USD 100 million invested in partnership to reach a planet positive fashion industry
Cotton is certified, recycling is on the rise, value chain processes are improved – but it’s not enough. We need to look at the whole system and see how it can be changed from the ground up. With an ambition to find a truly sustainable solution for the fashion industry, non-profit H&M Foundation and The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) extend their collaboration for five more years in a new initiative called the Planet First program. Ground-breaking technologies are already being tested.
The Planet First program aims to find planet positive technologies that will not only look at the circular economy and climate change, but also consider all aspects of earth’s natural support systems. The global commons are the resources we all need to survive, thrive and prosper. These resources, which include land, water, oceans, climate and biodiversity are deeply connected. They all need to be addressed as they impact each other. The program is a visionary scale-up of the H&M Foundation’s previous collaboration with HKRITA, named the Recycling Revolution (2016-2019).
"To our knowledge, this is the most ambitious program in our industry to move the needle in this field."
Edwin Keh, HKRITA
Now, the H&M Foundation donates 100 million SEK (USD 12 million), and the Hong Kong Government’s Innovation & Technology Fund gives additional funding based on the H&M Foundation’s donation under existing funding mechanism, which results in a total estimated budget of USD 100 million over five years.
“Our partnership with the H&M Foundation is guided by speed, scale and impact. Our goal is to find technologies and solutions that we openly share with the industry to ensure rapid scaling and positive impact. To our knowledge, this is the most ambitious program in our industry to move the needle in this field, and we are very excited to start discovering the breakthroughs that can change the game,” says Edwin Keh, CEO of HKRITA.
Projects within Planet First
“We don’t know what a planet positive fashion industry will look like, no one does. This goal is directional and requires innovation and thinking outside the box in every step of the fashion value chain.”
Erik Bang, Innovation Lead at the H&M Foundation
One of the projects within the new Planet First portfolio is a spinoff from the successful Green Machine developed in 2018, by HKRITA and H&M Foundation. The cellulose powder generated from the Green Machine is clean and toxic-free. The research team together with Japanese fiber producer Daiwabo Rayon, are piloting to make new garments out of it. Moreover – as a lucky unintentional consequence – the powder with its superabsorbent characteristics could be interesting for farming purposes. Together with Shahi, one of India’s largest apparel manufacturer, a small pilot with cotton farmers was successfully implemented.
“In a pilot study carried out by Shahi in India, we found that HKRITA’s superabsorbent powder increased cotton crop yield by 20%. We believe this is because the powder improves water retention of the crop, especially under extreme water stress conditions. The quality of cotton grown this way was better and the fibers were stronger and longer. These improvements can potentially enable farmers to receive a better market price. In spring 2021 we plan to run a larger pilot. We believe this research can help both cotton farmers and also benefit the environment by enabling the use of textile waste as an eco-friendly superabsorbent powder and by reducing water consumption in cotton production,” Anant Ahuja, Head, Organizational Development, Shahi Exports.
What if textiles could sequester CO2? This is another topic for research which has already resulted in a prototype. As a consumer, you could potentially help decrease carbon dioxide in the air by simply wearing these clothes.
A third example of the Planet First program is a first of its kind open factory where innovators, researchers, suppliers and brands can meet, test new ideas and scale faster. By doing this, the program partners are offering a solution to one of the pain points for innovators today – access to equipment and the industry. The lab will be opened in Hong Kong. More information will follow in 2021.
“We don’t know what a planet positive fashion industry will look like, no one does. This goal is directional and requires innovation and thinking outside the box in every step of the fashion value chain. By signing up for five more years with HKRITA, we not only dip our toes but take the plunge with this partnership to figure this out, and we look forward to making the Planet First program a revolutionary one,” says Erik Bang, Innovation Lead at the H&M Foundation.
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NOTES TO EDITORS
The H&M Foundation’s take on a Planet Positive fashion industry means working to protect the global commons we all share such as land, water, oceans, climate and biodiversity. By choosing positive and not only neutral, we mean not only minimizing or eliminating the negative impact fashion can have on the planet but adding environmental benefits to the planet through processes and actions taken in the value chain. This is the only way to create a resilient industry and a thriving society within the planetary boundaries as global population grows. How that will be done exactly we don’t know yet, but we do know we need to raise the bar and increase our ambition to have a chance to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030. Focusing on all of earth’s natural support systems also represents an approach based on systems thinking where all resources need to be addressed as they are interlinked and equally important to fast-track change towards the 2030 goals.
THE PLANET FIRST PROGRAM (2020-2024)
The five year-long Planet First program will take on a wider scope than climate change and circularity and look at all aspects of earth’s natural support systems: land, water, oceans, climate and biodiversity. The ambition is to find technologies that can contribute to a planet positive fashion future. This means not only minimizing or eliminating the negative impact fashion can have on the planet but adding environmental benefits to the planet through the processes and actions taken in the value chain. The program, consisting of many different research projects, is guided by speed, scale and impact. Speed – we are conducting applied research and present developments along the way to get feedback to improve and progress faster. Scale – we target the biggest pain points and partner with industry from day one to ensure quick scaling of solutions. Impact – we give away all our findings and technologies to maximize the impact of our work.
RECYCLING REVOLUTION (2016-2019)
In 2016, the H&M Foundation partnered with The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA). A program called Recycling Revolution was created focusing on recycling technologies for blend textiles. Its overall aim was to develop at least one commercially viable technology to recycle clothes made from textile blends into new fabrics and yarns. In September 2017, HKRITA reached a breakthrough with a new method that could recycle blend textiles into new fabrics and yarns without any quality loss, using only water, heat and pressure. The so-called hydrothermal technology moved from lab scale to pre-industrial scale in 2018, and in 2021 a full recycling facility is built with Kahatex in Indonesia. In 2020 Monki was the first fashion brand to sell garments made from the Green Machine. In addition to this, several other projects were carried out. For example, the Red Dot awarded Garment-2-Garment, a miniaturized recycling system developed to raise consumers’ awareness and habits on textile recycling. As of now, there is one system available at the Mills in Hong Kong, and in an H&M store in Sweden (they call the concept Looop).
The H&M Foundation is an independent non-profit global foundation headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden. It is privately funded by the Stefan Persson family, founders and main owners of the H&M group. Founded to fast track the achievements of the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 to improve lives for everyone everywhere, H&M Foundation uses collaboration and innovation to co-create, fund and share solutions for the world’s most urgent challenges. To help safeguard the welfare of humanity we’re ushering the fashion industry to become planet positive, and we accelerate development for inclusive societies. Since 2013, the family has donated SEK 1.5 billion. To learn more, go to hmfoundation.com and follow @hmfoundation on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.
Established in 2006, HKRITA is funded by the Innovation and Technology Commission of the HKSAR Government and is hosted by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. HKRITA contributes to the competitiveness of the textile and apparel industry by providing one-stop services in applied research, technology transfer and commercialization. HKRITA also plays a vital and expanding role in driving sustainable improvements in the industry and thus bringing benefits to society as a whole.
HONG KONG GOVERNMENT FUNDING
Our programs are co-funded by the Innovation and Technology Fund of Hong Kong SAR Government, bringing more funds to the table and enabling a bigger impact.