Hennes & Mauritz AB – more commonly known as H&M – is a multinational fashion company based in Sweden. It was founded by Erling Persson in 1947 and was initially called Hennes, the Swedish word for “hers” because it only sold women’s clothing. In 1968, the company was renamed “Hennes & Mauritz” and, since then, has expanded its product categories to include womenswear, menswear, childrenswear, footwear, accessories, cosmetics, and even home furnishings.
Today, H&M is one of the trendiest fast-fashion brands and strives to offer the latest styles at the best price. Along with other brands – Arket, COS, Weekday, Afound, & Other Stories, Monki, and H&M Home – H&M is part of the H&M Group. The Group is estimated to sell 3 billion articles of clothing per year and is one of the top three fashion retailers in the world. In Bangladesh alone, it sources from 200+ factories employing half a million workers. Around the world, H&M has 4,332 stores in over 70 countries, and it took a stand on animal rights concerns in recent years.
Should vegans shop at H&M? Well, right off the bat, I’d say “No!” but I prefer to say “It depends” and I’m going to explain why. H&M is fur-free and, since the early 2000s, the brand has banned exotic skin and angora wool. A few years later, H&M came up with vegan collections where plant-based fibers replaced animal leather. Does this make H&M a vegan brand? No. Is H&M making steps forward? Yes. Should vegans shop at H&M? It depends on anyone’s priorities and needs.
Confused enough? Don’t worry! This article is by far the most comprehensive H&M guide you can find out there. Here you’ll find all the information you need to make a conscious purchase decision. After reading it, you’ll be able to decide if H&M is or not the cheap, trendy, and – above all – imperfectly vegan fashion brand you were looking for.
Are H&M clothes vegan?
But first of all, what’s a vegan fashion brand? It’s the one that refuses any material of animal origin in the whole manufacturing process. Vegan brands design clothing free of animal derivatives like fur, leather, feathers, wool, silk, angora, exotic animal skin and hair, and instead use recycled and plant-based fibers.
Is H&M a vegan brand? No, despite the brand is taking small steps in the right direction, it doesn’t sell exclusively vegan clothes, as such we can’t label it as “vegan”. Indeed, although most of H&M’s collections – actually more than 90% – are mainly made with vegan materials like cotton, their clothing might contain hidden ingredients of animal origin. This makes H&M still far from being 100% vegan.
If you want to buy vegan clothes at H&M, you can find lots of cruelty-free pieces of clothing, but we recommend you always pay attention and carefully read the labels and hangtags.
What materials can you buy as a vegan at H&M?
For your vegan shopping at H&M, you can choose among a wide range of fibers, most of which are also sourced sustainably. Let’s review them.
Cotton: by far the fiber they use the most. Although cotton is a natural and vegan fiber, it has very bad effects on soil quality, biodiversity, and people working in cotton fields due to the high water and chemical use it requires. As such, since 2020, all the cotton used by H&M is organic, recycled, or sourced through the Better Cotton Initiative (aka BCI, a non-profit organization that helps cotton growers to use more sustainable farming methods).
Recycled polyester, polyamide, and plastic: they get these fibers from plastic bottles, bags and containers, old fishing nets and carpets. Using these fibers to make underwear, outerwear, and accessories is also a great way to save natural resources and reduce what ends up in landfills.
Tencel Lyocell: a fiber made from wood cellulose. It is also a way more sustainable option than cotton because it requires little or no irrigation or pesticides.
Linen: a fiber made from flax plants. H&M mainly uses organic linen that derives from plants grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
Natural rubber: a renewable and recyclable material that requires little energy and few chemicals to produce. At H&M, all the rubber is FSC-certified and comes from well-managed rubber trees.
Jute: a fiber extracted from the bark of the white jute plant. H&M uses organic jute, which requires little water, no chemical pesticides or fertilizers, and contains no GMOs.
Recycled glass: recycling glass means saving natural resources such as sand or limestone. H&M uses it to make beads for clothes, accessories, and home decor embellishments.
What materials should you avoid as a vegan at H&M?
As well as vegan fibers, H&M uses animal-sourced materials from which I bet you want to keep yourself away:
Wool and cashmere: both virgin and recycled wool and cashmere are mainly used for heavier outdoor garments, knitted sweaters, hats, gloves, and scarves.
Leather: it’s also used on apparently vegan clothes like denim in the form of patches and backpatches.
Silk: H&M is proud to say that its silk is organic. What does this mean? It has nothing to do with the silkworms’ welfare, it only means that the trees silkworms live in are grown in an environmentally friendly way, using natural and sustainable farming techniques. The silkworms are inevitably killed to make silk (around 6,600 for 1 kg of silk).
Pearls and mother of pearls: H&M Group doesn’t allow coral or any shell from vulnerable or endangered species to be used in its products. However, they use cultivated pearls. Many oysters die during the pearl-making process, so pearls are not vegan-friendly. As such, pay attention to jewelry, buttons, and other embellishments.
Down and feathers: H&M uses both virgin and recycled down and feathers.
H&M’s steps towards veganism
H&M is fur-free and doesn’t accept any animal-derived horn or bone to be used in their products. In addition, H&M is working to improve animal welfare not only in its supply chain but also within the entire fashion industry. In particular, the brand encourages the use of recycled animal fibers and supports the development of innovative and cruelty-free materials that can offer the same qualities as animal ones.
Of course, this doesn’t qualify H&M as a vegan brand, but every single step towards a better and less cruel world counts, and H&M would seem to be aware that a fashion industry not based on materials of animal origin is to be preferred. Despite there is still a lot of room for improvement, let’s have a look at H&M’s main steps towards veganism:
2009: bans cosmetic ingredients that have been tested on animals;
2013: bans exotic skin, any material deriving from endangered species, and angora wool;
2020: bans mohair;
2021: gradually phasing out conventional cashmere.
Over the last years, H&M has also created some innovative collections, partially or totally vegan and PETA-approved:
2010: H&M launches Conscious Collection. In this collection, you can find products made from sustainable and also vegan fibers such as organic cotton and recycled polyester. However, even in the Conscious Collection you can find some non-vegan blends.
2012: Conscious Exclusive Collection – H&M’s premium womenswear collection of elevated pieces and timeless classics made from sustainably sourced materials like cotton, Tencel, and linen – is launched. The same goes for the Conscious Exclusive Collection: not all the pieces are vegan.
Orange Fiber: sustainable silk-like fabric made from citrus juice by-products;
Piñatex: a natural leather alternative made from cellulose fibers extracted from pineapple leaves;
Vegea: an innovative vegan leather alternative made from discarded grape skins and stalks.
2020: H&M uses a natural and vegan dye made from coffee grounds collected from H&M’s own production offices.
2021: Lee x H&M Collection is launched. This is the first 100% vegan and sustainable denim collection at H&M that comprises cotton jeans (made from 80% post-industrial waste and 20% post-consumer waste) and a non-cotton denim jacket (made from 50% Tencel Lyocell and 50% Lenzing Ecovero Viscose). The patches are vegan and made from FSC certified cork and jacron paper.
2021: H&M introduces Innovation Stories, a brand new initiative that sees a range of collections launch throughout 2021 with many vegan pieces. Each drop will be celebrating forward-thinking sustainability processes.
Science Story is the first collection. With it, H&M introduces and uses, among others, Desserto, a plant-based alternative to animal leather produced from cactus plants.
For the sake of clarity, other H&M’s steps should be mentioned:
Since 2013, a relevant proportion of the leather used in their products is either certified organic or comes from LWG-certified tanneries, which follow an environmental stewardship protocol. Their goal is to increase the proportion of certified leather every year. H&M uses leather from cows, buffalo, sheep, goats, and pigs that have been bred for meat production.
Since 2015, they only accept virgin down from farms certified according to the Responsible Down Standard (H&M Group is the biggest buyer of these so-called “preferred down” in the world).
By end of 2022, all wool used in their products should come either from farms certified to the Responsible Wool Standard or from recycled sources.
What do I think about these three last steps? To me, it’s all the usual smoke and mirrors. I appreciate the efforts made, and I know perfectly well that it’s not that easy to change such deep-rooted business activities, but causing suffering to animals for the sole purpose of human vanity is terribly wrong and unacceptable.
Sustainable fashion refers to a way of producing that prioritizes not having harmful impacts on the planet, society, and animals over making money. Yes indeed, if you’re vegan – or if you’re not but care about animals – then you should care about people and the environment too.
We’ve extensively talked about how H&M treats animals and the positive steps to reduce its environmental impact – like sourcing fibers sustainably – but less has been said about worker’s rights and the general ethical issues at H&M. I’d like to take you back in time for a little while to the deadliest disaster in the fashion industry to date to better show you just how crucial this topic is.
Dhaka, Bangladesh, 24th April 2013: the Rana Plaza building, which housed 5 garment factories, collapsed and killed 1,132 people and injured more than 2,500 people who were sewing fast-fashion clothes for several brands like Primark, Walmart, Mango, Matalan, and many more.
According to The New York Times, H&M had no ties to Rana Plana (but plenty of other alleged supply chain abuses). However, H&M was the first and the largest brand to sign the 2013 Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, and the brand also announced that 850,000 workers in its supply chain would be paid a fair living wage by 2018.
Like many fashion brands, H&M doesn’t own the factories where the clothes are made. But they want everyone involved in making their products to have a safe, fair, and equal working environment. As such, any supplier working with them must sign a non-negotiable “Sustainability Commitment”, which is a set of standards regarding fair wages, good working conditions, animal welfare, and much more.
H&M has indubitably made some improvements on its labor policies in recent years to the point that it received a score of 61-70% in the latest Fashion Transparency Index. Indeed, the brand publishes detailed information about its supplier policies, audit, forced labor, gender equality, freedom of association. However, transparency doesn’t mean that what a brand has to share is good, it means that the brand is simply sharing information.
While the brand does have a great project to improve wages, there is no major evidence it ensures payment of a living wage across its entire supply chain. In addition, almost none of H&M’s supply chain seems to be certified by labor standards aimed at ensuring workers’ health and safety, living wages, or other rights.
You can do much more than that, H&M!
We have reviewed the story and the purpose of H&M by showing that even a non-vegan fashion brand can do a lot to care for animals. Nevertheless, I won’t go far wrong if I say that H&M wouldn’t be recommended by most when it comes to vegan fashion. So why are we talking about H&M in this article? Well, sometimes it’s important to look past the obvious because there may be more to the world than meets the eye.
In addition, not everyone can afford sustainable fashion and/or has the time or like to go thrifting, and H&M also offers trendy and cheap vegan clothes. I’ll never judge you for choosing or preferring H&M if you can only afford it, but I’d like to give you some extra tips you may find useful while shopping there:
buy mindfully and buy less – buy only what you really need and love;
read the hangtags and prefer clothing made from organic, recycled, or alternative fibers – choose pieces from the Conscious Collection. You can find them online or in the stores thanks to a special green hangtag;
take care of your clothes after purchase – wash less, wear longer and learn how to mend;
give a second life to what you no longer wear by swapping, donating, or selling it.
On the other hand, if you can afford sustainable fashion and want to give it a chance, here are some alternative brands where you can find trendy and affordable clothes that don’t cost the planet, animals, and workers:
Organic Basics is a popular underwear and activewear brand that creates long-lasting essentials for women and men from organic cotton, recycled nylon, and other renewable materials. They don’t design fancy and bold patterns, but they have pastel and neutral colors that are one-of-a-kind and charming. All their products – except for some accessories made from recycled wool and cashmere – are vegan and PETA-approved.
Asket doesn’t design seasonal collections and puts efforts into building a single permanent collection of basics for men. It is a size-inclusive brand that prioritizes a minimalist style and neutral colors. Asket mainly uses cotton and, despite they don’t use fur, leather, down, exotic animal skin, or angora, some pieces are made from wool and exotic animal hair.
Nudie Jeans designs timeless and seasonless everyday garments. Since 2012, all their denim is made with 100% organic cotton. In 2018 they stopped using leather patches on denim, thereby making their jeans vegan. They mainly use cotton (organic, Fairtrade-certified, or recycled) in all the garments, but a small portion of them also contain wool (recycled and virgin).
Ninety Percent creates stylish and contemporary womenswear you can wear forever. They use sustainable and premium quality fibers: recycled and organic cotton, Modal, Tencel, linen, hemp, and EcoVero. Ninety Percent is not a 100% vegan brand because it also uses wool.
Nu-in makes vegan and PETA-approved everyday essentials and activewear for women and men. Their clothes are versatile and made from eco-friendly sources – organic and recycled cotton, recycled plastic bottles, production waste, old fishing nets, and manufacturing waste. Nu-in has everything you need for a sustainable and vegan wardrobe, from bathing suits to pajamas.
Does H&M use vegan glue? We should also pay attention to glue because some fashion items – mostly bags and shoes – contain glue made from animals’ connective tissue or bones. As such, even if you purchase leather-free items they still may not be vegan-friendly. H&M declares that it’s striving to replace solvent-based glues in the production of footwear and other accessories, but nothing has been said about the presence or absence of animal-derived substances in the glue they use.
Does H&M use vegan ink? What about silkscreen printing? It’s always a good idea to double-check for the ink as well. Indeed, sometimes even inks labeled as “natural” are not vegan because they contain, for example, insects. Even the emulsion for screen printing – a mesh screen is generally used as a stencil to push the ink through the textile – may be non-vegan and contain substances like gelatin. A long time ago the screens themselves weren’t vegan and made of silk, but to date they’re usually made of nylon. H&M hasn’t yet stated anything about inks and screen printing.
How to be sure that a brand is 100% vegan? The best way is to look for the PETA-approved Vegan logo. This certification guarantees that the brand or a specific product is completely free from materials and substances of animal origin. However, some brands may not have the logo and still be vegan. Usually, you can trust brands that only use fibers like cotton, linen, recycled polyester, and so on. H&M is not a PETA-approved brand, but it has several PETA-approved products.
Alberta Bernardi is a Ph.D. in Management, Innovation, and Sustainable Development. She likes to call herself a “sustainability warrior” because she aims to spread knowledge on the environment, ethics, and plastic pollution day after day. Her love of nature and battle against plastic around the world are on Instagram @together_no_plastic