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‘Grape leather’ wins H&M Foundation innovation award

A waste-free fashion industry is the goal of H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award and the second edition saw innovative vegetal leather called "Grape Leather” as the winner of the public vote to win the top prize of 300,000 euros.

The initiative, launched in 2015 by non-profit arm of retail giant H&M, aims to reward technology concepts that make the fashion industry more sustainable. This year’s winners includes a biodegradable textile made from cow manure, a leather made from the leftovers from winemaking, as well as denim dyed using a colouring powder derived from used denim.

A total of five innovative companies were selected as winners from the 2,885 entries from 130 countries, with the 1 million euro grant split between them, following a global online public vote from March 27 to April 2 to determine how much prize money they will receive.

The overall winner, “Grape Leather” produces vegetal leathers using leftovers from winemaking, a concept devised in a bid to reducing the damage produced by animal and synthetic leather production, which is staining to the planet as it demands a large amount of water, chemical and energy consumption.

“We are deeply glad that such a prestigious Foundation recognised the value of our innovation and strongly believed in it. Our first objectives will consist of switching from a pilot to an industrial scale production of our fabric and starting a green, cruelty-free revolution within the leather industry, finally solving its related issues and overexploitations,” said Rossella Longobardo from the team behind Grape Leather.

Taking second place was Solar Textiles, a US and Switzerland-based concept that aims to harvest the sun’s energy to develop new fashion fabrics. They were awarded 250,000 euros to see if the conceptual idea could become a reality and that fossil fuels wouldn’t be required in the production process of fabrics such as nylon in the future.

“The grant will allow us to demonstrate the solar textile concept in the lab and to quantify its overall performance,” said a spokesperson for Solar Textiles. “It will provide the opportunity to engage with the public and the industrial sector with the aim to create collaborations which would facilitate the development of pilot scale reactors, all while ensuring the sustainability of the processes.”

H&M awards five innovators a slice of 1 million euros to create a “waste-free” fashion industry

The three remaining innovations each receive 150,000 euros, including a concept that takes used jeans to give colour to new denim. The aim is to reduce the amount water, energy and waste it takes to dye new jeans and the innovation from Australian company Denim-dyed Denim plans instead to break down old denim into a colouring powder that can be used to colour new undyed denim.

One of the most interesting concepts is Manure Couture, a Holland-based company that aims to make fashion fabrics from cow manure. It states that amount of cattle that is raised around the globe creates pressure on the planet, including cow manure that contains cellulose, which can be extracted to create a biodegradable textile.

The final innovation is Content Thread, which adds a digital tag to garments at the manufacturing stage to help create a digitalised ‘ingredients list’ which will be helpful with recycling in the future.

“I congratulate all five winning teams. They have the potential to help reinvent the fashion industry, enabling products and resources to have more than one life,” said Karl-Johan Persson, board member of H&M Foundation and chief executive of H & M Hennes and Mauritz AB. “Winning the Global Change Award gives you a boost through funding, coaching, industry access and validation that you probably can’t find elsewhere. If you want to help reinvent one of the largest industries in the world, this is the place to go.”

The five companies will now enter a one-year innovation accelerator, provided by the H&M Foundation in collaboration with Accenture and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. The program will help the winners develop their ideas to the next level and will focus on protection and innovation development, circular economy, and fashion industry networking.

Jill Standish, senior managing director of retail at Accenture, added: “Consumer expectations for more sustainable products are placing an emphasis on the industry to fundamentally re-examine and re-design the entire fashion value chain.

“The Global Change Award is the first of its kind challenge for early stage innovation in fashion and we are impressed by the level of bold creativity and disruptive innovation shown by the five award winners. We are passionate about helping them further develop their inspiring ideas through the Accelerator program, to support them in driving the change towards a circular fashion industry.”

Image: courtesy of H&M Foundation