H&M’s innovation challenge to ‘close the loop’ closes this week. The ‘Global Change Award’ announced by their Conscious Foundation in August will give a €1m reward to designers, scientists and technological whizz kids who come up with new innovative ideas to recycle and re-use clothing at the end of its life. Winners will test these ideas and explore the potential for scale.

Textile waste and natural resource scarcity pose huge challenges to the fashion industry, with 1 million tonnes of textiles landfilled each year in the UK alone.

Should this innovation challenge give us confidence in H&M’s desire to protect the earth’s natural resources? Does it give them the ethical edge? 

Not everyone is whooping and cheering. Some accuse H&M of averting its eyes from the more nitty gritty issues in its supply chain. Those most sceptical dismiss their activities as greenwash, a distraction from the systemic change that is really needed to reduce the negative impacts of fast fashion. 

Perhaps H&M is openly discussing waste and pollution because it’s the ‘most straight-forward’ fast fashion challenge. Here could be where relatively quick solutions can be devised and implemented. Issues around labour and overproduction are conversely a good deal more complex. Would shouting loudly about their work on empowering women and the fair living wage be sticking their head above the parapet too much?

The complexities lie in the fact fast fashion is symptomatic of our consumerist culture and growth economies. Brands are operating under profit-driven models of production and mainstream demand is still for large quantities of cheap on-trend clothing.

I’d like to see a more open debate. It’d be nice to hear more from businesses about what steps they’re taking, the challenges and their longer term ambitions. Just because a situation is complex doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be discussed. Equally sceptics could be more open to the nuances in the debate, and allow room to applaud genuinely positive progress. 

‘The Global Change Award’ poses an exciting opportunity to reduce textile waste, but perhaps greater transparency and more radical moves are needed in the long term to tackle other fast fashion challenges. 

Throughout October the Fashion Future Network is discussing if clothing recycling schemes present the solution to getting value from textiles waste? Join the conversation.