious Exclusive collection. It’s affordable, fun and fashion-forward, and then you have your luxury staples.”

“The materials are only one part of the circular model,” Brannsten said, citing the production process as another area. “There are also different ways that we can prolong the lifespan of the products. We’re at 35 percent of the full material use and the goal of 100 percent recycled or sustainably sourced materials. We don’t have all the answers yet and all the solutions. We’re getting there.”

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