On Wednesday, H&M Foundation announced five innovations, winning a 1 million euro grant for their efforts to make the fashion industry “planet positive,” as part of its Global Change Awards, or GCA.
Grant winners include the U.K.-based BioPuff, a plant-based alternative to goose down; Swedish laundry solution Biorestore; India-based AI solution for smallholder cotton farmers CottonAce; China-based Re:lastane, which unlocks recyclability for elastane and polyester blend fabrics, and U.S.-based Rubi, a new process for reducing the impact of viscose and lyocell.
“Creating solutions that are good in themselves, and that are part of the solution itself — rather than a substitute for what is bad — is an exciting development in the fashion industry,” said Sigbritt Karlsson, president of KTH Royal Institute of Technology, which collaborated on the awards. “The breadth and depth of the various contributions’ perspectives show how comprehensive the climate issue is.”
Alongside the grant, all five winners gain access to the one-year GCA Impact Accelerator program for mentorship in their journey to scaling solutions, provided by H&M Foundation in partnership with Accenture, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and The Mills.
The GCA launched in 2015 and has since received more than 20,000 entries and awarded more than 30 disruptive innovations from across the world a combined grant of 6 million euro. Citrus-powered Orange Fiber (which collaborated with Lenzing) was the winner of the first H&M Global Change Award in 2015. Brands like Salvatore Ferragamo went on to launch capsule collections with the fiber in the years after.
H&M Foundation puts on the awards and is the philanthropic arm (underwritten by the Stefan Persson family, which founded the H&M Group), separate from H&M or H&M Group. Judges included Caroline Brown, managing director of Closed Loop Partners; Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, actress and social activist; Walden Lam, cofounder and chief executive officer of former GCA winner Unspun, among others.
Although innovation offers excitement, fast fashion is at a bit of a crossroads amid new EU legislation.
Regarding the EU’s textile strategy an H&M Group spokesperson said: “H&M Group welcomes the publication of the Textiles Strategy and looks forward to further engaging with the European institutions on our journey toward a more sustainable fashion industry. Collaboration with others is vital to enable the necessary transformation of the entire industry.”
Acknowledging H&M’s behind-the-scenes policy engagement (H&M Group joined the European Commission’s voluntary Green Consumption Pledge Initiative for annual consumer-facing transparency reporting) and recent pilots, the spokesperson said circularity is a “key area of our work,” with a focus on testing new materials, processes and business models like rental, resale and remanufacture.
“Sustainability is a prerequisite for the future of our industry,” the H&M spokesperson said. “To be able to operate within planetary boundaries, the sector must decouple its own resource use from growth and a growing population’s demand. Overconsumption must be tackled across the whole textile and clothing industry. At H&M Group, we believe that an industry-wide shift from a linear to a circular business model is one of the key solutions. Therefore, we very much support the EU Commission’s efforts to establish a coordinated policy framework and a level playing field to drive an impactful and successful industry strategy.”
As with the rest of the industry, specific metrics on how H&M is decoupling its resource use remain uncharted. Last year marked the first year that H&M integrated its annual and sustainability reports. The H&M Group’s target is to increase sales by 10 to 15 percent per year with continued high profitability as a long-term target.