Together for tomorrow


H&M x Lee collection launches along with sustainability tips from creatives

by | Jan 27, 2021

All fashion should be sustainable fashion. Change the business model. Slow down production. Produce only what sells. Insist on ethical labour conditions. Don’t let profit stand in the way of change. Pay fair wages.

These are statements from a series of frank conversations released by the Swedish fast fashion brand, H&M, for the launch of its collaboration with American jean brand, Lee – a collaboration that has put sustainability central to its design.

According to H&M’s press release, “The brands took a holistic approach, looking at every stage of denim production.” It is the first time that H&M is sharing the life cycle assessment data (to be released on 28 January 2021) indicating the water, C02 & energy impact of each denim garment from raw materials to end of use.

The production of jeans has a heavy impact. Denim is made primarily with cotton (often blended with synthetic fibres such as polyester). And though all fibres have their trade-offs, “cotton in general is a very thirsty crop,” says Tatiana Schlossberg, the author of Inconspicuous Consumption. Taking into account cotton production, manufacture, transport and washing, lifecycle assessments show that it takes 3,781 litres of water to make one pair of jeans, This is according to UN Environment, which also says, “The process equates to around 33.4 kilograms of carbon equivalent emitted, like driving 111 kilometres or watching 246 hours of TV on a big screen.”

The jeans manufactured for the H&M x LEE collaboration are H&M’s first 100% recycled cotton jeans, made from 80% post-industrial waste and 20% post-consumer waste. They have also used denim that is cotton-free, made from renewable man-made fibres, as well water-saving dyes and lower impact denim washes that have been verified by third parties for their lower water usage, chemical, and energy consumption.

Collaborations are great for a time like now when we need to move swiftly to find solutions. SDG17 recognises that with strong partnerships and co-operation we are able to build a better future faster and more efficiently. Designer at H&M Jon Loman says, “We looked at every detail and challenged each other in a positive way.” Another H&M designer, Victoria Allen says, “We hope that by pushing fo more sustainable solutions, it makes it easier for the denim industry as a whole to follow our lead.”

The series of short online conversations between five creatives and H&M managers are simultaneously challenging and casual, and very frank. They question each other about what sustainability means, the creators ask probing questions about what H&M is doing about mass production and they offer their suggestions to the fast fashion brand.

We have to produce only what we can sell

In her interview with scientist and sustainability advocate Zinnia Kumar, CEO Helena Hermersson says, “We have to produce only what we can sell.” Helena also speaks of the different business models the brand is exploring such as renting and remaking. She says H&M’s goal is that by 2030 all materials should come from sustainable sources, and that these should be used over and over again.

The H&M staff say that to survive, the brand must become sustainable: It’s non-negotiable. They all make it clear that social and environmental sustainability are equally important. Sustainability Manager Global Production Harsha Vardhan says H&M monitors how suppliers treat staff as well as the environmental impact. But there are challenges of which Helena says the biggest one is scaling up the solutions. “How do we ensure that not only the material but also the threads, the packaging, finishings are sustainable – how can we get them into the whole system? How can we use this for everything?” she asks.

You can’t let profit stand in the way

Stressing the responsibility that H&M has, model and activist Peter Dupont insists that H&M not only has to take sustainability very seriously, but it must make changes quickly. Peter recommends that the business strategy has to change radically. “You can’t let profit stand in the way,” he says.

Information about successful research and development should be made freely and widely available

Peter’s advice to H&M is that it should compete with other brands for customers only not for knowledge. Information about successful research and development should be made freely and widely available. “H&M should compete with other brands for customers not for knowledge.” This should make it easier for all fashion to be sustainable, not just niche collections.

In her conversation with Giorgina Waltiers, head of transparency at H&M Deba Hekmat says, “We want to become a 100% circular business. We only want to use materials that can be used over and over again…We want to reduce the amount of waste… And we want to reduce the gap between supply and demand.”

H&M hopes that this campaign will make people think about all the processes and parts of making clothes; not just the fabric but the buttons and threads too. And Zinnia hopes that all fashion will be sustainable fashion. She says in her interview with Helena, “We shouldn’t have to label some fashion sustainable and some not.”

We hope that by 2030, at the latest, this will be the case.

The collection

The collection is inspired by the ’90s, filled with statement pieces from Lee’s archive like the Lee’s classic Rider jacket, together with essential jersey pieces and accessories. Think wide jeans, denim dresses, carpenter jeans, dungarees, jeans in relaxed fits, tees, hoodies, bucket hats, beanies and much more — all made from more sustainable materials. Lee x H&M features collections for women, men and kids, and will be available in SA at the Sandton City, Canal Walk and Gateway Theatre of Shopping H&M stores from 28th January.

Composition and materials

  • 100% recycled cotton jeans made from 80% post-industrial waste and 20% post-consumer waste
  • Jacket in thick denim made from an organic cotton, recycled cotton, and organic hemp blend
  • Non-cotton denim jacket made from 50% TENCEL™ Lyocell and 50% LENZING™ ECOVERO™ Viscose
  • Non-leather backpatches made from Forest Stewardship Council certified cork and jacron paper
  • T-shirt made from an organic cotton and Texloop™ recycled cotton blend.
  • Chest pockets with flap and button, Lee logo on one chest pocket in recycled polyester fabric
  • Fabric appliqué made from recycled polyester
  • Thread made from recycled polyester
  • Denim manufactured without environmentally harmful chemicals in an energy-saving, water-efficient process


  • Scientist and sustainability advocate Zinnia Kumar virtually met with H&M’s CEO, Helena Helmersson, to chat about the future of fast fashion and how it can (and must) be sustainable. Their conversation is here and posted above. 
  • Designer and activist Avery Ginsberg virtually met with the Lee x H&M designer, Victoria Allen, to chat about the production of the collection and the future of fashion. The conversation is here.
  • Artist Alima Lee virtually met with Harsha Vardhan, Sustainability Manager Global Production, to chat about how to make sustainable choices. The conversation is here. 
  • Model Peter Dupont virtually met with H&M’s Global Sustainability Manager, Pascal Brun, to chat about the new collection and closing the loop. Their conversation is here. 
  • Model Deba Hekmat virtually met with H&M’s Transparency Lead, Giorgina Waltiers, to chat about the fashion industry and the importance of knowing how everything is made. Their conversation is here.


  • This is a sponsored post
  • Lee x H&M collection drops 28 January and will be available in SA at the Sandton City, Canal Walk and Gateway Theatre of Shopping H&M stores. For more information about the collection read this link 
Share this article:

Related Posts

Our work is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 12, which aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production. Read More