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2019 highlights: The year in innovation news

2019 was a big year for innovation and the Current Daily has been tracking it all throughout – from the rise of 5G-enabled experiences to the continued push towards a circular economy. 

Here, we highlight some of the most interesting stories from the year, outlining why they are an important indication of where the industry is moving in 2020 and beyond.

5G will drive 100m people to shop in AR

Augmented reality took center stage this year as its user-friendly features meant a growing number of brands – and social media platforms like Instagram – started adopting it as a core engagement strategy.

In April, a Gartner report highlighted that 100 million people will shop in AR once high-speed 5G mobile services roll out more extensively. This means the experience is going to be more seamless than ever, giving it better real-time rendering, shorter download times and reduced latency. Retailers seem to be on board, as 46% of them plan to deploy either AR or VR. Check out our piece exploring what other benefits 5G will bring retail.

Fashion brands have only met 21% of their circularity targets for 2020

If there’s one thing to be sure, there’s no escaping the growing momentum around shifting to more sustainable practices as an industry. But is there really progress being made? In July, the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) launched its second yearly assessment of fashion brands and retailers to find that only reached 45 (21%) of the 213 targets the industry has set for 2020 will be met. 

This means the 90 signatories of the GFA’s 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment, which includes fashion companies like adidas, PVH Group and Inditex, will have to hurry if they want to achieve more in the next year. We talked a lot about the need for action in this space when a further collaborative group was announced: the G7 Fashion Pact. If you ask us, it’s time to say enough to the pledges, rather give us some tangible outputs.

H&M to trial clothing rental for the first time

Talking of sustainability, one are where we have seen a lot of action and experimentation this year is in new business models. Rental is making serious strides at all ends of the market, but perhaps most interestingly within fast fashion just recently as the H&M Group announced it will trial clothing rental at one of its H&M Stockholm stores. Members of its customer loyalty program can now rent selected party dresses and skirts from its 2012-2019 Conscious Exclusive collections.

Recently, its brand COS also launched a pilot where it is renting out clothes through Chinese subscription rental platform YCloset, which customers can access through a monthly flat rate. We also published a deep-dive into the different opportunities we see for the industry in rental, here.

Allbirds CEO calls out Amazon product copying

In November, Allbirds’ co-founder and CEO, Joey Zwilinger, wrote an open letter to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos after discovering the e-commerce platform was producing its own wool sneakers similar to the brand’s most popular style.

Instead of going the usual lawsuit route, the founder took this as an opportunity to highlight his brand’s sustainability mission. In the letter, Zwilinger highlights that Allbirds’ sustainable philosophy is open source, and it has thus far helped over 100 brands who were interested in implementing its renewable materials into their products, suggesting Amazon might like to do the same. It was a bold move but one that sparked a conversation around the role of collaboration once more, and its critical place in true innovation.

Gen Z loves TikTok. Can fashion brands learn to love it too?

Gen Z quickly adopted Chinese social media platform TikTok as their app du jour this year for its bite-sized video content. Currently, 66% of the platform’s 500 million global users are under 30, according to data analytics firm, Business of Apps.

Brands have started to follow suit, tapping the app to drive engagement and ultimately sales. Content varies from crowdsourced, as in a recent Burberry campaign that saw users challenged to create the brand’s logo with their fingers, through to more refined, such as in a snippet of an interview with singer Shawn Mendes for Calvin Klein. We explored various other brands setting TikTok precedent, here.

Lush abandons social media

While TikTok has been taking off, elsewhere social media is slowing for some. Vegan cosmetics brand, Lush, for instance decided to shut down all of its activity in the UK as it became “tired of fighting with algorithms” or paying to appear on news feeds. Instead, it suggested a hashtag where fans would still be able to speak to the brand.

Lush’s bold move speaks to fight playing out for anything still resembling organic reach. As consumers become jaded over being ‘sold to’, brands are having to find novel ways to reach them, beyond the influencer route. One other area we’re tracking here is those owning their own conversation channels, as with both Glossier and H&M of late.

Coty acquires majority stake in Kylie Jenner’s beauty business

2019 was the year of major acquisitions in both beauty and fashion. While LVMH recently announced it was snapping up Tiffany & Co for $16bn, other names included Farfetch buying New Guards Group, which operates streetwear favorite Off White for $675m; Shiseido acquiring cult skincare brand Drunk Elephant for $845m; and more recently, Coty acquiring a majority stake in Kylie Jenner’s beauty business, Kylie Cosmetics, for $600m. 

The latter served as particular confirmation of how brands build and grow in this day and age. Jenner, who was 18 when she started a single ‘lip kit’ line, used Instagram to form a direct conversation with her audience. In 2019, this seems like an obvious strategy, but the reality star’s foresight to do so in 2015 has undoubtedly been her recipe for success.

How luxury fashion learned to love the blockchain

Amid growing concerns over the proliferation of counterfeit goods, luxury brands also began to embrace blockchain as an important authentication tool this year. 

Earlier this year, we heard about how LVMH launched its own platform, Aura, which is currently being piloted with some of the brands in its portfolio and will further expand in the future. Kering and Richemont meanwhile are said to be exploring this too, while De Beers is using it to trace its diamonds. Once matured, the technology will undoubtedly make its way into the hands of the consumer, who will be able to better understand where their possessions are coming from. We also tracked some of the other innovations in the transparency space; an area that continues to heat up.

Automation in retail: an executive overview for getting ready

Automation was another big tech focus this year, particularly for its potential impact on retail, from supply chain management to last mile delivery. This shift is putting pressure on retailers to rethink their operating models, distribution centres and headquarters, with McKinsey warning that brands that fail to implement it into their strategy risk falling behind. 

Automation is something we’ve long been talking about for the sake of efficiency, but there also comes a significant ethics conversation to be had here, which the industry is exploring. We agree, now is the time.

What Fortnite could mean for fashion

The global gaming market is expected to reach $180bn by 2021, and fashion brands are realizing the valuable potential in this. Free-to-play video game Fortnite has grown into a multi-million dollar business by selling clothing to image-conscious gamers, for instance. This monetization of player aesthetics, more commonly known as ‘skins’, has opened the door for retailers to cash in on the virtual world. 

Going forward, we expect more brands to invest in digital garments or utilize gaming to drive product discovery. We accordingly explored how gamification is being used in the shopping journey by brands like Kenzo and Nike to both increase engagement and build brand loyalty.

How are you thinking about innovation? The Current Global is a transformation consultancy driving growth within fashion, luxury and retail. Our mission is to solve challenges and facilitate change. We are thinkers and builders delivering innovative solutions and experiences. Get in touch to learn more.

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product sustainability

Native Shoes is releasing a plant-based sneaker fit for composting

Vancouver- based sustainable shoe brand, Native Shoes, is launching a sneaker made of fully plant-based and biodegradable materials, which can even be composted at the end of its life.

For the design of the new sneaker, dubbed the Plant Shoe, the brand focused on including exclusively natural materials, down to the stitching and glue used to put the individual materials together.

By making the Shoe biodegradable and suitable for composting, Native Shoes aims to fight the increasing problem of shoe waste, citing that nearly 300 million pairs end up in landfill every year.

The design is purposely kept simplistic and embraces a vintage look. The upper material is made up of a mix of organic cotton and Pinatex, which is made of discarded pineapple waste. As an industry first, the material mix uses no polyurethane coating, a process that is usually applied to textiles to make them more durable.

The shoe’s sole further builds on the sustainable credentials of the brand, using pure hevea latex, a derivative of the rubber tree. However, it uses no artificial additions such as fillers or petrochemical catalysts, which are traditionally used in other “natural” rubber soles.

The brand, which originally launched in 2009 with a sustainable ethos and focused on mainly rubber-based shoes, also collaborated with Goop in 2018 and 2019 to provide rubber slides to the lifestyle brand’s annual In Goop Health events.  

Over the past year, labels including Nike, Adidas, Reebok and Everlane have released their own versions of more sustainable sneakers, experimenting with different, more sustainable materials and tapping into circular design principles.

Nike’s Flyleather design, for example, uses 50% recycled natural leather fiber, while Adidas’ Futurecraft Loop sneaker is made up of only one material and therefore is the first to be fully recyclable. Reebok furthermore launched its biodegradable Cotton + Corn shoe in 2018. Everlane launched its Tread shoe this year, using a combination of natural and recycled rubber for its sole.

Meanwhile, direct-to-consumer start-up Allbirds launched its SweetFoam material initiative last year, an environmentally friendly- alternative to the traditionally used acetate compound that is used in shoe soles today.  Marking a collaborative spirit, Allbirds also made its new solution open-source, hoping to encourage competitors to also adopt this material.

How are you thinking about sustainable innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. The Current Global is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 

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product sustainability technology

Nike creates circular design guide

Nike has created a circular design guide that aims to give the fashion industry a common language for circularity.

The guide comes with 10 principles of circular design, including topics such as “material choices” and “waste avoidance”.

Nike’s 10 principles of circular design

Each of these are explained in more depth within it, including via case studies of successful design innovation by Nike and other brands.

They include video footage of a Central Saint Martins student and Nike staff talking on the principles, as well as an inspirational quote.

What follows are thought-starters for designers to think about the concept in more depth. Under the “material choices” principle for instance, it asks: “How could your material choice increase the lifecycle or durability of the product?”

A number of case study examples then follow, such as an outline of Nike’s Flyleather material, a sustainable leather alternative made of leftover factory off-cuts. Other case studies come from brands such as Levi’s, Fjallraven, Patagonia, Outerknown and Eileen Fisher.

The last section features inspirational publications, including “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, which outlines the founding principles of the circular economy, according to the non-profit Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

It is freely accessible to anyone interested in knowing more about circularity. The launch coincides with the annual Copenhagen Fashion Summit, one of the industry’s most important sustainability events of the year.

How are you thinking about your sustainable innovation strategy? Want to learn more about how we worked with Google? The Current Global is a consultancy transforming how fashion and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to hear more.

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Campaigns Editor's pick product sustainability

5 brands innovating this Earth Day with recycled material launches

Earth Day, an annual event designed to demonstrate support for environmental protection, has seen brands from Adidas to Ralph Lauren introduce new sustainable products this year.

Such announcements come alongside a wave of many marketing-led initiatives. New product lines such as t-shirts and canvas bags are being promoted with proceeds going to various non-profit organizations dedicated to climate change or the environment. While these moves are valid in many instances – apparel brand Tentree for instance will plant one tree for every 10 likes it receives on social media with a goal of 500,000 trees – many others feel too close to pushing the button of consumerism on a day that should be encouraging otherwise.

Here we’ve highlighted five examples where we believe strongly there’s more behind the promotional story. That’s because a new kind of consumerism is being pushed focused on circularity. In all of these announcements, the big focus is on recycled materials, with innovations ranging from an entire shoe made from one single material, to reducing the impact of water, energy and waste, as well as removing plastic bottles from landfills and the oceans.

Arguably none of these are simple in their execution, which is what makes them worth paying attention to as we celebrate this year’s Earth Day.

Adidas
Adidas Futurecraft Loop
Adidas Futurecraft Loop

Adidas presented the “Futurecraft Loop” sneaker, a running shoe made from one single material: 100% recyclable virgin synthetics. This compares to the usual running shoe where 12-15 different materials would be utilized, meaning the same number of recycling techniques would be needed. Here, what we’re looking at by comparison is simplicity when it comes to moving towards a circular economy (hence the use of the word “loop”), because the entire shoe can be recycled in one single process.

When customers return a pair to Adidas, the shoe will be broken down and reused to create new performance running sneakers. The Futurecraft Loop took almost six years to develop, and is set to be released in spring/summer 2021.

Ralph Lauren

Ralph Lauren Earth Polo
Ralph Lauren Earth Polo

Ralph Lauren launched a version of its iconic polo made from recycled plastic bottles and dyed with a zero-water process. Each “Earth Polo” takes an average of 12 bottles to create, it said. In addition, Ralph Lauren has committed to removing at least 170 million bottles from landfills and oceans by 2025.

Everlane

Tread by Everlane
Tread by Everlane

Everlane announced it will launch a new sneaker called “Tread by Everlane”. Rolling out on April 25, the shoe is made of recycled polyester laces and lining. Its soles are a combination of natural and recycled rubber for a sole that’s 94.2% free of virgin plastic, in contrast with the average sneaker sole made almost entirely of plastic.

Everlane’s sneakers are also carbon-neutral. The brand partnered with a third-party firm to calculate the emissions and says it is working with NativeEnergy to support its goal of offsetting 100% of the carbon emissions from its production.

Nike

Nike Earth Day
Nike Earth Day

Nike announced a new sustainable collection called the “Earth Day” pack, which includes new releases of the Nike Air Force 1, Cortez, and Blazer Low sneaker using Nike Flyleather, a material made with 50% recycled natural leather fiber. Flyleather, which was first introduced fully to market in late 2018, uses less water and has a lower carbon footprint than traditional leather manufacturing. It’s also makes use of a more efficient process, resulting in less waste. Each of the new shows released in this collection also feature special Earth Day designs by artist Steve Harrington. The graphics show the planet Earth being hugged, carried or “warming” due to exercise.

Nike has further announced it will have more sustainable designs coming out this year. In the summer, it will launch the new VaporMax 2 “Random”, constructed from excess FlyKnit yarn that would have ended up in a landfill.

Allbirds

Allbirds Protect Our Species
Allbirds Protect Our Species

Sustainable footwear brand Allbirds also released a limited edition sneaker line for Earth Day. Dubbed “Protect Our Species”, it comes in five new colors in honor of climate-endangered birds. Each pair costs $95, and all income from the collection will be donated to the Audubon Society bird conservation organization.

Allbirds is already known for creating sneakers from renewable materials like eucalyptus, sugar and wool, and for continuing to push the sustainability agenda in fashion. For Earth Day, it also committed to going carbon neutral in 2019, placing a tax upon itself. This means for every tonne of carbon it emits, it will pay to then take it out of the atmosphere again.

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. The Current Global is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Editor's pick Podcast product sustainability

Levi’s on the risks of the circular economy

“[The fashion industry] is 60% larger than it needs to be relative to the actual quantity of demand,” says Paul Dillinger, Head of Global Product Innovation at Levi’s, on the latest episode of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global.

Listen here: Apple Podcasts | Android | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | RSS

He is referring to the fact six out of 10 garments produced every year are being discarded to landfill or incinerated within the first year of their production. The result is that those working in this world need to either think about how you can eliminate overproduction, or instead build new business models around only making and selling the four that are actually wanted, he explains, even if it affects business growth.

An alternative response to that concept is the so-called “circular economy”, whereby items are not discarded but put back into the system, which to overly simplify matters, enables businesses to continue with growth while aiming for lesser impact. But Dillinger believes such moves are merely providing brands with a guilt-free alternative to keep overproducing at a point when the technology for a truly circular system isn’t yet scalable. He instead refers to the idea of credible “circular industrial ecologies”, which are much more complex to operate and achieve.

“One of them is a corporate compliance officer selling a new shiny penny to a board of directors in the C-suite, and the other one is a studious and scientific approach to really tackling a real challenge,” he explains.

At Levi’s, Dillinger is otherwise looking at key areas like reducing the brand’s use of water. “I think people’s right to drink fresh water should be prioritized above a company’s right to access fresh water for production,” he explains.

In this conversation, hosted in front of a live audience at the Current Global’s Innovation Mansion at SXSW 2019, he explains what that looks like through the  innovative work he’s been doing with hemp. He also gets technical with host Rachel Arthur about the many ways in which Levi’s is working to make its supply chain responsible in one of the most complex industries in the world.

Catch up with all of our episodes of the Innovators podcast by the Current Global here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by the Current Global, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 


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Editor's pick product sustainability

57% of H&M Group’s material mix is now sustainably sourced or recycled

57% of all materials used by the H&M Group now come from either recycled or sustainable sources, according to its annual Sustainability Report released yesterday.

This is a considerable increase from last year, in which recycled or sustainably-sourced materials made up 35% of the company’s material mix – thus inching it closer to its ambitious circularity goals for 2030.

“Big change requires bold actions and the courage to aim high. At the same time, we have to be humble to the challenges our planet is facing,” said Anna Gedda, head of sustainability at the H&M Group.”So if we want to make a real change, we have to be brave, push the boundaries and not be afraid to fail.”

At present, 55.2% of the Group’s material mix is sourced from sustainable origins that are verified by third-party bodies. For example, 95% of is cotton comes from certified sources such as organic cotton (14.6%) or sourced from the Better Cotton Initiative (79.9%).

The remaining 1.4% of the mix comes from recycled sources, a small percentage that the report highlights is due to the “lack of viable recycling solutions [which] either do not exist or are not commercially available at scale.”

Other highlights include a reduction of 11% in CO2 emissions in its operations, moving it closer to its target of becoming climate-positive by 2040; a new commitment to making all of its packaging designed to be reusable, recyclable and compostable by 2025; reducing water usage in production by 25% by 2022, supported by WWF; and the announcement that 655 factories and 930,000 garment workers are now covered by the Group’s key programmes for workplace dialogue and wage management system.

Technology is also playing a major role, with artificial intelligence being deployed to ensure production and demand are more aligned from a sustainability perspective. This follows an announcement in late 2018 that Christopher Wylie, of Cambridge Analytica fame, is joining as a consultant on all things AI.

From the consumer side, its Take Care initiative, which offers customers guidance, repair services and products to care for their garments in order to extend their lifespan, has now moved into further four markets; and in June 2018, the company launched of Afound, a new brand giving unsold products a new life.

Additional reporting by Camilla Rydzek.

How are you thinking about your sustainable strategy? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. The Current Global is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more. 


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Editor's pick product sustainability Uncategorized

ASICS gives used sportswear a new lease of life for 2020 Japan Olympic uniforms

Japanese sportswear label ASICS has introduced a program that will use donated sportswear as the raw material for the official uniforms of the Japanese Olympic and Paralympic teams at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. In order to collect the unwanted items, the brand is placing collection boxes across Japan, including at own stores, partner retailers and sporting events, up until May 31.

The “ASICS Reborn Wear Project” hopes to gather approximately 30,000 items of sportswear and give the Games’s competitors uniforms rich with the memories of the people who have worn them, in order to further spur them on. 

Anyone is allowed to donate clothing, and collection boxes will also display a barcode that once scanned opens a dedicated website inviting people to sign up for a special newsletter. Users will then receive messages from athletes, information on Tokyo 2020 and progress reports on what is happening with all donated clothing. There will also be a digital tool that enables people to digitally frame photos of their own sportswear that holds sentimental value and share it on social media, hoping to further build up a sense of positive energy ahead of the Games.

Former freestyle wrestler Saori Yoshida

To promote the program, ASICS will also roll out advertisements featuring the brand’s staff members, as well as Japanese sprinter Yoshihide Kiryu and former freestyle wrestler Saori Yoshida, showcasing their own personal sportswear.

The sustainable initiative is a part of the brand’s bigger ambitions towards sustainability. It has also announced a target to reduce carbon emissions by 2030 in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will include replacing polyester materials used on its shoe uppers and sportswear products with 100% recycled polyester. 

How are you thinking about sustainable textiles? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners for your sustainability strategy. The Current Global is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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product sustainability

Nike awards designers reimagining footwear waste

Nike Grind
Nike Innovation Challenge

Nike is pushing forward with its circularity goals through a challenge that invited designers, engineers and scientists around the globe to come up with creative products using footwear material waste.

The Nike Circular Innovation contest posed two challenges to applicants: creating new products using materials from the Nike Grind program, which is the company’s initiative to collect post-consumer athletic shoes by any brand; and to develop new technologies to advance footwear recycling.

The challenge, which started in February, received over 600 applications from 58 countries. The sportswear brand eventually narrowed the selection down to 35 finalists, who were tasked with creating a product using rubber, foam, fiber, leather and textile blends recovered from its manufacturing process. In the end, five groups won the Design with Grind challenge, and one group was awarded for its Material Recovery Fix.

What the design finalists came up with included everything from furniture to yoga and street safety, and even a vacuum mattress for people suffering from neurodevelopmental disorders. The brand hasn’t yet disclosed whether it will further develop the ideas with each of them.

As for the materials challenge, the brand awarded Florida-based plastic experts SumaRec, which identified two new phases that could be added to Nike’s material recovery process: an additional step which divides materials based on their weight, and an extra material-grinding step.

At this year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit in June, Nike COO Eric Sprunk said that at present, 75% of Nike’s products already contain some recyclable materials. “Our rule is: there is no innovation without sustainability.” He further announced the introduction of a new ‘supermaterial’  from recyclable natural leather fiber. The textile, called Flyleather, will be used in popular styles such as the Air Jordan and Air Max.

How are you thinking about material innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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e-commerce Editor's pick Retail Startups sustainability technology

What recent H&M investments in AI, recycling and payment tech mean

Thread
Thread

H&M has invested in several major startups in recent months indicating a direction of travel for the retailer that’s related to greater personalization, a circular economy and increased convenience for shoppers.

The group announced it is backing men’s personal styling service, Thread, this week through its venture arm, CO:LAB. It is putting $13m into the artificial intelligence-based startup, which has just closed a $22m Series B round.

The UK-based service offers recommendations for men on what to wear by combining data with a layer of human insight.

The team behind it said the funding will go towards “hiring data scientists and engineers to make the artificial intelligence much more powerful”, according to CEO and co-founder Kieran O’Neill. The site sells 536 brands, including Paul Smith, Diesel, Barbour and Hugo Boss, among others.

What Thread has alongside that, of course, is data into how men shop and what their tastes are. H&M says its interest lies in exactly that to strengthen the personalized shopping experience that it too can offer shoppers at a time when such expectations are only increasing.

With that same consideration comes the fact shoppers now demand better options around payments, it has also noted. Enter its $20m investment in Klarna, a Swedish fintech startup.

The funding, announced just last week, signals a global partnership that will see Klarna’s digital payments technology integrated into H&M’s physical and digital stores. The outcome will “provide an enhanced omnichannel customer payment offering [and] a streamlined post-purchase service in the H&M app”, according to the company.

What Klarna is particularly known for is its “try before you buy” service, which gives shoppers the flexibility to pay for their items later. That will be available eventually to H&M customers in 14 markets, starting with the UK and Sweden in 2019.

Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of the H&M group, referred to the move as part of a strategic and relentless focus on creating great customer experiences.

Both come at a time when H&M, which has been struggling in the market, has promised its shareholders that it will focus on improvements around not only inventory, but the shopping experience directly, based on understanding the changing retail and consumer landscape it sees before it.

“We know the industry is undergoing a huge shift – the catalyst for this transformation is technology. It’s not just one technology, but a set that includes artificial intelligence, augmented reality, robotics and more,” he said back in February at the company’s Capital Markets Day.

“There are changing consumer behaviours as a result – they are expecting more and more. They expect a more tailored offering in how we set up our stores, in how we communicate with [them]. They want a hassle free shopping experience, and the ability to shop anywhere and anytime. And they want even better designs at higher quality and better prices.”

Meanwhile, the company is also placing a big focus on sustainability. One of its other broad ambitions is to move to a 100% circular model by 2030, which means that everything it uses will go back into the system to be either recycled or reused.

Another, quieter investment it announced in August helps with this – it led a £5m round for polymer recycling technology startup, Worn Again Technologies. This is a business focused on how to drive circularity for the fashion industry by separating, decontaminating and extracting polyester polymers and cellulose from cotton to create new products as part of a repeatable process.

As Cyndi Rhoades, Worn Again Technologies’ CEO, said: “There are enough textiles and plastic bottles ‘above ground’ and in circulation today to meet our annual demand for raw materials to make new clothing and textiles. With our dual polymer recycling technology, there will be no need to use virgin oil by-products to make new polyester and the industry will be able to radically decrease the amount of virgin cotton going into clothing by displacing it with new cellulose fibres recaptured from existing clothing.”

At present, less than 1% of non-wearable textiles are turned back into new textiles due to technical and economic limitations of current recycling methods. This will therefore help with H&M’s goal.

As the group’s head of sustainability, Anna Gedda, explained on TheCurrent Innovators podcast recently: “We only have one planet, and the toll [the fashion industry] has on resources today is simply unsustainable.”

How are you thinking about innovation? We’re all about finding you the perfect partners to do so. TheCurrent is a consultancy transforming how fashion, beauty and consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.

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Podcast sustainability

H&M Group on its ambitious circularity goals

Anna Gedda and Rachel Arthur
Anna Gedda and Rachel Arthur

“We only have one planet, and the toll [the fashion industry] has on resources today is simply unsustainable,” says Anna Gedda, head of sustainability at the H&M Group, on the latest episode of TheCurrent Innovators podcast.

She was referring to the company’s goal to move towards a 100% circular model by 2030, which means that everything it uses will go back into the system to be either recycled or reused.

Speaking to TheCurrent’s chief innovation officer, Rachel Arthur, at a FashMash event in London, she said the aim of the business is to keep all that is good with the fashion industry – from providing clothes to an ever increasing global population, to contributing to job opportunities and development – but doing so within the planetary boundaries.

Listen here: Apple Podcasts | Android | Google Play | Stitcher | RSS

“If you do that, if you only use what is in the system in terms of resources, then we believe that you can continue to consume fashion in the future and you will be able to have prosperous communities that depend on the fashion industry in a good way,” she explains.

It’s a cumbersome road ahead to get there of course, with the industry needing to rethink everything from design, materials, consumption, recycling and more. And while there are already plenty of ideas out there – with H&M’s non-profit Foundation leading the way with an annual award for startups in the space – time, effort and big investment is needed to get many of them to scale.

Anna Gedda
Anna Gedda

“At the moment there is not much out there in terms of what is scalable, but if we look at the pipeline of innovation that is coming, it’s fantastic,” Gedda notes. She’s particularly enthused by some of the work that’s going into recycling technology to get us to high quality upcycled fibres.

She adds that what’s really needed in the industry today to make all of this a reality for mass brands however, is a coordination of innovation efforts so things don’t happen in siloes. “If we’re going to have fast acceleration of this, then whatever is invented needs to complement something else so you can get an effective chain – whether it’s materials or production – to happen. I think that from a challenge perspective, it’s the lack of coordination, or the lack of a bigger platform where all this collaboration can really happen, that’s the key thing I would point out.”

During the conversation, the duo also explore what will make the consumer really care about sustainability, how collaboration in the industry is critical, and just why AI is so pivotal to the future.

Catch up with all of our episodes of TheCurrent Innovators here. The series is a weekly conversation with visionaries, executives and entrepreneurs. It’s backed by TheCurrent, a consultancy transforming how consumer retail brands intersect with technology. We deliver innovative integrations and experiences, powered by a network of top technologies and startups. Get in touch to learn more.