Can H&M Make Fast Fashion an Eco-Conscious Luxury Competitor in China?

H&M displayed its new Conscious Exclusive collection with an interactive exhibit in Swire's Taikoo Li mall in Beijing. (Courtesy Photo)

H&M displayed its new Conscious Exclusive collection with an interactive exhibit in Swire’s Taikoo Li mall in Beijing. (Courtesy Photo)

H&M’s sustainability initiative is live for another season in China, where it brings fast-fashion consumers upmarket, luxurious looks made with what it says are eco-friendly fabrics. The brand took to Taikoo Li mall in Beijing to launch its Conscious Exclusive 2016 collection, taking the opportunity to educate Chinese passersby on the perks of keeping their closet green.

Conscious Exclusive, whose priciest piece runs around $650 for a wedding dress made from a blend of organic silk embroidered with recycled glass beads, takes its creative cue from 19th-century French paintings by Gustave Moreau with designs and silhouettes that address historical milestones in global fashion. Expressing how eco-friendly fashion can be applied across genres, centuries, and mediums, the designs incorporate green textiles like linen, silk, and polyester.

The Musée des Arts Décoratifs at the Louvre in Paris played host to the launch of the line, but for those not lucky enough to see the grand reveal, VIPs in Beijing’s Sanlitun shopping district could witness actress and activist Yao Chen—often called the Angelina Jolie of China—drop off her old clothes at the brand’s official launch on Wednesday. Shoppers were encouraged to also bring by unwanted clothing from their own wardrobes, and the recycled fabrics are incorporated into future Conscious collections.

H&M's interactive exhibit in Swire's Taikoo Li mall in Beijing featured an in-depth look at its eco-friendly Conscious Exclusive collection. (Courtesy Photo)

H&M’s interactive exhibit in Swire’s Taikoo Li mall in Beijing featured an in-depth look at its eco-friendly Conscious Exclusive collection. (Courtesy Photo)

The remainder of the pop-up exhibit, encased in a greenhouse nearby H&M’s flagship store, featured demonstrations that explain the concept of eco-friendly fashion and the process behind using new technologies in textile-making to creating elegant clothing, with a video from the face of the campaign, French art director and model Julia Restoin Roitfeld. In one corner of the space, art deco-style drop earrings hung suspended above a pile of discarded denim to demonstrate the use of a recycled material called Denimite. In another enclosure, a jacquard-weave tote bag made of recycled polyester was displayed above plastic water bottles.

H&M first introduced its Conscious and Conscious Exclusive collections to Chinese consumers two years ago with bohemian looks that utilized organic silk and leather and recycled plastic, designed by UK-based sustainable fashion think tank Ever Manifesto. All the while, there have been multiple efforts by brands across China urging Chinese consumers to shop sustainably, especially in the luxury sector. Last year, Kering, the owner of top brands like Gucci and Alexander McQueen, provided a grant to Beijing-based social-conscious jeweler Starfish Project, and has made efforts to use sustainably-sourced raw materials and avoid using ones that contain hazardous chemicals.

Outside of sustainability initiatives, analysts have wondered whether luxury brands have to worry about competition from fast-fashion labels such as H&M. They have argued that the brand’s reach may have edged into luxury retail territory after a hysteria-inducing collaboration with Balmain that had resellers earning more on eBay for the H&M collection than what discounted Balmain clothes were going for. These comparisons could spill over into the China market as H&M’s catchy green campaigns join those of other high-end fashion houses catering to a growing number of Chinese millennials lapping up brands with CSR initiatives.

The clothing that hasn’t already sold out is now available for purchase in select stores in Beijing and Shanghai.

 

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