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Why H&M’s Latest Collection Costs a Billion Dollars

H&M’s philanthropic arm is jumping on the digital fashion bandwagon with a collection of looks that highlight promising material and business-model innovations.

The so-called Billion Dollar Collection features 10 startups—all previous winners of the H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award—that the organization says have the potential to create “multi-dimensional value” with the industry’s support and represent an “untapped opportunity.”

“We have worked with innovators for many years now and their biggest hurdle to realiz[ing] their ideas is funding and support to build scalable technology solutions,” Diana Amini, global manager of the H&M Foundation, said in a statement. “They also need collaboration partners like fashion brands and suppliers.”

Each offering comes attached with a price tag, ranging from $60,000 to $120 million, that represents the estimated funding its company believes it requires to scale up the technology, whether it’s algae-based thread, textiles made from stinging nettles or a water-purification platform.

“With this campaign, we want to create awareness of the impact sustainable innovation can achieve if given the opportunity to grow,” Amini said. “Together, we can create a shift in the fashion industry where sustainability and innovation are implemented as [the] default practice. The time is now.”

The Global Change Award, which the H&M Foundation has held every year since 2015, has been dubbed the “Nobel Prize of fashion” for rewarding early-stage innovations that could alter the way garments are designed, made, transported, purchased, used and recycled. Five annual winners divvy up a 1 million-euro ($1.2 million) grant and participate in a one-year Innovation Accelerator Program that H&M Foundation customizes in partnership with Accenture and KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

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Mackevision, part of Accenture Interactive, drew up the computer-generated imagery for what H&M Foundation describes as an “edgy collection of evolved casual classics” replete with asymmetrical details and unconventional colors. The digital avatar, too, was created from scratch using CGI character design technology.

Bringing any of these technologies to market would be transformative, H&M Foundation says. Accenture used its “360-degree value approach” to estimate the environmental impact of each innovation. Reverse Resources, which maps, traces and trades leftover textiles, for instance, could save 5,400 billion liters of water in 2030, or the equivalent used in the production of 2 billion cotton T-shirts. Dimpora’s Sane Membrane, a biodegradable and mineral-based membrane for outdoor wear, could save 850 metric tons of textiles from being discarded, or enough to make 940,000 jackets.

“The Billion Dollar Collection presents a unique opportunity to help the fashion industry reinvent itself through sustainable innovations that can fuel future growth and bring positive change,” said Jill Standish, senior managing director and global retail industry group lead at Accenture. “By adopting our 360-degree value approach for this collection, we are demonstrating how these new innovations can deliver value across multiple dimensions including sustainability—and move past narrowly defined views of value.”

None of the products in the Billion Dollar Collection are for sale, but other digital versions of covetable clothing and shoes are, and not always at prices you might expect.

Companies like Fabricant and Tribute churn out limited copies of digital outfits, which can cost as much as real-world couture, that they “fit” onto buyers’ photos for easy posting on social media.

But sometimes the clout appeal is even more niche. A digital version of Gucci’s Dionysus Bag with Bee, created for the online game platform Roblox, recently resold for over $4,100 worth of Robux, exceeding the price of a physical version and a colossal markup from the original price of $4.75.

Other analog makers are embracing this new virtual landscape. Late last month, IRL labels such as Bruce Glen, Collina Strada, Freak City, Gypsy Sport, Mimi Wade, Mowalola and My Mum Made It participated in a first-of-its-kind virtual fashion show on the IMVU social network featuring outfits that users can buy for their avatars.