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Aussie scientist wins H&M grant for waste-free fashion

Xungai Wang, director of Deakin University’s Institute for Frontier Materials, has been named one of five winners of H&M’s Global Change Award, which the fast fashion retailer announced in Stockholm, Sweden, earlier this week.

The annual award aims to speed the shift to a circular waste-free fashion industry by granting €1 million to people with game-changing ideas. This year almost 3,000 applications were submitted to the award.

Chosen by a panel of experts in innovation, entrepreneurship, sustainability and fashion, the five finalists received a portion of the €1 million grant as determined by a public online vote.

Wang and his team (pictured above) received €150,000 for their method of breaking down old denim into fine particles, which are then used to dye new denim or make prints on other textiles.

This method reduces both water and energy used for production, as well as reuses old denim instead of it going to waste.

“Denim is the single largest apparel item on the market. Traditional denim production has a serious environmental impact and denim recycling is a huge issue worldwide,” said Professor Wang.

“Currently, old denim products are dumped in landfills, and dye run-off from denim production can pollute local water supplies.”

Wang said his team’s ‘circular denim’ approach is a completely new one, addressing both denim waste and new denim manufacturing at the same time, and will have a lasting impact on both the environment and the global clothing market.

H&M has also announced the start of a one-year innovation accelerator, which will help the award winners develop their ideas. The accelerator is supported by the non-profit H&M Foundation in collaboration with Accenture and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Commenting on this opportunity, Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of H&M and board member of the H&M Foundation, said, “I congratulate all five winning teams. They have the potential to help reinvent the fashion industry, enabling products and resources to have more than one life.

“Winning the Global Change Award gives you a boost through funding, coaching, industry access and validation that you probably can’t find elsewhere. If you want to help reinvent one of the largest industries in the world, this is the place to go.”

Jill Standish, senior managing director of retail at Accenture, agreed that consumers increasingly expect the fashion industry to prioritise sustainability in production. “Consumer expectations for more sustainable products are placing an emphasis on the industry to fundamentally re-examine and re-design the entire fashion value chain,” she said.

“The Global Change Award is the first of its kind challenge for early stage innovation in fashion and we are impressed by the level of bold creativity and disruptive innovation shown by the five award winners.

“We are passionate about helping them further develop their inspiring ideas through the Accelerator program, to support them in driving the change towards a circular fashion industry.”

Here is the full list of 2017 Global Change Award winners:

  • €300,000: Innovation: Grape Leather, Team lead: Rossella Longobardo, Italy
  • €250,000: Innovation: Solar Textiles, Team lead: Miguel A. Modestino, US/Switzerland
  • €150,000: Innovation: Content Thread, Team lead: Natasha Franck, US/UK
  • €150,000: Innovation: Denim-dyed Denim, Team lead: Xungai Wang, Australia
  • €150,000: Innovation: Manure Couture, Team lead: Jalila Essaidi, The Netherlands
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