By  on May 24, 2011

NEW YORK — A new “American Idol”-esque online contest aims to dramatically scale back environmental waste in the fashion industry.

Created by Yoxi, the New York-based company that develops competitions to discover rock stars of social change, “Trim the Waste of Fashion” is its newest challenge. The winning team will walk away with a $40,000 prize and hopefully the know-how to execute their plan of attack. An estimated 15 to 20 percent of fabric used in the nearly $1 trillion global fashion industry winds up being discarded due to inefficient material sourcing. That is separate from the environmental implications of carbon emissions from transporting goods, manufacturing, excessive packaging and other cost-escalating steps.

Having worked in advertising, marketing and entertainment for years, Yoxi founder Sharon Chang has been mystified by how off-kilter sustainability and philanthropy are in corporate America. “Most companies reach a certain level of success and feel they have to give back or because they actually care. They make money and then feel they have to give money,” she said.

However, if they were to change their business practices to be more efficient, especially in regards to social issues, their efforts would be more productive, she said. “You can have a great idea that can really help the world in a lot of ways,” Chang said.

Starting today and running through July 1, three-person teams can submit one-to-two-minute videos fleshing out their strategies for the three-round “Trim the Waste of Fashion” competition. Chang expects about 100 three-person teams to apply. Designer Geren Lockhart and two other yet-to-be-named fashion insiders will size up 10 final teams and then, starting July 20, citizen judges will be encouraged to vote online for the finalists. The final two teams — contestants cannot compete individually — will be teamed up with leading marketing firms to polish their videos for the final showdown in New York. The final two teams will be flown to New York for an event that will coincide with New York Fashion Week.

The “Trim the Waste” winning team will be connected with potential mentors, investors and companies that could help bring their ideas to life should they choose to. Given the entrepreneurial spirit of the contest, Chang expects some may choose to soldier on without forming post-competition partnerships. Candidates who would like an inkling of what the contest entails can check out the 100 Days of Action video that was posted today by Team Udon, the winner of Yoxi’s first contest, Reinvent Fast Food. That clip at Yoxi.tv highlights how the San Francisco trio competed, what they created and where they stand now.

“There is a tremendous opportunity to create an interesting model for the fashion industry. It is one industry that has detachment from the process. People are one step removed in our opinion. It’s not like the food industry where you can see from your own cooking what goes into making something,” she said. “Then there are H&M, Zara and all the other stores creating fast fashion. The overall manufacturing process is too big and complex but there isn’t public demand to reduce that.”

Lockhart, who lives in Los Angeles and creates her own label of sportswear under the Geren Ford label, said having retailers revise their transport guidelines would be one way to improve the production cycles. That process alone can require the use of three or four hangers for one garment, never mind the amount of bags, tags and other shipping material that goes to waste. “I would love to be able to buy something on a hanger that I would want to keep in my closet,” she said. “These types of things can help companies save money as well.”

Having worked as chief creative officer of Simon Fuller’s 19 Entertainment, the company behind such shows as “American Idol” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” Chang knows firsthand how quickly raw talent can go viral. Although she thinks the trim-the-waste concept would be very easy to package into a TV show, she thinks it is more important to build an online platform first that incorporates social media.

More than anything else, her 19 Entertainment experience showed her how reality shows could stand to serve a greater good. “Basically reality shows are accelerated documentaries in real time. Most of Hollywood keeps feeding crap into them but I saw this space has a lot of potential to do good,” she said. “Our goal is to change the world through social innovation. But it shouldn’t be work or guilt-driven.”

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