Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

jennifer boynton headshot

H&M Conscious Foundation Offers $1.1M Bounty in Quest to Close the Fashion Loop

By Jen Boynton

Last night in Stockholm, the H&M Conscious Foundation announced the winners in the Global Change Award. The challenge seeks innovative solutions to bring the circular economy to fashion and pays out a total of 1 million euros (about US$1.1 million).

Launched in August and closed in October, the competition received applications from more than 2,700 innovators from 112 countries each seeking a piece of the million-dollar pie. An expert jury selected the top five ideas before voting opened to the public to determine how the funding would be awarded.

The winners were announced and the awards presented by HRH Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, and TriplePundit was on hand to catch the action. (I wore my favorite ethically-made jewelry from Songa Designs):

The winners are:

Finland: Making waste-cotton new

This technology dissolves textile waste, allowing waste-cotton to be used as a raw material in the production of new technologies. The project build's on Finland's heritage in the paper and pulp industry. The winners take home 300,000 euros or around US$340,000.

Team spokesperson Michael Hummel explained the motivation for the project to TriplePundit: "Demand for man-made fibers like polyester is expanding because the cotton market is stagnate. Demand is growing for cotton, but there is only so much available." This project will increase the volume of available cotton without all the troublesome issues associated with growing it.

United States: The polyester digester

This team out of the University of California at Davis developed a microbe to break down waste-polyester and turn it into a usable material again. Their innovation has already caught the attention of leading venture capital firm Y Combinator, so they are well on their way to making a splash in the startup world as well as among apparel designers and manufacturers.

The grant of around $280,000 will help them continue development until they can run a pilot project to prove their technology works at scale.

Estonia: Online marketplace for textile leftovers

Ten to 15 percent of the materials used in textile production are spilled or wasted. This technology will allow garment manufacturers to monitor waste so that they can reduce it, improving their efficiency and financial returns at the same time.

This team taps into Estonia's reputation as an IT hub to build a product that can work for manufacturers around the world. Their prize is 150,000 euros.

Italy: 100 percent citrus

This group takes waste from the citrus industry -- peels and pith -- and turns it into a high-quality silk-like fabric. They currently make samples and small volumes but plan to use the 150,000 euros in funding to go full-time and scale, ultimately selling their fabric to apparel manufacturers. This team is taking advantage of their proximity to fashion capital Milan to work directly with designers, but they also hope to scale their product.

Netherlands: Growing textile fiber under water

Algae grows in oceans, streams, lakes and waterways and has few productive uses. This team has turned the storm drain into a usable textile. Founder Tjeerd Veenhoven created this solution by looking for waste products in nature with a goal of turning them into usable items. With the grant from the H&M Conscious Foundation he hopes to bring the idea to scale making a durable, soft yarn.

The takeaway

What all of these technologies have in common is a bird's-eye view of the fashion industry and a desire to make big strides in improving its efficiencies, reducing waste and turning a linear supply chain into a circular economy.

While each group is in a preliminary stage, a financial boost and the global attention that comes with the support of the H&M Conscious Foundation put them well on their way to reaching their goals.

While this competition comes from H&M's Foundation, the apparel company is also hard at work on innovations to reduce waste. Perhaps these winners will one day become suppliers -- truly creating a closed-loop, circular economy.

Travel and expenses were covered by H&M; opinions are my own

Images credit the author

Jen Boynton headshotJen Boynton

Jen Boynton is the former Editor-in-Chief of TriplePundit. She has an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School and has helped organizations including SAP, PwC and Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. She is based in San Diego, California. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA (court appointed special advocate) for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

Read more stories by Jen Boynton

We're compiling all data!