Changing methods of consumption and educating people to recycle used goods is the main preoccupation of the H&M Foundation. Faced with a growing middle class, how can we continue to produce mass fashion whilst at the same protecting the planet? Limited resources, fragile ecosystems and climate change, makes it clear that a time will come when everyone will have to re-think production methods and incorporate new technologies to create a new industry that uses recycle materials and respects the environment. Erik Bang, chief strategist for innovation at H&M Foundation tells us about advances in the sector and in particular through the Global Change Award which celebrates its third anniversary this year.
Where do you come from?
I was born and grew up in Stockholm, Sweden. I am the youngest of six brothers. I studied political science and worked in promoting Swedish industry in very complex markets before joining H&M Foundation in 2014. What motivates me is the opportunity to transform one of the greatest world industries, make it a circular industry and operate within global limits.
What is your role at the H&M Foundation?
I work as Head of Innovation. I am responsible for what the Foundation does globally.
What is the aim of H&M Foundation?
It is a non-profit worldwide foundation. It is based in Sweden and we work to improve living conditions for people throughout the world by investing in innovative ideas, people and communities. We are separate from the H&M company and are financed by the family of Stefan Persson, the founding family and principal owner of H&M Group. H&M Foundation has the opportunity to support relevant projects from the initial stages in generating ideas. It is not concerned with the loss of investments as a company or public organisation could be. We make changes from which the whole of the fashion industry can benefit.
In your view, what is the greatest challenge for H&M Foundation?
The industry is facing its greatest ever challenge, which is how to produce fashion for a growing world population whilst at the same time protecting the planet? The world population is increasing and the middle class is expanding. Therefore, it is to be expected that general consumption will increase, not only of clothing but food, air travel, electronics, etc. The current economic model is based on the idea of producing something and then throwing it away as waste. It is what is known as “Take–Make–Waste”. The resources we have on our planet are limited and its ecosystems and climate are fragile. Therefore, we have to re-invent the industry to make it circular and recycle resources instead of wasting them.
Why is it so important to accelerate change in fashion?
Fashion is one of the most inventive industries in the world. It consumes large amounts of water, land and other resources in order to produce clothing. There are simply not enough resources to continue in this way. The consequences are terrible for our ecosystems and our climate. Conversely, clothes are an essential product for our populations. We therefore have to find the most intelligent and surest way of making them, using them and recycling them.
What does the “One-Year Acceleration Programme” offer? Who can participate?
The Global Change Award is open to everyone worldwide. Last year, we received 2,600 applications from 151 countries. Every year, there are five winners who share an award of one million euros (we do not take any share in their innovations) and have access to the accelerator.
The objective of the accelerator is to give the teams the best possible toolbox for ideas, skills and networks in order to derive profit from their brilliant idea and the award. We bring the teams to Stockholm, New York and Shanghai to learn more about the industry and to meet a maximum number of leaders in the sector.
Tell us about the fabric with orange-peel base… what is it?
This is the story of two Sicilian women who wondered whether they could make something useful with the mountains of orange peel generated by the fruit juice industry. They had the ingenious idea of creating an orange fabric! It is a fabric that is very fine and resembles silk, extracted from the cellulose contained in the peel. Twelve months after their participation in the first Global Change Award, they launched a basic collection with Salvatore Ferragamo, in April 2017.
This year you are celebrating the third Global Change Award. With the first two events, what changes have there been in the fashion industry?
We are seeing much greater awareness and a willingness to act. It is very encouraging but we still need lots of new technologies if we are to transform the industry. We also need consumers who are prepared to recycle fabrics in the same way as they recycle cans and bottles at present…or to give a new lease of life to their clothes by selling them or simply giving them away to anyone who may need them.
We are optimists, but we have to continue our efforts and need support from everyone. There is still a lot of work to do and we believe that there are a great number of intelligent innovations waiting to be discovered.
Photos: H&M. BIONIC® dress in polyester recycled with plastics found on the coasts; Denimite earrings in compressed denim fabric; The winners of the 2017 Global Change Award.