The longtime H&M executive has driven several initiatives to improve sustainability at the Swedish fast fashion giant. Named the most important businessperson of the year by Sweden’s leading business journal in 2014, Helena Helmersson has been part of H&M since 1997, when she joined as a budget controller in the buying office. In 2010, she was appointed chief sustainability officer, a position she held until the beginning of this year, when she was promoted to global head of production. She holds a master’s degree in business administration and economics from Umea University.
From 1999 and onwards, Helmersson was promoted to section manager of buying before she moved to Bangladesh as an HR manager of production until 2007. From there, she moved to Hong Kong as a department manager for underwear in the production office. She moved back to Stockholm in 2010 after five years abroad to take the lead as CSR manager to oversee social responsibility and supply chain.
Her long-term vision for H&M is to improve the sustainability of H&M, one of the world’s largest clothing manufacturers and retailers. First initiated in the 1990s, the company’s sustainability strategy has led to more transparent supply chain processes and a ‘closed loop’ of textiles with the company’s collection services, where customers can bring in clothing to be recycled. H&M debuted its conscious range made of 20 percent recycled fibres as well.
"We are really are proud that we can offer so many people around the world affordable and more sustainable fashion," Helmersson told Just-Style. "When it comes to worker conditions, I really don't think prices in the stores really tell us anything about working conditions. It's more the size of the companies."
One of her main goals is to collaborate with public policy makers and other stakeholders in local markets. "It's not enough to just have a code of conduct. It's about building systems in these countries. It's not as easy as a brand stating what a certain level of wage should be. We need to build the systems to make that work locally."