Published 2020-08-28

This post is also available in Swedish

‘The fashion industry faces an enormous challenge that no one can take on singlehanded’

To generate profitability in more sustainable business models in the textile and fashion industry, it is essential to modify customer behaviour — and secure every customer’s compliance. This view is held by Felicia Reuterswärd, H&M Sweden’s Sustainability Manager, who is taking part in the webinar held by Mistra and Swesif (Sweden’s forum for sustainable investments) to support responsible investments in the textile and fashion sector.

In conjunction with the webinar on 1 September, Investor Brief: Sustainability in Textiles and Fashion is being released. This report is based on results from the Mistra Future Fashion research programme. Felicia Reuterswärd, Sustainability Manager at H&M Sweden, has read the investor brief and is one of the panellists at the webinar.

Felicia Reuterswärd, Sustainability Manager H&M Sweden.

What do you consider the biggest challenges to generating profitability in more sustainable business models?

‘A major challenge we see is bringing about long-term change in the customers’ behaviour, such as getting them to mend garments in poor condition instead of buying new ones or hiring clothes. To make alternative business models profitable, it’s essential for us to get every customer — not just those who are most environmentally aware — to join in the trend.’

How are you working on this at present? 

‘We’re testing lots of alternative business models in the H&M group’s various operations, such as tailoring services, clothing hire and second-hand sales. We evaluate them constantly to see which could be scaled up in a successful, profitable way and, if so, how. So far, we’ve seen extremely encouraging involvement in these initiatives, which is gratifying.’

Investor Brief: Sustainability in Textiles and Fashion, to be released on 1 September, shows that the two key steps in reducing the environmental impact of the textile and fashion industry are avoiding new production and reducing impact from production. How do these research findings affect you at H&M?

‘The whole fashion industry faces a huge challenge, and we’ve got to change how fashion is produced and used. In this respect, as a global company, we have a major responsibility. In our calculations of H&M’s climate impact to date, which are included in our sustainability report, we’ve seen results similar to those shown by Mistra Future Fashion’s research.

‘To realise our vision of being climate-positive and fully circular, we need to make full use of our resources and minimise our carbon emissions. Jointly with researchers, we’ve set climate targets in line with the UN Paris Agreement: we have to achieve climate-neutral production by 2030 and be climate-positive throughout our value chain by 2040.’

What do you think is most interesting about the report?

‘I think the report makes it extremely clear that no company and no supplier, organisation or government can take on the textile and fashion industry’s challenges singlehanded. For us to be able to resolve the challenges, solid cooperation and long-term commitment are needed.’

‘A dilemma for an industry that focuses on high-volume sales’

Niklas Ekman, a share analyst at Carnegie, is another participant in the webinar and has studied the forthcoming report. He thinks sustainability is an issue that is becoming crucial to a company’s existence. 

What do you, as a share analyst, think of the textile and fashion industry?

Niklas Ekman, share analyst at Carnegie

‘I follow the fashion industry primarily from a financial point of view. And I see a sector that, in the past ten years, has wrestled with declining demand, online migration of retail sales, price pressure, and also increasing emphasis on sustainability, which is a fundamental dilemma for an industry that focuses on high-volume sales.’

What is the importance of sustainability aspects in your work?

‘My role isn’t directly linked to sustainability. On the other hand, I note that the issue of sustainability is rapidly growing in significance, mainly driven by businesses themselves but also, to a rising degree, by investors.’

What trends, in terms of sustainability issues, do you think we’re going to see in the years ahead?

‘The financial services industry is often reactive and poor at pushing through early changes in companies. But at some stage they pass a tipping point in which an issue can become utterly crucial for a company’s right to exist. Sustainability is well on the way to being that kind of issue, but the analysis is still extremely superficial and lacking in nuance, notably when it comes to comparing companies in the sector concerned. I think this may change in the years to come.’

What do you think are the most interesting aspects of Investor Brief: Sustainability in Textiles and Fashion?

‘The issue of circular economy: the industry’s inability to achieve closed loops and work for extended product life, recovery and recycling. I agree that this we’re still a very long way behind on this front, and I hope and believe it will be a higher priority in the future.’

Read the report here