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  • 09.02.15

H&M Offers $1 Million For New Recycling Ideas

The king of disposable fashion would like to make disposing less destructive for the planet.

H&M Offers $1 Million For New Recycling Ideas

Recycling clothes is hard, thanks to mixed materials used to make them and the poor quality of recycled cotton. That’s why fast fashion retailer H&M is now offering an annual $1 million prize for winners who can come up with better ways to recycle what we wear.

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It’s one thing to rip the buttons and zippers out of a pair of pants, but quite another to separate the cotton and polyester in a mixed fabric. That’s the challenge faced by retailers like H&M, which sell clothes so cheap that consumers face little incentive not to treat them as disposable. H&M already offers a garment collection service that distributes used clothing either to be reworn or reused (e.g., jeans turned into a purse or t-shirts used as cleaning cloths). The new yearly prize, administered by H&M’s Conscious Foundation, is aimed at the third option: recycling.

The prize will be distributed between five winners, and those winners will be chosen by public online vote. Anyone can enter, not just established companies. “Ground-breaking, game-changing ideas can come from anywhere,” says H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson, “so the challenge is open to anyone.”

H&M

Winners will be flown to Stockholm, Sweden, to participate in an “innovation bootcamp” with the KTH Royal Institute of Technology. The idea is that H&M will work with the winners to bring their ideas into actual use.

H&M is known for its cheap and excellent knock-offs of catwalk collections, so it’s ironic to see the company, the second-largest clothing retailer in the world, trying to lead the industry. “I’m also eager to see how the fashion industry as a whole will embrace the challenge of closing the loop,” says Persson.

Re-wearing, reuse, and recycling are all great ways for a large company like H&M to lessen its environmental impact, but the problem might be with its very business model. An alternative answer is for us to buy fewer, better-made clothes, and wear them for longer. The 10-year hoodie is one example of sustainable fashion, but the shift needs to come from consumers. H&M can’t afford to sell fewer clothes, so it has to dress up recycling as a valid option. To really change the world of fashion, then, you and I have to stop buying so much.

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About the author

Previously found writing at Wired.com, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.

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