H&M Talks ‘Color Story,’ Sustainability and Rentals

For the latest installment of its Innovation Stories concept collection, H&M is rolling out “Color Story.” Rather than play up the vibrancy, this initiative underlines sustainability with input from lesser-known innovators.

The assortment features apparel and accessories that were made with progressive dyeing techniques such as biotechnology, plant-based pigments and closed-loop systems. The approach is meant to minimize the environmental impact.

Ann-Sofie Johansson, creative adviser at H&M, said: “Colors can really affect us in so many different ways. You can get happy with certain colors, and get a lot of energy. Colors can calm us down. It can make us aroused. There are so many ways that colors can affect us as humans. Maybe we haven’t thought about that so much before. But during the pandemic, we really recognize that we need color. There is kind of this urge for color. It’s kind of a trend.”

While there has been an interest in neutrals and whites for some time, colors in general have been coming on strong, not just brights, but pastels, too, Johansson said. While art by Mark Rothko and Henri Matisse have intrigued her recently, how colors are put together has been another attraction. “A color becomes new when it is put together with a new color. How you put colors together is one of the key aspects of making a collection that feels approachable and fashionable,” she said, adding that as the first thing that attracts a customer, a color can put a person off or make them want to have that garment.

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In the works for more than a year, Color Story had its share of fits and starts, but the end goal is to incorporate some of these cutting-edge techniques into more H&M collections. When that could happen is tough to pinpoint, but she said starting the process, supporting the innovators, designers and engineers involved and perhaps inspiring other companies by example are key. While recycled polyester is offered widely at H&M, some color techniques may not be scaled up that extensively due to the size of the company.

The Color Story collection will makes its debut in select U.S. stores and online on April 22, and globally on April 15.

Another indicator of the green-minded effort is a rental component that will enable shoppers in Stockholm and Berlin to rent pieces from the collection. Just as scaling up the innovative color techniques is on the chain’s to-do list, testing the waters for consumers’ interest in renting clothing could lead to a more immersed program.

Shoppers will find a palette of warm oranges, sage greens, indigos and soft yellows in the new collection. A digitally printed cropped shirt with spaghetti straps and a drawstring skirt, a caped dress and a poncho-style hoodie are among the looks. A chestnut-toned top and trouser set was colored with We Are SpinDye, a low-impact method for recycled and recyclable polyester. Hoop earrings are made purely from melted recycled glass and chunky soled sandals are made from Bloom, a trademarked flexible foam produced partially with algae biomass. Colorifix uses a natural biological process to produce and fix pigments onto textiles that involves DNA sequencing.

The project and all of H&M’s sustainability efforts are meant to inspire customers and empower them to make better choices. The company also wants to shed some light on the environmental impact of coloring processes, and reduce the amount of water, energy and chemicals. Engagement with consumers is also integral, Johansson said. “They also challenge us with questions and suggestions. Hopefully, we will raise awareness also.”

As for whether the Color Story is meant to tie into the ongoing cultural conversation about the importance of the mosaic of the human race and offering equality to people of all races, Johansson said, “It’s always tied into H&M. We are dedicated to equality. Our customers have to be able to see themselves in H&M. Also, with all our colleagues around the world, it’s really an important part of the workforce. Diversity, equality and inclusiveness are a part of H&M’s DNA.”

Color Story also features Alchemie Technology Endeavor’s waterless digital on-demand dyeing one-step process that is said to reduce the carbon footprint by 85 percent. Reducing water usage — a priority for H&M in its supply chain for the past decade, is evident in Color Story. By 2030, the company aims to use only recycled or sustainably sourced materials. Looking further out, the company is shooting to be climate positive by 2040. Asked how H&M will hold itself accountable to reaching those goals along the way, Johansson said, “It’s really important that we have long-term goals and short-term goals. By 2025, for example, 30 percent of all the fabrics that we use should be recycled.”

While H&M has been removed from all major Chinese platforms over the Xinjiang cotton ban, Johansson said she was not the right person to comment on that. More generally speaking, that controversy and the shipping backup caused by the cargo ship stuck across the Suez Canal have magnified to many people how all of our choices affect people around the world whether they are buying something or shipping something. Johansson said, “The times are really most challenging and exciting at the same time, because things are changing — even more rapidly during the pandemic. We just have to realize that everything is connected. We stand behind what we believe at H&M and our values. We will have to take it from there.”

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