Fashion

Exclusive: H&M's Head of Design Ann-Sofie Johansson talks about the fashion of tomorrow

The discussion around sustainable fashion has now also reached the Swedish fashion giant H&M. With an ambitious new approach that includes both production technologies and material manufacturing, they want to break new ground.
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Ann-Sofie Johansson (Photo: H&M)
"I think the most important thing is to embed the circular economy in all stages of the design process and in all products." - Ann-Sofie Johansson

"Innovative Circular Design Story" - Admittedly, it's not exactly a particularly melodic collection name that H&M has come up with here, but it's easy to imagine something. Nevertheless, it is - typically Scandinavian - without the usual ballyhoo that companies usually put on when they open a new chapter in their corporate history. But what is it all about? H&M has committed itself to make its footprint greener and reducing CO2 emissions.

That's why they are also thinking in new ways. For one thing, the collection is made from recycled and recyclable materials. And it's not just about these, but also about minimising the otherwise waste-intensive production methods one usually encounters in the fashion industry. 

L'Officiel Austria spoke to Head of Design, Ann-Sofie Johansson, who plays a key role in driving innovation at the top of the textile chain.

 

Taking different approaches to become more sustainable: In your point of view, what is the fashion industry's most current problem that should be tackled? 

Ann-Sofie Johansson: "Fashion needs to move from a linear way of thinking to a more circular approach. That’s the key thing. The industry needs to take responsibility for its own waste. Currently, at H&M, our mission is purposeful design, where products are designed to be re-used and re-purposed. That’s why our most recent collection, Innovation Circular Design Story, was built entirely with circularity in mind, whether in terms of using recycled materials or dissolvable threading to help the clothes break down more easily in the recycling process. To time with the collection, we recently launched a Circular Designer Tool, called the Circulator, which embeds circularity at all stages of the design process, guiding our team along the way as they choose fabrications, desires, construction methods. By 2025 the aim is that all H&M products are designed using the tool, and we intend to share the tool industry-wide to encourage good practices from others. Another goal is to ensure that we are using 30% recycled materials across the business by 2025. Finally, we aim to be a climate-positive business by 2040. We want to inspire other businesses with these goals and steps and get the whole industry moving towards a circular business."

 

How should we consume fashion to make it more sustainable and what needs to be done to make 'circular fashion' possible?  

Ann-Sofie Johannsson: "I think the key thing is embedding circularity at all stages of the design process, and across all products. It requires design working together really closely with production, which is what our Circulator facilitates. I think another big step is thinking about usage – how can we make garments as adaptable as possible, how can we encourage customers to really make use of their clothes? We really wanted our upcoming Innovation Circular Design Story collection to provoke consideration and conversation around how people wear and treat clothing. That’s why there is a real focus on maximizing the ways all of the pieces can be worn – so even though many of the pieces are super bright and bold, they are also adaptable, through straps that can change fits or hooks that adjust sizes so pieces can be shared or kept for years. I love the cropped bra top, which has multiple fastenings at the back so it can be adjusted to fit many different sizes – ideal for lending to friends, or for keeping for decades."

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The retail giant is trying new(ish) ways from now on and is turning to circular fashion to reduce its ecological footprint. Photo: Shutterstock

As one of the industry's biggest fashion players is H&M still known as a fast-fashion producer. How does the company adapt to make 'circular fashion' possible?

Ann-Sofie Johansson: "The key to making fashion more sustainable is to make sure the clothes we DO produce are part of a circular system where nothing goes to waste. We have several steps in place to ensure we won’t need to rely on natural resources to the same extent, including using more sustainably sourced, recyclable materials, and finding new ways to repurpose existing garments so that everything can be reused. This collection and the Circulator are a part of that journey. Authenticity and meaningful change are really important to us – that’s why we are open and transparent about our sustainability strategy, not just with our customers, but with other brands; we think by sharing ideas and innovations the whole industry can move forward. We acknowledge that we have a big responsibility, and we are really proud of the market-leading initiatives and goals that we have in place at H&M and we are determined to drive the change towards a more sustainable fashion industry, but hard work and collaboration from many parties is essential to achieve long-term change across the entire textile industry. The challenges we are facing are too complex for any single company, no matter the size, to tackle alone, which is why we collaborate with other brands and stakeholders within different initiatives, such as by sharing access to the Circulator. "

 

How can the design process make fashion more sustainable? 

Ann-Sofie Johansson: "Garments must be designed with circularity in mind. On top of the examples given above, I think there are two additional things to mention; one being construction, the other being used. When working on this collection, our designers considered not only the look of each piece but also the construction and deconstruction; the way pieces can be built to later be adapted or broken down for recycling, hence the use of innovations such as RESORTEC Smart Stitch dissolvable threading. A key part of that was to send a message to our consumers about recycling their clothing and thinking about the lifespan of the pieces they buy. Another focus in terms of construction has been on making items from solely one material, “Mono-fibre”, to enable easier recycling. Secondly, the design process can think really cleverly about use, and try to make pieces that can be worn time and time again, and restyled. As I mentioned above, that’s why we have tried to make pieces adaptable, so they can be kept, transformed, and even shared with friends."

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Anyone who was "hoping" for basics in the new H&M collection will be bitterly disappointed. The "Innovation Circular Design Story" is sophisticated, colourful and reminiscent of couture. (Photo: H&M)
"I personally love second-hand fashion and am always on the hunt for a great vintage piece – particularly party dresses and great old jeans." - Ann-Sofie Johansson

Secondhand fashion is on the rise and is already part of Gen Z's wardrobe. Do you also engage in it and incorporate preloved pieces into your wardrobe? 

Ann-Sofie Johansson: "I personally love second-hand fashion and am always on the hunt for a great vintage piece – particularly party dresses and great old jeans. I’m also a fan of vintage jewelry and accessories. We actually incorporated second-hand, vintage pieces into the Innovation Circulator Design Story, by teaming up with our garment collecting partner I:CO to create a dynamic selection of women´s blazers, using old garments from I:CO. There are six styles in total; each made using existing pieces, reworked with peplum detailing, or frills in new, sustainably sourced, taffeta. The selected blazers will be available in Milan, Stockholm, London, New York, Tokyo, and Paris, and each piece is truly one of a kind and a tribute to the possibilities of recycling."

In general, what does it take to make a wardrobe sustainable? 

Ann-Sofie Johansson: "I think it takes thought, consideration, creativity, and commitment – from brands, designers and consumers."

If you could set up a brand on your own, which values would you implement? 

Ann-Sofie Johansson: "I think the Innovation Circular Design Story really encapsulates a lot of the values that I would want to have within a brand; it’s about circularity, but it’s also about joy. It’s a real celebration of fashion, and of the transformative aspect of clothing."

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The collection will be available in selected stores and online at hm.com from 9 December 2021. (Photo: H&M)

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