The people have spoken! At a glitzy event in Stockholm on Wednesday evening, the Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden handed out prizes to the winners of H&M’s inaugural “Global Change Award,” a first-of-its-kind €1 million grant designed to spur textile innovations that protect the planet’s natural resources and lower fashion’s environmental burden. Members of the public were able to vote for their favorite concepts, and, in so doing, determine who received which pre-portioned sums of money. A team from Finland, which snagged 31 percent of the votes, won the top prize of €300,000 for suggesting the use of an environmentally friendly solvent to dissolve cotton in textile waste, thereby creating “new” cotton-like fibers for spinning into new fabrics.


“This prestigious grant will allow us to lift our technology closer to an industrially viable level,” Michael Hummel, who represented the team at the event, said in a statement. “Now we will focus on the further development of technical details, in particular the solvent recovery to ensure economic competitiveness and complete environmental friendliness of our process.”

In second place was the United States, which received €250,000 for conceiving of a new type of microbe that not only “eats” waste polyester but also breaks it down into useful ingredients.

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Akshay Sethi, the team lead, told Ecouterre that they have a working model, but the money, along with the one-year accelerator-cum-boot-camp that H&M has organized with Accenture and Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, will enable them to work out any kinks before they scale the technology up for market.

Waste textiles represent significant underutilized economic value,” Sethi said. “We see polyester recycling as a significant problem facing textile manufacturing and waste management industries alike. Microbes are an economically sensible alternative method for polyester recycling.”

Three groups from Estonia, Italy, and the Netherlands each received €150,000 for their respective concepts: an online marketplace for surplus textiles, creating new textiles out of citrus-juice byproducts, and using algae for fiber.

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Encouraged by the response from the global innovation community—and wanting to drive impact beyond five annual winners—the H&M Conscious Foundation has decided to launch the Global Change Award Network, a public digital space for sharing ideas.

“You can look at it as a matchmaking site, where innovators can present their ideas, get feedback, make contacts and maybe investors can even find the next big thing,” said Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of H&M and a board member of the H&M Conscious Foundation. “A digital greenhouse for innovative ideas.”

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