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H&M Film Fetes Climate Week NYC: ‘We Need to Rethink What Is Beautiful’

H&M is kicking off Climate Week NYC with a trippy fly-through of a reimagined solar system.

A paean to the circular economy, where products and materials are remade and reused instead of shunted to the landfill or incinerator, the four-minute film will be screened at several planetariums across the United States, including the Lower East Side Girl’s Club’s East Village Planetarium in New York City, Miami’s Frost Planetarium and the Peoria Riverfront Museum in Chicago.

By visually drawing parallels between the principles of circularity with the evolution of the universe, the video is meant to both “inspire and educate” consumers on the role they can play to “create a new future and a better present,” the Swedish retailer said. By changing how products are made and used, resources can be circulated through “multiple loops of our ecosystem” for longer, it added.

“We need to rethink what is beautiful, how we value things, ending the linear economy we live in and creating circular processes,” the film’s narrator intones as meteoroid-like clothing bales spiral across the screen and a gas giant extruding luminescent threads comes into focus. “We need to repair, remake, reuse, [see] imperfection as potential and [restoration] as enchanting.”

Climate Week NYC, which started Monday, is hosted annually by the Climate Group, an international profit, in partnership with the United Nations and the city of New York to promote ambitious climate efforts ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, this November.

H&M parent H&M Group, the world’s second-largest apparel purveyor by revenue after Zara owner Inditex has leaned heavily into circularity amid mounting criticisms over fast fashion’s social and environmental destruction. To achieve its goal of “climate positivity,” it says, it must first become a circular business. The retailer has invested heavily in material startups such as Spinnova, which creates biodegradable fibers using Forest Stewardship Council certified wood pulp and agricultural waste, and Renewcell, which pumps out textiles derived from old jeans, T-shirts and other clothing discards. It’s working with Worn Again Technologies to bring textile-to-textile recycling to scale, the Infinited Fiber Company to create re-recyclable duds and the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel to separate and recycle polyester-and-cotton blends.

The & Other Stories, Cos and Monki owner has also experimented with resale, repair and rental. In June, it helped secondhand platform Sellpy expand its reach to a total of 24 European countries. Users with access to the platform’s full features can order a bag for 1.95 euros ($2.29), fill it up with castoffs and send it back to Sellpy. Approved items are listed, priced and dispatched to their new owners.

Still, some of the retailer’s detractors say H&M can never be sustainable unless it reins in its volume of production, particularly when garment recycling is still at a nascent stage. Others say using promises of circularity as a way to sell more clothes is tantamount to greenwashing. The company churns out a reported 3 billion garments per year. In early 2018, H&M hit the headlines for sitting on a $4.3 billion mountain of unsold clothing. There are so many H&M dresses, shirts, pants and jackets, in fact, that one Swedish power plant stokes its generators by burning items that the fashion chain has deemed no longer fit for consumption.

Hendrik Alpen, H&M Group’s sustainability engagement manager, says he understands the criticisms but “we need to tackle the bigger question” and that each consumer purchasing fewer products each year “will not do the job.”

“Unfortunately we see increasing demand from growing middle classes in Asia and Africa, and we can’t [tell them] they are not allowed to enjoy the same lifestyle as we do,” Alpen said at a webinar organized by Fashion Takes Action, a Toronto-based advocacy group, last week. “At the same time, we see that we will hit resource boundaries. So I think we need to use a whole palette of different solutions, and one of them is to create new products that have minimal impact. And we’ve come some way—but there’s still a lot more to go—so that the total impact of however many products we make is lower than before and ultimately as close to zero as possible.”

H&M Group, a signatory of the UN Global Compact since 2001, also announced Monday that it’s been named one of 40 global LEAD companies for its commitment to the initiative and its 10 principles for responsible business. It’s the only apparel brand on the list, which represents the “highest level of engagement” with the UN Global Compact, according to the organization.

“While it’s an honor to be the only fashion company on the list, this also encourages us in our ambition to lead our industry by example and inspire more industry players to join forces,” Leyla Ertur, the retailer’s head of sustainability at H&M Group, said in a statement. “This initiative is a great example of how collaboration for responsible business practices and sustainable innovations can contribute to a powerful change that goes way beyond our own organization and industry.”

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