Helena Helmersson, the new CEO of the H&M group, the fourth largest in the textile industry, visited Barcelona last week and requested some long and thorough chats with store staff, as well as a walk through the stores themselves.
The fact that the person in charge is a woman is something that shouldn’t call much attention these days. What is indeed relevant is that she was wearing jeans made to fit perfectly using a body scanner, thanks to one of the group’s new projects. This is something they are betting on and one of the biggest trends in the industry.
Nor is it an accident that the group’s new leader has spent the last eight years in the position of sustainability manager. It all amounts to a declaration of intent. I also like to hear that she is substituting the grandson of the H&M founder – I firmly believe in the professionalization of family companies.
Helena Helmersson has made a powerful entrance with a very clear objective – to change the business model – as to continue onwards in the same manner will be unsustainable. How will she do it?
These are the six main points of her strategy to revolutionize the retail sector:
- To produce only what will be sold. This point is one of the most difficult aspects of the fashion industry. Every retailer is taking a gamble with their product selection. They will use big data and artificial intelligence to calculate the real demand and hence cut down on stock.
- To manufacture in a sustainable way using at least 30% recycled or sustainable fabrics. They will not work with or manufacture using factories that produce carbon emissions. Hermelsson does not identify with the current concept of Fast Fashion, one that creates 92 million tons of textile-related waste every year. “If we are talking about a model that provides an agile and quick response to the customer’s demands, one that provides access to a more sustainable lifestyle to a greater number of people, then I can identify with the term. But if we understand it as a way of offering the consumer items of clothing that foster an attitude of wearing something and throwing it away, then I don’t.
- Don’t throw your clothing away. Solutions that she has proposed: that they last longer and can be mended, sold (if the owner wants to), or rented. In their last report, the platform ThredUp asserted that the secondhand clothing market will reach a value of 56,800 million euros in 2028. The resale future is already here.
- More sizes in order to be an inclusive brand, one that doesn’t leave anyone out.
- Personalized products, considering that we are living in the age of personalization.
- Joint ventures with designers to foster quality, price, and sustainability with the Innovation Stories and Circular Design collections.
There are already things happening that are serving to reinforce these macro-trends and accelerate the process. The lockdown caused many people to start shopping online, and the entire sector has improved or reinforced their online channels.
Speaking of product selection and the resulting surplus, a law will come into effect in 2023 in France that will ban the burning/incinerating of unsold clothing.
And in regard to purchase trends, Deloitte asserts that one out of every four people who bought used items of clothing in 2020 did so for environmental reasons, and 35% of these environmentally-aware customers were Millennials or members of Generation Z.
I find Helena Helmersson’s challenges to be very exciting. How long will it take to achieve them? My intuition says that it will happen faster than we might think.