H&M launches €1m grant for innovations aimed at recycling old clothes

The group, which next week launches a new range of jeans made out of recycled cotton, said the annual Global Change Award would task “early stage innovators” with discovering new technologies aimed at recycling fibres with “unchanged quality”.

It said this would prevent old clothes ending up in landfill as they often do, improve the environment and tackle the looming shortage of global raw materials such as cotton.

Five winners will share a grant of €1m and get access to a tailor-made innovation accelerator. It is a collaboration with Accenture and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm − which will give the five winners the support and knowledge they need to actualise their ideas. 

Starting off with an innovation boot camp in Stockholm, provided by KTH Innovation, it will be followed up by guidance from Accenture Strategy on how to develop the winning ideas further. This includes the provision of a one-year training and coaching programme. 

The innovation accelerator, H&M said, will also provide exclusive fashion industry access and offer possibilities to build networks and try out the ideas within the fashion value chain.

H&M said it will not take any equity or intellectual property rights in the innovations.

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“Ground-breaking, game-changing ideas can come from anywhere, so the challenge is open to anyone,” said H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson. “Each year the Global Change Award aims to find the truly brave and bold ideas that make change. I’m also eager to see how the fashion industry as a whole will embrace the challenge of closing the fashion loop.” 

Johan Rockstrom, environmental science professor at Stockholm University and a jury member for the H&M prize, said the fashion industry needs to find new business models to respond to global resource shortages. 

“This is a great challenge for H&M whose trademark is cheap clothes at good quality. The fact it’s cheap means there’s a risk people buy and throw away, or buy too much,” he said.

Rebecca Earley, professor in sustainable textile and fashion design at University of the Arts London, director of its textile futures research centre and another member of the Global Change Award Jury, said: “The question for fashion is no longer “What is the new black?” but rather “What innovative ideas can close the loop? The Global Change Award is looking for ideas that will protect the earth’s natural resources.” 

The award is being launched by the H&M Conscious Foundation funded by the retailer and the Persson family, its main owners.

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