Hennes & Mauritz is opening up its global supply chain to other clothing brands as the world’s second-largest fashion retailer tries to push more sustainable ways of making garments.
The Swedish group is launching a service to allow smaller brands to use it and its suppliers in everything from product development and sourcing to production and logistics.
“We are not concerned or afraid of opening up the supply chain. Individual brands can only make it so far. To take it further in the industry we need to open it up to collaboration,” said Gustaf Asp, head of the new venture known as Treadler.
The plans, which are beginning with a pilot scheme involving several unnamed brands, are one of the first initiatives of new H&M chief executive Helena Helmersson, a longtime sustainability executive at the retailer.
Ms Helmersson said that “it’s no secret that we are part of an industry that’s been commercially successful but not sustainable enough.
“To future proof our industry, we have focused on transforming and improving our supply chain. We’ve realised that the output of our efforts can be valuable for others too,” she added.
H&M is known for its cheap clothes and fast fashion, leading to accusations that it fuels overconsumption as well as criticism of its approach to workers’ rights. But the Swedish retailer has long worked on its sustainability strategy and is aiming to become carbon-neutral by 2030, using more renewable energy and more recycled materials in its production.
H&M, like most players in the fashion industry, does not own any of its own factories but works with suppliers around the world.
Mr Asp said the group could help other brands design a supplier network to help them avoid the effects of a trade war or try to minimise the impact from coronavirus.
He declined to comment on how big the business could be for H&M, saying that it would start small but he added that the market was “sizeable”.
Companies across industries have opened up their research processes to others including academics and even competitors in what has become known as open innovation. But few have offered their production network to rival brands.
Mr Asp said the initiative would be open to any maker of garments or textiles and that H&M was starting a pilot with several midsized and large brands in what he described as “quite a disorganised sector”.
Asked whether H&M was merely increasing emissions by producing more clothes, he responded: “Demand for affordable fashion will increase. We believe it’s better that it grows in a sustainable supply chain than a less sustainable one. But it doesn’t solve the problem of overconsumption.”