H&M, known as one of the progenitors of the fast-fashion movement, is trying to take some of the fast out of fast fashion. A flurry of new initiatives rolled out over the last month shows a company that is in the middle of reinventing its image.
Once seen as the enemy of luxury fashion for ripping off their concepts, H&M is partnering with top designers. The retailer’s collaborations have been ramping up this year, with three new collaborations including GP & J Baker, Love Stories and now Moschino. Moschino has helped H&M develop a collection that is a little pricier and a little more exclusive than its traditional fare.
This comes on the heels of H&M’s just-released Conscious collection for fall/winter is 32 pieces, and uses recycled polyester, wool and a material called Econyl made from recycled plastics. The brand is strengthening the ongoing sustainable collection with the introduction of two new materials: recycled cashmere and recycled velvet. The recycled materials strategy is one that is gaining ground in fashion, as demonstrated by Everlane’s recent commitment to only using recycled plastics by 2021. H&M is hoping to have every product produced made entirely from recycled materials by 2030.
H&M is also opening a new concept store in Stockholm that is decidedly different than its standard retail model; instead of racks upon racks of clothes filling every square inch of the store as with most H&M locations, the new shop features a more limited selection of higher-quality, curated goods for a more boutique feel.
“The limited availability of these collections is a huge plus,” said Massimiliano di Battista, CEO of Management + Artists. “Limited-edition drops create a sense of urgency to purchase. This model has been wildly successful with streetwear brands and creates a lot of hype and PR opportunities for H&M.”
H&M is the second-largest producer of fashion goods in the world today. It has codified much of the fast-fashion model used by retailers like Zara, Asos and Topshop to quickly and cheaply produce large quantities of clothing meant to capitalize on trends in the fashion market.
“Their strategy is not necessarily a sign that fast fashion is waning but rather a sign that its delivery needs to keep up with and evolve with the retail trends we see today,” said Jenifer Ekstein, senior consultant at Vivaldi.
H&M’s sales have stagnated over the past few years, and profits have dropped by nearly 20 percent this year alone. In addition to the flagging revenue, fast fashion is also falling out of favor among environmentally conscious consumers. The British House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee declared earlier this month that the fashion industry, and fast fashion in particular, is responsible for 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissions each year. For consumers concerned with sustainability, this has made H&M a complete nonstarter.
“H&M is very smart to evolve from their low-quality and cost reputation. Fast fashion is often synonymous with wastage and poor working conditions,” di Battista said. “Modern consumers will not buy from brands who do not embrace good values.”
“We have to raise the entire quality level: to have fewer items in, a nicer presentation of the goods,” said Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of H&M, in an interview with Reuters.
Taken together, these efforts show a company moving away from the high-volume, low-quality business model of its past and toward something more deliberate and controlled.
“If done correctly, H&M will be able to slowly change their perception of making low-cost, low-quality clothing,” Ekstein said. “However, if they stray too far away, they risk losing a core customer base that looks to them to provide those products and a low price.”