What if we could make a shift from “take-make-waste” to a fashion world where there is no waste? What if we could make fashion circular? This is the question H&M is posing to a new generation of fashion innovators.
The brand recently put out a call for early stage ideas that present new circular approaches to reinvent the fashion industry. This means changing the way garments are designed and produced, shipped, bought, used and recycled by utilizing disruptive technology or new business models.
The Global Change Award offers five fashion-preneurs the opportunity to share a €1 million grant and get access to a one-year innovation accelerator provided by H&M Foundation, Accenture and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Diana Amini, the Global Manager for the H&M Foundation about how this opportunity is a game changer for the future of fashion. This is what she had to say:
What was the impetus for establishing the Global Change Award? What was the story behind it?
DIANA: As the population of our planet heads towards close to 10 billion by 2050, every industry will need to dramatically increase innovation to safeguard the environment. At H&M Foundation, we don’t think the transition to a circular model within the fashion industry is happening fast enough, and as a non-profit Foundation we have the opportunity to act as a catalyst for positive change. H&M Foundation drives different initiatives to improve the living conditions for people and communities around the world.
Our connection to the fashion industry, and the fact that the overall impact it has on our planet is quite heavy, made us start thinking about different ideas and concepts to spur innovation. This is how the Global Change Award was born. It is at the earliest stage of innovation that we as a Foundation can provide the much needed resources, access and skills to make the biggest difference. After receiving over 2,700 innovations from 112 countries the first year, we know there are a vast number of great ideas out there but we also know access to capital, know-how and business support is scarce and many great ideas never get to see the light of day. We want to find those game changing ideas and give them the support they need to make a difference.
Are there plans to adopt any of the innovations created during the first accelerator program into H&M’s production process?
DIANA: From last year’s winners we see that things which would have taken years have now happened in months. They are performing advanced trials and pilots with different partners in the fashion industry, H&M being one of them, as well as quality testing for commercialization and scaling up. It’s important to note that neither H&M nor the non-profit H&M Foundation take any automatic equity or intellectual property rights in the innovations, as we want to influence the fashion industry as a whole.
What is your long term vision for a fashion future? How does the Global Change Awards fit into that idea?
DIANA: We want to see a fashion industry that operates within the boundaries of our environment, that has transitioned from the take- make- waste model to a model where resource loops are tightened and valuable materials are recovered at the end of a garments life. A shift to a circular model can help to create flourishing, resilient economies in healthy environments with restored natural resources.
The circular economy may be the biggest revolution for how we organize production and consumption in our global economy in 250 years. This applies to all areas of the fashion industry, and to achieve this goal it needs to reinvent itself: how to design, what materials to use, how to dye, cut, sew, ship, sell, own, use and dispose of fashion. New technology, business models and materials can make this possible. This is where we see that the Global Change Award can act an important catalyser for change.
In addition to the Global Change Award which programs and partnerships are you most exciting about for the coming year?
DIANA: During the last year, H&M Foundation has committed 7.5 million USD for programs related to refugees. In addition to supporting UNHCR’s efforts to secure education for refugee children, we will start a collaboration with the nonprofit tech organization REFUNITE and their online portal, enabling refugees to reconnect with lost families and friends through their mobile phone, computer or the organizations free help lines. They collaborate with large telecom companies in each country enabling them to create a service free of charge.
Our project with REFUNITE is focused on Pakistan and will, in addition to the portal and call center, also launch a Voice Response Platform, enabling illiterate women to access the services. This is an innovative organization addressing challenges in new ways. At the Foundation, we really look forward to this partnership and what we can achieve together.