Cotton is certified, recycling is on the rise, value chain processes are improved – but it’s not enough. We need to look at the whole system and see how it can be changed from the ground up. With an ambition to find a truly sustainable solution for the fashion industry, non-profit H&M Foundation and The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA) extend their collaboration for five more years in a new initiative called the Planet First program. Ground-breaking technologies are already being tested.
Planet First program aims to find planet positive technologies that will not only look at the circular economy and climate change, but also consider all aspects of earth’s natural support systems. The global commons are the resources we all need to survive, thrive and prosper. These resources, which include land, water, oceans, climate and biodiversity are deeply connected. They all need to be addressed as they impact each other. The program is a visionary scale-up of the H&M Foundation’s previous collaboration with HKRITA, named the Recycling Revolution (2016-2019).
Now, the H&M Foundation donates 100 million SEK (USD 12 million), and the Hong Kong Government’s Innovation & Technology Fund gives additional funding based on the H&M Foundation’s donation under existing funding mechanism, which results in a total estimated budget of USD 100 million over five years.
“We don’t know what a planet positive fashion industry will look like, no one does. This goal is directional and requires innovation and thinking outside the box in every step of the fashion value chain. By signing up for five more years with HKRITA, we not only dip our toes but take the plunge with this partnership to figure this out, and we look forward to making the Planet First program a revolutionary one,” says Erik Bang, Innovation Lead at the H&M Foundation.
“Our partnership with the H&M Foundation is guided by speed, scale and impact. Our goal is to find technologies and solutions that we openly share with the industry to ensure rapid scaling and positive impact. To our knowledge, this is the most ambitious program in our industry to move the needle in this field, and we are very excited to start discovering the breakthroughs that can change the game,” says Edwin Keh, CEO of HKRITA.
Projects within Planet First
One of the projects within the new Planet First portfolio is a spinoff from the successful Green Machine developed in 2018, by HKRITA and H&M Foundation. The cellulose powder generated from the Green Machine is clean and toxic-free. The research team together with Japanese fiber producer Daiwabo Rayon, are piloting to make new garments out of it. Moreover – as a lucky unintentional consequence – the powder with its superabsorbent characteristics could be interesting for farming purposes. Together with Shahi, one of India’s largest apparel manufacturer, a small pilot with cotton farmers was successfully implemented.
“In a pilot study carried out by Shahi in India, we found that HKRITA’s superabsorbent powder increased cotton crop yield by 20%. We believe this is because the powder improves water retention of the crop, especially under extreme water stress conditions. The quality of cotton grown this way was better and the fibers were stronger and longer. These improvements can potentially enable farmers to receive a better market price. In spring 2021 we plan to run a larger pilot. We believe this research can help both cotton farmers and also benefit the environment by enabling the use of textile waste as an eco-friendly superabsorbent powder and by reducing water consumption in cotton production,” Anant Ahuja, Head, Organizational Development, Shahi Exports.
What if textiles could sequester CO2? This is another topic for research which has already resulted in a prototype. As a consumer, you could potentially help decrease carbon dioxide in the air by simply wearing these clothes.
A third example of the Planet First program is a first of its kind open factory where innovators, researchers, suppliers and brands can meet, test new ideas and scale faster. By doing this, the program partners are offering a solution to one of the pain points for innovators today – access to equipment and the industry. The lab will be opened in Hong Kong. More information will follow in 2021.