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H&M Foundation Gives Fashion Innovation the Museum Treatment

As we settle into the new year, our Sourcing Summit Companion Report looks ahead at ways to optimize processes and performance.

Seven futuristic innovations are the subject of a new interactive exhibit launched by H&M’s nonprofit arm, the H&M Foundation.

Located at the photography museum Fotografiska in Stockholm, “The Future is Here” exhibit allows visitors to experience the innovations shaping what’s next in fashion. The exhibit is also available for virtual viewing in 3D on the H&M Foundation’s website.

On display are breakthroughs from former winners of H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award, an annual challenge established in 2015 with a vision to accelerate the process of sustainable solutions for the fashion industry. In particular, the foundation looks for innovations that are aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and address the five global commons: biodiversity, climate, land, ocean and water.

Each year, six promising innovations share a grant of 1 million euros ($1.1 million) and participate in a one-year Innovation Accelerator Program.

Innovations represent different parts of the fashion supply chain and center on themes like circularity and synthetic biology.

Global Change Awards 2020 grand prize winner Galy, which earned $328,000 for its Incredible Cotton innovation, is among those featured. The U.S. and Brazil-based startup engineers cotton in a lab, which in turn lessens the burden placed on farmers. This lab-manufactured cotton takes 18 days to produce and releases 80 percent less water and gas emissions.

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French startup Fairbrics is also one of the featured innovations, which earned recognition in 2020 for its Airwear synthetic fiber that converts greenhouse gas into sustainable polyester. By using air, it’s able to produce carbon negative synthetic fibers.

The other featured innovations include: Circular Systems, which turns food industry waste into natural fibers; Cotton Power Powder, a cotton cellulose powder that can be planted with cotton plants to reduce the amount of water they need; Vegea, a leather alternative made from leftovers from wine production; and Algaeing, which uses algae to create waste-free, renewable and biodegradable textiles and dyes.

The exhibit also showcases Green Machine, a technology for recycling blended textiles at scale. The innovation is the result of H&M Foundation’s open-source collaboration with Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA), a public research institute in Hong Kong. Earlier this month, H&M Foundation, HKRITA and VF Corp. doubled down on their investment to accelerate its adoption throughout the industry after four years and 5.8 million euros ($6.4 million) of development. The recycling technology is unique in that it does not damage polyester fibers and therefore maintains their quality, and uses only water, heat and less than 5 percent biodegradable green chemicals to do so.

Already, the machine is being used by Turkish denim mill Isko, which in August formed a licensing deal to improve and commercialize its recycling technologies.

The exhibit aims to raise awareness of the positive impact of each innovation. Consultancy firm Accenture provided estimates for each of the innovation’s environmental impact by 2030, if given adequate support and opportunity to scale.

For example, Accenture estimates that Circular Systems alone could save as much as 80,000 million liters of water, and Fairbrics could reduce 720,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions annually.

Additionally, the Green Machine has the potential of saving 7,200 tons of fabric from landfills.

“We want to create awareness of the powerful impact sustainable fashion innovation can achieve if given the opportunity to scale,” said Diana Amini, global manager at H&M Foundation.

The exhibit will run through April 17, 2022, with plans to organize an inclusivity-focused exhibit in the future.