Making clothing industry more sustainable: H&M meets creative thinkers

Published on 29 February 2024 at 17:05

H&M's participation in the National Hackathon Circular Economy 2024

By: Marja van der Zanden, Living Ecosystem / MNEXT-Avans

Fashion giant H&M Netherlands was one of the two case holders of this year's National Hackathon Circular Economy 2024 'From Fast Fashion to Slow Fashion'. Wendy Schutte, Sustainability Specialist at H&M Netherlands, shares in an interview the background of H&M's involvement, the issue they challenged the students with and what the Hackathon gave them.

The annual NHCE week focuses on coming up with circular solutions to practical issues. This year, from 5 to 9 February, more than 250 mbo, hbo and wo students worked together on the issue of how to make the fashion industry more sustainable faster. They did so by working on practical issues from H&M and New Optimist. Participation offered H&M Netherlands the chance to explore new perspectives and receive innovative solutions from these creative young thinkers.

Sustainability as a driving force

Schutte, responsible for sustainability on the marketing and consumer side, explained that H&M is committed to sustainability globally in three pillars: 'Leading the Change,' 'Circularity and Climate,' and 'Fair and Equal.' Under 'Circularity and Climate', H&M is committed to concrete goals, including achieving 'net zero' by 2040 and using 100% more sustainable or recycled materials by 2030.

One notable initiative to achieve these goals is H&M's rental service, launched in 2019 in Stockholm and also included in their Flagship store in Amsterdam in 2021. The concept focuses on the rental of occasion wear, with the intention of scaling this up and expanding - possibly to an online platform. Occasional clothes are currently often worn once, after which they remain in the wardrobe. Schutte explains that the rental service fits within the transition to a circular ecosystem, where occasion clothes are worn repeatedly, extending the life of garments.

H&M's NHCE-issue for students: the rental service

H&M's involvement in the National Hackathon Circular Economy revolved around the possibility of scaling up this rental service. The challenge for the student teams from mbo, hbo and wo was to come up with ways to expand the service and market it effectively.

From sales to rental

The winning idea, called 'Atelier by H&M', proposes to stop selling party wear completely and create a separate brand that rents out high-quality, sustainable party wear. Complementing this is a digital styling assistant, which helps customers choose the right clothes as well as an avatar for the right fit. Schutte: "That's just really creative! Nice thinking and really an answer to one of the biggest challenges for online rentals, that customers find it hard to decide which item to rent and uncertainty about the fit." This also prevents people from having to order and return multiple sizes, which in turn impacts another part of the chain and sustainability.

Enthusiastic about students' ideas

Schutte is enthusiastic about the students' ideas. Not only do they align with H&M's own efforts, they also offer new perspectives. She stresses the importance of engaging with the younger generation to understand their ways of thinking and needs.

"We will of course discuss all the ideas from the Hackathon in the team," she says. H&M is also taking the ideas from the other finalists, such as targeting other segments, highlighting more sustainable suppliers and possibly the deposit system on clothes.

Schutte: "My advice to students: Stay committed to circularity and, above all, keep coming up with those creative new ideas to do things differently."

Advice to students and recommendation to businesses
Schutte hopes students will continue to engage with circularity and contribute to creative solutions. She encourages companies to participate in future hackathons, where they can gain valuable insights and be inspired by the ideas of young thinkers.

Schutte: "I definitely recommend other companies to participate in events like the National Hackathon Circular Economy. It not only provides innovative perspectives and applicable ideas, but also gives insight into the vision of the younger generation. It is a great opportunity to collaborate with talented students and jointly accelerate the transition to a sustainable future. Great of course"

H&M's experience gives an insight into the inspiring ideas generated during the week and H&M's commitment to working with innovative thinkers to pave the way towards a more circular and responsible fashion industry. The annual National Hackathon Circular Economy shows that students play a big role in the future towards a sustainable world.

Want to experience this too? Take part next year, either with students or as a company by presenting a real practical issue. Contact Dianne de Fijter at for more information.