A waste-free fashion future is the bid behind the H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award – an initiative launched in 2015 by the non-profit arm of retailer H&M.
Striving to speed up the enormous shifts needed to make that happen in an industry that is frequently referred to as one of the most damaging to the planet, this year’s winners show it’s down to the likes of old jeans, cow manure and grape byproducts to get us there.
A total of five companies were selected from the 2,885 entries from 130 countries, between them splitting a grant of €1 million.
The overall winner is Wine Leather, which produces fully vegetal leathers using leftovers from wine-making. It wins a €300,000 grant towards its aim of reducing the damage that producing animal and synthetic leather does through its water, chemical and energy consumption.
“We are deeply glad that such a prestigious Foundation recognised the value of our innovation and strongly believed in it. Our first objectives will consist of switching from a pilot to an industrial scale production of our fabric and starting a green, cruelty-free revolution within the leather industry, finally solving its related issues and overexploitations,” says Rossella Longobardo from the team behind Wine Leather.
Solar Textiles, meanwhile, wins €250,000 for its bid to harvest the Sun’s energy to develop new textiles. Rather than using fossil fuel in the production process of nylon, it’s looking to only use water, plant waste and solar energy.
The three remaining innovations each receive €150,000. Among them is Content Thread, which adds a digital tag to clothing to help with recycling in the future. At the moment, one of the biggest barriers to textile recycling is not being entirely sure what the items are made of; this digitises the “ingredients” list in the form of an RFID thread.
Denim-dyed Denim then looks to reduce the amount of water, energy and waste it takes to dye our jeans today – its plan instead is to take old denim and break it down into fine particles that can be used to colour new undyed denim instead.
Finally Manure Couture does exactly what it says on the tin – makes fashion fabrics from cow manure. Livestock puts enormous pressure on the planet, not least from its waste. But that waste also contains cellulose, which can be extracted to create a biodegradable new textile.
The winners were selected by a panel made up of experts from around the industry, between them looking for game-changing ideas that can help reinvent the entire industry. According to three members on hand at today’s launch, including Johan L. Kuylenstierna, executive director for the Stockholm Environment Institute, Vikram Widge, head of climate and carbon finance at the World Bank Group, and Lewis Perkins, president of the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, included in the selection process were considerations such as how much of an impact it could have, whether that impact would in fact be net positive, how scalable the solution is and could it have economic financial sustainability.
The five teams now enter a one-year innovation accelerator, provided by the H&M Foundation in collaboration with Accenture and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. The program will help the winners develop their ideas, focusing on three main areas: the circular economy, innovation and fashion industry connections.
The connections part particularly was highlighted as a significant benefit by the five teams that won last year. While they inevitably have access into the H&M Group, the aim is to look much wider than that. Neither the H&M Foundation nor the company H&M will take any equity or intellectual property rights from the teams – instead they put the emphasis on collaboration in a broader sense. The key thing they’re recognising is that the scale of change that’s needed in this industry is not possible to affect alone.
That was also a big takeaway from H&M’s Change Makers Lab, a one-day summit focused on sustainability held in Stockholm yesterday, where other guests from Nike, Ikea, the United Nations and more were also in attendance. Conversations covered everything from climate change and the circular economy, to new technologies, innovations at the fibre and material science level, a view on behavioural psychology, and where transparency comes in. (Full disclosure: I was invited as a speaker on the transparency and technology subjects).
H&M CEO, Karl-Johan Persson, also used it as an opportunity to announce the company’s commitment to using 100% recycled of other sustainably sourced materials by 2030 (from 26% today), and to be climate positive throughout its entire value chain by 2040. Those goals were supported by the launch of its Sustainability Report 2016, which also speaks of its aim to increase to 100% renewable electricity (from 96% today).
“[We’re] trying to become fully circular in our business and we know we must use natural resources and attain long term access to sustainable materials to do so,” Persson explained on stage. “We need to meet the needs of the 10 billion people that will be [in the global population] by 2050 and yet at the same time protect the environment.”
Pushing that note of collaboration once more, he added: “We want to take the lead, with others, to create a more sustainable fashion future. If we’re willing to work together we can really speed up this journey towards a more circular, climate-positive, sustainable industry.”
Accenture has also worked with the H&M Foundation to release a trend report highlighting learnings about the future of sustainable fashion by looking at all the ideas submitted to the award. Within it are five key themes it says are shaping this space. Included are the “power of nature”, which is all about new fabrications; the idea of “rent a closet”, which pushes the sharing economy as a foundation; “long live fashion”, which is focused on the resale market; “innovative recycling”, which looks at collecting, extracting and embedding values in textiles normally thrown away; and “connected clothes”, which takes us to a future where smart garments mean better personalisation, longevity and ultimately traceability.