Sustainability in the Fashion Supply Chain: H&M Case Study

Sustainability, is significantly important to a fashion business, due to consumers’ increasing awareness of the environment. When a fashion company aims to promote sustainability, the main linkage is to develop a sustainable supply chain. Today at Wear It Fair, we want to contribute and share our knowledge of sustainability in the fashion supply chain. We study the case of fashion brand H&M.

sustainability; fashion; supplychain; H&M
Global textile consumption is estimated to be more than 30 million tons a year, which causes serious social and environmental impacts, within the supply chain. Sustainability issues are crucial to the fashion industry:  in the pursuit of low production costs, apparel firms took advantage of lower environmental awareness and a loose environmental regulatory system in developing countries. Fashion brands such as Benetton, Adidas, and C&A have been blamed in the past for not doing enough, to develop their supply chain in a sustainable way. Many fashion companies recognise the importance of sustainability, in business, and incorporate green practices into their supply chain. Examples include H&M, Uniqlo, North Face, and New Balance. 

The fashion industry has huge impacts on the global environment. The demand to minimise the environmental pollution, is not only from fashion firms but also consumers. The production process in fashion is particularly sensitive to the environment, in terms of making intensive use of chemical products and large quantities of water and pesticides. It is significantly important, for fashion products to be produced in a sustainable manner and follow the guideline of sustainability, such as ISO 14000. From the perspective of the fashion consumers’ they are growing in their knowledge and awareness of social and environmental issues. Consumers’ environmental attitudes directly influence their eco-fashion consumption: they understand that if supply chain is more sustainable, more natural resources are used and less CO2 are emitted. In return, retail prices might also be increased. Previous studies reveal that fashion consumers are interested in purchasing sustainable fashion products and are also willing to pay a higher price, as long as the quality of the eco-product is satisfied.

conscious; consumer; sustainability; fashion; supplychain

Sustainable fashion attracts considerable attention from scholars and industrialists, in the area of textile and supply chain management. Sustainable fashion supply chain includes, eco-material preparation, sustainable manufacturing, green distribution, green retailing and ethical consumers. An effective sustainable fashion supply chain. helps companies to enhance brand image and reaches a wide range of ethical consumer. As a result, for firms, being sustainable is a way to promote their responsibility to society and the environment, so as to gain the competitive advantage in the market. For consumers, purchasing sustainable fashion as a human need, is a way to express their attitudes of equality and sustainability. A sustainable fashion product, is made in an environmental and socially friendly manner along the supply chain, which includes raw material production, manufacturing, distribution, and retailing.

A lesson of sustainable practices was given by the High Street Retailer H&M, a Swedish multinational fashion company with about 3100 stores across 53 markets. H&M launched the sustainability program, called “Conscious Action”. In this program, broadly speaking, more job opportunities in less developed countries are created, more recyclable resources are used in production and consumers are educated to be more ethical.

As a result, market and supply chain are turning to be more economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable. However, H&M also faces a number of challenges throughout the sustainable supply chain. Challenges and conflicts of being more sustainable and profitable are present at each stage, of the supply chain, including material production, garment manufacturing, transportation/distribution, consumer education, and retailing. We observe that H&M has implemented a sustainable program, in which eco-material is used and promoted. Sustainable manufacturing in countries with a high sustainable consciousness, is adopted. Green distribution approaches with less emissions and energy use, are used. Green retailing and educating consumers are promoted.