Global Change Award — a search for groundbreaking ideas to reinvent fashion

By 2030, the global middle class is expected to have increased to 5 billion people and the consumption of textiles and shoes by 65 % compared to 2015. The world is already using around 1.6 planet's worth of resources every year. But creativity and innovation can flip the numbers in planet’s favour and help enable the biggest transformation ever in the fashion industry. That’s the reason why the non-profit H&M Foundation tries to move the needle by its innovation challenge Global Change Award.

28 Aug, 2019

With a circular mindset, fashion can be designed, produced, sold, used, reused and recycled in a way where resources are used and reused indefinitely in a closed loop. The annual Global Change Award (GCA) was initiated in 2015 by H&M Foundation, in collaboration with Accenture and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Named the Nobel Prize of fashion, it aims to reduce fashion's impact on the planet and our living conditions by helping innovative ideas move from tissue-sketch to market. Now, up until October 16, the window for applications is open and new brilliant minds are called for in the fifth round of the challenge.
 

Named the Nobel Prize of fashion, Global Change Award aims to reduce fashion's impact on the planet and our living conditions by helping innovative ideas move from tissue-sketch to market.

“In its fifth year, the Global Change Award has proven a great gateway for innovators to enter the fashion industry and transform it from the inside. The next big idea that will change the game can come from anyone anywhere. So, if you have an idea you believe in this is the place to go”, says Karl-Johan Persson, board member of the H&M Foundation and CEO of H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB.

“If you have an idea you believe in this is the place to go.”
Karl-Johan Persson, board member of the H&M Foundation and CEO of H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB.

In other words, H&M Foundation is open for ideas from all over the world. So far, the challenge has seen more than 14,000 entries from 182 countries. An interesting fact is that the challenge has become more global every year, with splendid ideas from emerging markets on the rise. For example, the number of entries originating from Africa and Asia has increased by almost 200 % and 90 % respectively between years 3 and 4. Furthermore, the ideas represent a broad range of exciting innovations — the winners from GCA 2019 range from the lab-made vegan leather, fibres made of nettles, a digital system to make products recyclable from scratch, children’s clothes that expand to a biodegradable toxic-free membrane for outdoor wear.

Early-stage ideas that could turn the tide

To win the Global Change Award, the innovation should have the potential to make fashion circular and to scale. It should be sustainable and reduce, substitute, recycle or eliminate the use of the earth’s resources. Other criteria are a novelty, that the idea is economically sustainable and that the innovation team is committed to making a difference.

H&M Foundation initiated the challenge to find innovations that allow major change for the entire industry, and the winner can collaborate with whoever they want. Neither the non-profit H&M Foundation nor H&M Group take any equity or intellectual property rights in the innovations. The purpose of GCA is to influence the entire fashion industry, and in the end, this also means improving living conditions for people and communities globally.
 

Neither the non-profit H&M Foundation nor H&M Group take any equity or intellectual property rights in the innovations. The purpose of GCA is to influence the entire fashion industry, and in the end, this also means improving living conditions for people and communities globally.

Important to note is that the innovations should be something not yet on the market or implemented. The spotlight is on the game-changers of tomorrow. It is at this earliest stage where H&M Foundation can provide the much-needed resources, access and skills and thereby make the biggest difference.

As a non-profit foundation, H&M Foundation doesn’t have the same requirements of getting a certain return on investment within x years, as most private businesses do. This means that innovations that may seem risky and shaky can be selected as winners. Funding is a major challenge for innovators, especially in the circular economy, a pattern that is revealed through the enormous bank of entries GCA has received over the years. H&M Foundation can really make a difference here and invest in and support these innovators, to increase their chances of entering the market. For sure there are a vast number of great ideas out there but access to capital, know-how and business support is scarce, and many great ideas never get to see the light of day. These ideas are the ones Global Change Award want to find, to give them the support needed to make a difference.

 

The meaning of winning

Five winners are selected each year and they are chosen with the help of an expert panel, all working pro bono, chosen for their extensive knowledge within fashion, sustainability, circularity and innovation.

Up for grabs is a grant of one million euro which is split between them. In addition, and maybe even more important, is an Innovation Accelerator Program provided to the winners for one year. As soon as the winners have been granted their awards at a ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, they start the program – described by many previous winners as far more valuable than the cash grant. During this year the H&M Foundation, Accenture and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology support the winners, taking them to Stockholm, New York and Hong Kong with the ambition to take their ideas to the next level, bringing them to scale and out on the market as quickly as possible, to maximize their impact on the industry.

In between these trips, the winners stay in their home countries, working within their own networks and infrastructures but with access to virtual sessions and personal assistance from all three partners of the Global Change Award.
 

The winners of Global Change Award 2019 during their accelerator week in New York City.

Speedy progress for the winners

There’s a reason to be amazed at how fast the winners develop their innovations during the innovation accelerator program. With the right coaching, exposure and access a lot can be achieved in a short time. Several of the previous winners have on-going cooperations and pilot projects with the industry, and some are already on the market.

For example, in collaboration with the Italian brand Ferragamo, the GCA 2016 winner Orange Fiber launched a collection with garments made from citrus production waste. They also collaborated with H&M in their H&M Conscious Exclusive collection spring/summer 2019, which included a blouse made from Orange Fiber.

 

During the spring 2019 H&M’s Conscious Exclusive collection featured a blouse made from Orange Fiber.

Other examples are Agraloop, GCA winners of 2018, who takes the harvest remain from crops and turns it into useful bio-fibre, and GCA 2017 winner VEGEA, who’s using leftovers from winemaking to create fully vegetal leather.

For the Global Change Award ceremony 2019, Bandana Tewari, member of the expert panel 2019 and Contributor to the Business of Fashion, wore an outfit made with both these materials, designed by & Other Stories. Agraloop was behind Bandana’s dress and VEGEA contributed with a pair of sandals and a clutch. The outfit sets a fantastic example of how previous winners of Global Change Award have rapidly succeeded to shift their innovations into fabulous fashion pieces.
 

The dress worn by Bandana Tewari during the award ceremony 2019 was made of 60 % Agraloop (oil-seed hemp) BioFibre™ and 40 % silk. The 100% vegetable leather sandals were made of fibres and oils from winemaking leftovers.



“The Global Change Award was an amazing experience. It really helped us develop our innovation and thanks to the support of the H&M Foundation we were able to develop the first prototypes for fashion. It’s such an honour to see a pair of shoes made of VEGEA and designed by & Other Stories”, says Valentina Longobardo, co-founder of VEGEA.

“Thanks to the support of the H&M Foundation we were able to develop the first prototypes for fashion.”
Valentina Longobardo, co-founder of VEGEA and GCA winner 2017
 

What’s cooking?

The winning ideas of Global Change Award could target a specific issue within the fashion´s value chain, like raw material, business models, design, fabric production, user phase or a cross-segment issue. Conclusions from GCA 2019 reveals that technology is an important enabler for solving humanity’s challenges and ignites the shift toward a more sustainable fashion industry. In today’s highly connected and rapidly changing world, the need to identify the right partners is growing. A technology-centric idea is now the most common type of idea in GCA with 42 % of the ideas being technology-centric.

For GCA 2020 there’s also an extra eye looking for innovations within the below three themes, all of them addressing the urgency for fashion to operate within the planetary boundaries:

• Consumer-centric Innovation — innovations that improve the sustainable footprint of fashion from when it has landed in a shopping bag until the end of its lifetime, as well as nudging consumers to take more sustainable actions.
• Digital & Data — innovations that use technology and data in creative ways that will significantly reduce the environmental impact of fashion.
• Circular Design — innovations that span over the whole ecosystem of fashion, or details of it, that are enabling the valuable and limited resources to continue in a closed loop, instead of one-time use.
 

The winning ideas of Global Change Award could target a specific issue within the fashion´s value chain, like raw material, business models, design, fabric production, user phase or a cross-segment issue.

There is an opportunity for anyone to take part in sparking the shift to a more sustainable future.

“With the Global Change Award, we believe we can help change one of the biggest and most resource-consuming industries in the world. Innovation is key to enable this transformation and it’s exciting to have opened the fifth round”, says Erik Bang, Innovation Lead, H&M Foundation.

For more information, head to globalchangeaward.com or follow @hmfoundation on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn.
 

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