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Why H&M Thinks Circular Fashion Materials Need Volume Collaboration

H&M is going all-in on circular materials.

During a webinar Wednesday titled “Accelerating Circular Fashion Materials with Volume Collaboration,” hosted by Cradle to Cradle’s Fashion Positive initiative, H&M sustainability expert Cecilia Brannsten underscored the Swedish retailer’s commitment to moving toward responsible raw materials.

“We have set a vision at H&M—a really bold vision—to be 100 percent circular,” she said. “What that means is we want to have a circular approach to how products are produced and will only use circular or sustainably sourced materials.”

“Circular materials are what’s going to enable the circular economy,” noted Maura Dilley, Fashion Positive community manager. “But we need to work on inputs for the materials economy. We need to create the materials that can indeed be circulated later.”

That’s where the idea for Fashion Positive’s Plus membership collaborative came from. Plus launched in September with a mission to transform material inputs using a volume collaboration methodology. Members will use the Fashion Positive Critical Materials List to identify high-volume, pre-competitive materials, including yarns, dyes, pigments, fasteners and threads, that would catalyze systemic change if optimized. The collaborative will then work to assess, improve and verify those materials using the Cradle to Cradle Certified standard, which certifies products that are healthier for people and the planet.

“Volume collaboration works because it’s a collected and coordinated action,” Dilley continued. “We’re out here to make change, we’re out here to make fashion circular, so we need to go after the most important, largest volume critical materials.”

Starting in 2017, Plus members will be surveyed to see what “building blocks” they use the most of and where they come from, because a lot of critical materials are sold at a high volume by the same suppliers and until that connection is made, fashion can’t become circular.

“The change will happen a lot quicker if there are more of us trying to do it, working on this in parallel, because we can do a lot of good together,” Brannsten said, noting that dyes and trims present a huge challenge for any brand to take on alone.

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“The point of this work is to grow the Fashion Positive Materials Collection so we have a huge library that we can pull from,” Dilley said. “We don’t need to do this by ourselves. We can work together, share notes and still make it work in a competitive environment. If we can do work together we can rapidly scale and accelerate the use of better base materials and transform our industry. We can’t recycle things that weren’t designed to be recycled.”

Brannsten agreed: “It’s a win-win situation. We have the same goal and we will get there faster together.”