H&M this week published its 2013 sustainability report

H&M this week published its 2013 sustainability report

Collaboration is key for retailers and manufacturers in order to create a more sustainable fashion industry, Swedish apparel giant Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) has said.

Helena Helmersson, head of sustainability for H&M, was speaking to just-style following the release of the fashion firm's 2013 sustainability report, which covers a number of achievements across the entire product lifecycle, ranging from design to how customers take care of their garments.

Highlights include the launch of a fair living wage roadmap, which H&M says will enable suppliers to pay higher wages to their workers - but has been criticised for not yet committing to any clear living-wage benchmark.

Helmersson told just-style she sees H&M's role as "pushing the process".

"We can make sure we have good purchasing practices, we can help suppliers to build wage structures so that wages are negotiated," she says. But she adds that it is not the role of H&M to set a benchmark but to "push the process at the factory floor, strengthening workers and influencing governments, which is a crucial role".

Helmersson also pointed to the success H&M has had with its garment collecting initiative, in addition to its collaboration with WWF on setting new standards for water stewardship in the fashion industry.

However, she believes that collaboration and multi-stakeholder initiatives are incredibly important in order to create a more sustainable fashion industry

"We have collaborated a lot in the industry but I think we could do more," Helmersson says. "Companies of our size need to work a lot with building systems. It's not enough with a code of conduct. It's about building systems in these countries.

"It's not as easy as a brand stating a certain level of wage, we need to build the systems to make that work locally. That, I believe, we have to work even more with to ensure they have that kind of structure and sometimes collaboration is needed."

Helmersson also pointed to "closing the loops" on textile fibres as an important move to creating a more sustainable fashion industry, placing more of an emphasis on innovation.

H&M highlighted in its report the launch of its first closed loop products in 2013, made with 20% recycled material from collected garments. This has enabled the company to decrease the use of virgin resources in its production.

"This is an important initiative given rising raw material costs and an expanding middle class, which puts increasing pressure on the environment," the report notes.

Click here to view the full report.