Fashion Retailer Has $1M for Best Recycling Idea

H&M wants to reduce environmental strains of 'fast fashion'
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 25, 2015 6:46 PM CDT
Fashion Retailer Has $1M for Best Recycling Idea
H&M is offering more than $1 million in prize money annually for innovative ways to recycle its mass-produced clothing.   (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Justin Tang)

H&M—the second most-profitable clothing store in the world—has drawn criticism for embodying the "fast-fashion" model of retail. Fast-fashion basically means overproducing cheap clothing, which can be good for consumers but not so good for workers and the environment. (Last Week Tonight with John Oliver explains the problems with fast-fashion here.) Now, the Swedish clothing giant is trying to address some of those criticisms of fast-fashion by offering a $1.2 million annual prize for new innovations in recycled clothing, Reuters reports. Cotton can be reused, but it's inefficient, and recycled cotton produces poor-quality fabric. And there's currently no good way to recycle mixed-material clothing at all.

In addition to adding mass amounts of cheap, lightly worn clothing to landfills, H&M is concerned with future shortages in resources, such as cotton, which requires large amounts of water and pesticides, according to Reuters. The project manager for H&M's Global Challenge Award—launched today—tells the Guardian shoppers aren't going to stop buying clothes, so companies need to figure out how to reduce the waste from making new garments. But critics say the contest is just a clever way for the retailer to avoid dealing with the actual problem of overproduction. "[Their] model only works if they encourage very frequent purchases, but the consumers are aware of the increasing effect it has on the environment," one expert tells Reuters. (More H&M stories.)

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