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H&M Is on a Sustainable Materials Spree

Castor oil, cactus leather and fabrics crafted from textile waste are slated to shape fashion at H&M.

Once the face of fast fashion, the apparel giant is quickly adding to its list of initiatives to support sustainability in the apparel sector.

The Swedish firm recently announced the launch of Innovation Stories, a series of capsules collectively aiming to promote the use of sustainable materials, technology and production processes across the garment industry.

“Our new concept continues H&M’s journey toward a sustainable and circular fashion system,” H&M creative director Ann-Sofie Johansson said in a statement. “Innovation Stories allows us to develop and grow, all while creating desirable and long-lasting pieces that we hope our customers will love and be proud of.”

The first collection, dubbed Science Story, will be available on HM.com from March 18 through April 1. Showcasing some of the latest “fabrications of the future,” the line will feature materials like Evo by Fulgar, a yarn made from all natural castor oil, as well as Desserto, a bio-based leather developed from cactus plants and Texloop‘s recycled textile fabrics. Prominent tags on the outside of the garments, which do double duty as design details, describe their material makeup.

The womenswear range will include spring staples like wide-leg white jeans—pumped up with a removable double waistband—along with a cropped white shirt with an oversized pocket, a cuffed tracksuit, cargo pants, cutout dresses, sports bras, blazers, hoodies and biker shorts. Bold and edgy accessories like heeled chartreuse strappy sandals and periwinkle blue sunglasses made from recycled plastic round out the range, complementing the collection’s minimalist clean lines.

“Innovation Stories is a platform that pushes our experimentation to the next level,” said Ella Soccorsi, concept designer for H&M. “The initiative encourages our work with scientists and developers and puts a spotlight on our progressive ideas.” Science Story, she added, is an “homage to the years of research and experiments behind these incredible materials.”

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Mexico-based Desserto’s cactus-based leather, for example, won the Green Product Award in 2020, and will be used in Science Story’s heeled sandals. The material replicates the softness and durability of animal hide, but cuts down on environmental impact. Unlike cattle cultivation and leather tanning—both water-intensive processes—the nopal cactus varieties grown by Desserto’s agricultural partner have modest water requirements and flourish without irrigation. The material is also a renewable resource, as mature leaves are harvested without damaging the plants. The leaves are dried naturally and cured using a blend of heavy metal, phthalate and dye-free chemicals to give them the look and feel of natural leather.

Innovation Stories is just one of H&M’s recently debuted sustainability-focused product lines. Just three months ago, the company launched another initiative geared toward building sustainable products and encouraging mindful consumption. A membership-based brand called Singular Society, which deals in high-quality, responsibly made wardrobe essentials and homewares, opened its virtual doors in December in a number of European locales. The microsite sources a rotating selection of goods directly from ethical and sustainable manufacturers across the globe, and site members must pay for monthly access to the deals, which are priced at cost.