Meet the “Collaboratory,” an annual three-day fellowship program that promotes innovation in the sustainable apparel industry. Spearheaded by Levi Strauss, with a curriculum designed by the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program, the first-of-its-kind initiative will bring together socially and environmentally conscious entrepreneurs who see “design and sustainability as inextricably linked,” according to the denim giant. Each year will hone in on a specific sticking point or theme, say, textile waste, water conservation, or workers’ rights. And if the opportunity to work alongside industry movers and shakers at Levi’s Eureka Innovation Lab in San Francisco isn’t incentive enough, fellows may also receive up to $500,000 in funding to develop and implement their own creative solutions. Think of it as the homegrown version of H&M’s Global Change Award but with a catchier, portmanteau-based name.

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“As an industry, we need to make sustainability a top priority and this means coming together to tackle the big social and environmental issues of our time,” Chip Bergh, president and CEO of Levi Strauss, said in a statement. “The LS&Co. Collaboratory embeds the principles we’ve followed over the last 163 years to help foster the next generation of designers and entrepreneurs so that together we can build an apparel industry that restores the environment and protects our most vital resources.” 

The inaugural program, which takes its cue from Levi’s recent open-sourcing of its “Water<Less” techniques, targets “innovators, designers, and bold thinkers” who are keen on developing new technologies and methodologies for reducing clothing’s massive water footprint.

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“Water is a critical resource–not only for the apparel industry, but for our planet and society as a whole,” said Nancy McGaw, deputy director of the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program, a educational and policy-studies organization based in Washington, D.C. “It is critical that the nonprofit and private sector come together to create impactful and lasting change across the industry.”

The program will provide fellows with the “tools, knowledge, and hopefully inspiration” to create apparel even more sustainably than we can today, McGaw added.

“With LS&Co., we are setting the stage for a new generation of sustainably minded apparel leaders who will define the new industry standard and we’re proud to be part of this important initiative,” she said.

The Collaboratory will be accepting applications from now through June 30. (Check out the full criteria on its website.) The 2016 fellows will be announced later this summer.

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