Karl Johan Persson, CEO H&M
Image: H&M Bandana Tewari, editor-at-large, Vogue India in Zero + Maria Cornejo
On the whole, Hennes & Mauritz AB has had a tough time of late. There have been accusations of racism and cultural misappropriation and, most recently, copyright infringement over the use of a mural by graffiti artist Jason ‘Revok’ Williams as a backdrop to their campaign. Add to that disappointing financial results—shares have dropped 44 per cent over the past year, leaving them trading at a 10-year low—and the picture looks rather bleak.
“We’re obviously not satisfied with our performance,” H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson tells Vogue . “One part is the market transformation that we all know about, but the other part is that we have not performed up to our own expectations. We made some mistakes, but now we’re working to correct them.” Investing heavily in the digital space—improving and expanding the mobile experience—is key, he explains, as is “creating a more inspiring shopping experience.”
Beyond the immediate changes to the website and stand alone stores, Persson is also thinking about the future metrics that he believes will play a big role for consumers in the future: “We are working to make sustainability fact-based and consumer-facing, so that when you buy a dress you can see a tag that not only tells you the price and quality, but also [gives you an industry-wide] sustainability score. Then you will see how one company compares to another, one dress to another,” he says. “People have the idea that low prices can’t be good, but I want to break that to say we can have great design, good quality and low prices; we can make fashion accessible for everyone. And we can do it in a sustainable way.”
The spirit behind Persson’s ambitions for H&M and H&M Foundation’s aims are echoed by the judging panel, including Vogue India editor at large Bandana Tewari. Wearing a coral pink dress made using a technique developed by one of last year’s winners—the Australian scientist collective behind the denim dyeing project—Tewari is clear about the potential at hand. “Scalability and impact [are key when narrowing down the entries],” she explains. “When you come from a country with a billion people, it is all about numbers. And how fast it can be scaled up, how many lives it can impact and how quickly you can get these choices to people.”
To help the winners address those specific challenges, the H&M Foundation, in partnership with consultancy firm Accenture and Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, run a year-long accelerator programme which provides support and access to key industry leaders for the winners. “We don’t see innovation as a competitive edge, but as a collaborative space,” says Erik Bang, H&M Foundation’s innovation lead. “The aim is to unlock exponential impact, to do good through the circular economy and have a positive effect. But we can only do that by working together.” Collaboration has been a buzzword of the summit, as former United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson asserted in his keynote speech: “Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something.”
As well as a coveted spot on the accelerator programme, the five innovations get a share of the €1 million grant—portion sizes are decided by an online public vote. Here are the winning entries set to redesign the future of fashion:
Crop-A-Porter This year’s first place winner, Crop-A-Porter, uses leftovers from food crop harvests—like oilseed flax, hemp, sugarcane, bananas and pineapples from China, North America and soon Costa Rica—to create its sustainable bio-textiles. Crucially though, they do so by adding value for the communities they work with. “We’ve created what we call the agraloop,” explains Isaac Nichelson, the CEO of the American-based company. “[This is a] regenerative system that uses plant-based chemistry and plant-based energy to upgrade the fibres whilst enriching the local communities and creating a new economic system.” As the first place winner of the public vote, Crop-A-Porter won the lion’s share of the grant (€300,000).
The Regenerator “We are looking at the textiles that are already out there and [how to] use them as valuable material resource rather than as waste,“ explains Lisa Schwarz Bour who, coming in second, won €250,000 of prize money. Simply put, they want to render the fabrics already in circulation—including popular mixed fabrics like cotton and polyester blends—into separate and totally reusable fibres. The Regenerator—the first Swedish innovation to claim a spot in the H&M hall of sustainable fame—uses an eco-friendly chemical process to separate blended materials and make two fully usable textile fibres.
Algae Apparel The concept of feel-good fashion is nothing new, but clothes that improve the quality of your skin as you wear them? Now that’s a revelation! Algae Apparel’s bio-fibre can be engineered to release different kinds of antioxidants, vitamins and other nutrients depending on the type of algae used, but perhaps more importantly, tackles issues raised by conventional fabric production, namely the large amounts of water required in the production of cotton, and the pollution caused by textile dyeing. “We aim to be the green engine of the fashion revolution,” explains Renana Kelbs, one half of this father-and-daughter team. Like the other third place winners, Algae Apparel gets €150,000 of the grant money.
Smart Stitch The disassembling of garments is so labour intensive that it rarely happens, but Smart Stitch has made the recycling process easier with its special thread, which melts away when exposed to temperatures of 266 degrees. “When making a new product, most of the time you combine different materials to meet different requirements,” the company’s founder, Cédric Vanhoeck’s explains. “A shoe is a nice example. You need different materials for different parts, but if you take a recyclable sole, and a recyclable top, and stitch them together, you end up with an unrecyclable shoe.”
Funghi Fashion Grown from mushroom roots, Funghi Fashion uses 3D-printing technology to make fashion as close to zero-waste as possible. Aside from reducing the amount of water used in the manufacturing process; the need for transporting raw materials from one place to another, and the amount of waste product—the garments have a unique benefit, which the Funghi Fashion’s founder Aniela Hoitink points out: “When you are fed up with your T-shirt, you can just bury it.” Vogue India’s March 2018 issue is now available on Amazon.in
Thursday, March 22 2018
5 textile innovations set to redesign fashion’s future
Karl Johan Persson, CEO H&M
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