GREEN MA­CHINE

ANNA GEDDA, HEAD OF SUS­TAIN­ABIL­ITY AT H&M, SAYS THE TERM ISN’T JUST A CATCH­PHRASE BUT A CALL-TO-AC­TION FOR THE IN­DUS­TRY AT LARGE

ELLE (Australia) - - First Look -

IS H&M BE­ING SUCH A BIG COM­PANY A CHAL­LENGE YOU’VE HAD TO FACE IN IM­PLE­MENT­ING CHANGE? It’s a dou­ble-edged sword. It’s a mas­sive or­gan­i­sa­tion, so if you want to try some­thing like sus­tain­abil­ity it’s im­por­tant you have a clear di­rec­tion that guides peo­ple in mak­ing de­ci­sions. I also think it’s a huge op­por­tu­nity. [H&M Con­scious Ex­clu­sive] is a great ex­am­ple – even though this is a small cap­sule col­lec­tion, once we ac­tu­ally get those ma­te­ri­als up and run­ning and we take them to scale in reg­u­lar col­lec­tions, that has a huge im­pact on the supply chain and the en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects. If you use a re­cy­cled ma­te­rial com­pared to a con­ven­tional one, you save be­tween 70 and 90 per cent in car­bon emis­sions. Look­ing at the amount of ma­te­rial we use, those are huge sav­ings.

WHAT ARE THE OTHER BAR­RI­ERS TO CHANGE?

There are dif­fer­ent bar­ri­ers. The so­cial side is [where] we are de­pen­dent on so many oth­ers. If you want to ad­dress the is­sue around wages, for ex­am­ple, you can’t just ad­dress it with us. All the sup­pli­ers work with other brands as well, so you need to work with those brands, with the gov­ern­ment and with the trade as­so­ci­a­tions in those mar­kets. You need col­lab­o­ra­tion to cre­ate long-term so­lu­tions. With ma­te­rial in­no­va­tion, the main bar­rier is that re­search takes time. But this is a good say­ing: “If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go to­gether.” Sus­tain­abil­ity work re­quires a lot of col­lab­o­ra­tion and it sim­ply takes time. IS IT GEN­ER­ALLY UN­DER­STOOD THAT THIS IS THE ONLY WAY FOR­WARD FOR THE FASH­ION IN­DUS­TRY? In­ter­nally, yes. And I think many other brands view it that way. But I’m still sur­prised that some don’t even have their minds set on it, be­cause to me, no mat­ter if you do it from an eth­i­cal per­spec­tive or not, it’s about se­cur­ing the busi­ness, and if you want to be in the busi­ness in 2050, what ma­te­ri­als will you use? How will you meet the cus­tomer’s ex­pec­ta­tions? I don’t un­der­stand how you can op­er­ate a busi­ness and not re­ally have this top of mind. But I have an or­gan­i­sa­tion of 250 peo­ple work­ing with this, a lot of the smaller brands might have one per­son. I hope that be­ing so big, we can help in a sense. We share what we’re do­ing with the in­dus­try so oth­ers can fol­low in those steps. ON ONE HAND, H&M EN­COUR­AGES US TO HOLD ONTO THE CLOTHES WE’VE GOT AND RE­ALLY CARE FOR THEM, DO­NATE CLOTH­ING, RE­CY­CLE IT, BUT IT’S ALSO A BUSI­NESS THAT WANTS US TO KEEP BUY­ING CLOTHES. HOW DO THOSE MENTALITIES CO­EX­IST? Look­ing into pop­u­la­tion growth, we know there’ll be more peo­ple, and peo­ple need clothes. And I don’t see it’s about them buy­ing more clothes than they need, but rather that what­ever they buy, we would like them to buy from us. I hope we have such a great of­fer that cus­tomers feel, if they need a pair of socks, a pair of trousers, they go to H&M be­cause it’s a more sus­tain­able choice. So it’s not about in­creas­ing con­sump­tion; it’s more that we are hope­fully in­creas­ing the mar­ket share.

WHAT SET­BACKS HAVE YOU LEARNT FROM?

Long-term, I be­lieve in trans­parency and I think all com­pa­nies in this in­dus­try need to be open about things. When you are one of the first to pub­lish things, like your sup­plier list, there’s al­ways a risk that in­stead of be­ing praised, you be­come more scru­ti­nised and those who aren’t trans­par­ent get away with it. But that is part of lead­er­ship – it’s about stick­ing your neck out to do some­thing you very much be­lieve in. YOU’RE PUSH­ING FOR­WARD IN A FIELD WHERE THERE ARE A LOT OF UN­CER­TAIN­TIES. DO YOU PER­SON­ALLY CON­SULT YOUR OWN MORAL COM­PASS? We col­lab­o­rate with a lot of ex­perts and stake­hold­ers, so when it comes to what ma­te­ri­als we should push for in 2019 ver­sus 2020, there’s a lot of in­put. That’s quite sci­en­tific. But then you have other things that [re­quire], as you say, the moral com­pass. At H&M, we have al­ways aimed for do­ing it right. It may not al­ways be the most com­mu­nica­tive so­lu­tion, it may not be the quick­est one, but you’ll al­ways aim for the most sus­tain­able so­lu­tion. So that is re­ally where I come back to the core. You al­ways go with what you feel is right, the thing that makes you sleep well at night.

AND DO YOU SLEEP WELL AT NIGHT?

I still worry about the in­dus­try at large. How can we get ev­ery­one along on the jour­ney, be­cause us do­ing ev­ery­thing right will solve some things, but not all. It’s im­por­tant to get col­lab­o­ra­tion, for oth­ers to move in the same di­rec­tion, to find those mo­bil­is­ing pow­ers – where are the plat­forms where ev­ery­one can meet? That is also part of lead­er­ship, see­ing how we can make oth­ers come to the ta­ble and dis­cuss what needs to be done. And I think that’s been ex­ceeded in some ar­eas that I’m re­ally proud of, like wages. To­day we are col­lab­o­rat­ing with 99 other brands to push for fair liv­ing wages in the supply chain. The Bangladesh Ac­cord [on Fire and Build­ing Safety] is another ex­am­ple. It takes time, but com­pared to where we were 20 years ago, so much has changed in that area.

WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR YOUR CHIL­DREN IN THEIR LIFE­TIME?

I hope we can find a so­lu­tion that en­ables my chil­dren and their friends to live a life that is not in con­flict with the planet. That is re­ally what I would like to aim for. The H&M Con­scious Ex­clu­sive 2018 col­lec­tion will be avail­able in se­lected stores world­wide from April 19

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Re­cy­cled sil­ver tulip ear­rings, $79.99, H&M CON­SCIOUS EX­CLU­SIVE, hm.com/au

Re­cy­cled polyester slippers, $119, H&M CON­SCIOUS EX­CLU­SIVE, hm.com/au

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