There’s a chance that in 100 years, all of humankind will be happily wearing silicone jumpsuits that never need replacing. But, if we’re going to take a more conservative, less 1984 route, the future of fashion will probably look a lot more like what the owners of fast-fashion brands are planning for. As the most massive, lucrative, and hungry fashion entities operating today, fast-fashion labels like H&M have a lot of say in what kinds of clothes we’ll be wearing years from now, because they’re the ones making the most impact on our earth’s resources — which won’t last if they continue to grow like they currently are. Today, fast-fashion is rapidly outpacing the growth of any other fashion sector; according to a report put out by Euromonitor International, “fast fashion and its infiltration across the world have led to permanent shifts, […] impacting pricing and sourcing strategies as traditional players try to maintain momentum.” For fast-fashion brands to survive into the future, they need to understand how not to destroy it.
That's why H&M's commitment to becoming 100% circular and renewable — that’s only using recycled materials and renewable resources, including cotton, water, and energy — is such a big deal. Announced during its second annual Sustainability Report, H&M laid out a game plan to close the loop by 2030, and become climate positive (that’s actually lowering emissions, instead of just not contributing to it) by 2040. To speed things up, they’ve begun an independent, not-for-profit foundation that rewards scientists with big fashion ideas. The Global Change Award is put on by H&M Foundation, privately funded by the Persson family — they also founded and own the main stake in H&M Company, which allows them relative freedom to pursue their own interests, including sustainability. The second-annual awards identified five new technologies to award no-strings-attached grants to, which have the potential to make a significant impact on the environment, workers, businesses, and even international policy making.
Also — because we can't wait — one lets you wear wine. Cheers to that.
Ahead, find the five winners of the 2nd annual Global Change Awards, and how Refinery29 believes they’ll make their way into your closets.
The Invention: Grape Leather — Winner of a 300,000 euro grant
What makes it sustainable: Rosa Rosella Longobardo and her team found out a way to take the waste materials of wine production and turn it into a fake leather. Typically, grape skins and stalks are incinerated, which releases carbon emissions, or dumped in landfills, which leaches toxic polyphenols into the earth. Like, mushroom leather or pineapple leather, grape leather is a skin-free skin solution that feels way better than pleather (not to mention, is better for the environment).
What it’ll look like in your closet: Grape leather could show up in luxury “leather” handbags, shoes, and outerwear in the same way that mushroom leather has already probably found its way into your closet (if you own Stella McCartney skin-free skin, you own mushroom leather!). Plus, these pieces make for an excellent conversation starter. Start practicing now: “Oh this? It’s made with WINE.”
The Invention: Solar Textiles — Winner of a 250,000 euro grant
What makes it sustainable: Many synthetic fibers (like nylon) are made from nonsustainable oil, but Miguel A. Modestino and his team have come up with a process to manufacture nylon using only water, plant waste, and solar energy. Bonus: It also somehow traps carbon from the environment as you wear it, making you a carbon-sucking cleaner-upper (like a tree!), every time you wear it.
What it’ll look like in your closet: Still in the early stages of research and development, this fabric will hopefully replace conventional nylons as it becomes cheaper to create. This shift will likely be invisible — that nylon jacket you’ll buy in 2025 might be made of sunshine and compost, and you won’t even know it.
The Invention: Content Thread — Winner of a 150,000 euro grant
What makes it sustainable: You know how barcodes work? This invention by Natasha Franck and her team is like that, but you’ll be able to scan the fibers on your clothes to uncover any information you want to encode into it — everything from what fibers are in it (which will help solve a huge problem when it comes to recycling the garment at the end of its life), to, eventually, where the materials come from, who sewed the clothes, and whether that shirt clashes with those pants. The content thread will be indistinguishable from the other threads in your clothes.
What it’ll look like in your closet: One day, your washing machine will be able to sense what cycle to run based on the Content Threads it reads from your clothes. Or, regulatory agencies will be able to quickly scan the garments in subcontracted factories to know exactly which suppliers are complicit in unethical worker practices. If you ever read nutrition facts and food labels, this is an innovation you should be stoked about.
The Invention: Denim-Dyed Denim — Winner of a 150,000 euro grant
What makes it sustainable: Everyone wears blue jeans, but cotton doesn’t grow out of the ground in that hue, and the dying process is one of the most polluting, environmentally damaging processes in the apparel industry today. Xungai Wang and his team have figured out a way to use old jeans (which there are plenty of in the world) to dye new ones.
What it’ll look like in your closet: You won’t be able to tell a difference, most likely, but Wang’s goal is to dramatically reduce the cost of this process so it’s even cheaper to utilize than traditional dyes. That means jeans will cost less, but be better for the environment.
The Invention: Manure Couture — Winner of a 150,000 euro grant
What makes it sustainable: Clothes made from poop? Believe it — Jalila Essaidi and her team have perfected a process to transofrm the abundant cellulose found in cow dung to create a hardy, soft fabric (that also doesn’t smell). The cleverest thing about it is that it takes the other components within dung — phosphates, water, etc — to actually fuel the process. Cow dung is a huge polluter of methane, and some of the only ways to get rid of it is to burn it (for fuel), or go through a toxic anaerobic respiration process in manure lagoons (Google it, but on an empty stomach, please).
What it’ll look like in your closet: It’s actually beautiful, and Essaidi has already created garments with Mestic (it’s non-poop, trademarked name). It sounds like a clickbait headline, but it’s actually a bio-fabric that could eventually be as ubiquitous as Viscose.
Travel and expenses for the author were provided by H&M for the purpose of writing this story.