Can Fast Fashion And Sustainability Co-Exist? We Ask H&M Thailand's CEO
French businessman Philippe Lassaux took up the hot seat at H&M Thailand in 2014. Counting years of experience as a lawyer, chartered accountant, pharmaceutical and retail industry executive, today he applies his managerial nous to the challenges of helming the Thai operations of one of the world’s biggest fashion retail brands, particularly its role as a pathfinder for sustainability in the industry.
H&M is proud of its successful eco-friendly innovations—from fashionable ‘vegan leather’ sourced from ethical producers to recycled denim made with organic cotton and reusable metal rivets. The brand’s newest initiative is nicknamed Looop, a breakthrough system that takes the industry a big step towards closing the cycle of waste produced by fast fashion. It works by taking apart old garments and reassembling them into new apparel—in-store in a matter of a few hours—while producing zero waste. The Looop system uses no water and no chemicals, giving the reimagined pieces a lower environmental impact than the originals when they were made. “Customers can watch as their old clothing is shredded, spun and reknitted into a new garment,” Lassaux explains. Though the Looop’s prototype system is currently only available at H&M’s flagship store in Stockholm, customers can look forward to its presence in Bangkok as soon as the system is rolled out internationally.
Beyond Looop, H&M is active in the promotion of eco-friendly fashion in other ways. Taking advantage of the growing demand for sustainability among millennials and Generation Z, the brand has implemented information labels and point-of-sale signs to indicate garments produced sustainably. “It’s really to make sure that people can self-educate and know how garments are created and what they are made of,” he says. Today almost 60 per cent of H&M’s clothing is made with sustainability in mind and the CEO says the aim is for that number to reach 100 per cent by 2030.
Introduced in 2016, H&M’s Garment Collection boxes have also been a hit. Amassing more than five tons of used clothing in 2019, what would have been waste went on to be reworked and reworn by the style-conscious around the world. The brand’s sustainability efforts also encompass Conscious, a collection of shoes and accessories made from recycled materials. The H&M Foundation and the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) have established Planet First as well, a programme aiming to innovate a planet-positive technology to close the loop on fast fashion, in which the foundation has donated US$12 million. In addition, H&M has launched the Bottle2Fashion initiative, which in partnership with Danone AQUA, is transforming plastic bottle waste from the shores of Indonesia into recycled polyester used to create the H&M kids’ collection.
Aware that many Thai consumers perceive sustainable goods to be higher priced, the Frenchman is seeking to break this mindset. “At H&M it’s not true,” he states. “In fact, sustainability has become such an embedded part of all forms of business that it should be seen not as a cost burden but an investment in smart practices. It simply doesn’t need to be expensive and as well as being good for the environment, being sustainable saves on the bottom line in the long run.”
Lassaux concludes, “The mindset at H&M is one of progress. We give ourselves goals and we look to achieve them on time.” In an industry where environmental consequences are often overlooked, H&M has taken a step back and is focused on creating a world where fashion can be both fast and sustainable, one garment at a time.
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