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Expect change from unexpected places

“Doing something for the first time means making mistakes. But learning from them is how you get things done,” says Erik Bang at H&M Foundation.

As Innovation Lead at H&M Foundation, his main focus is finding ways for the fashion industry to operate within the limits of our planet while still meeting the demands of a growing population. “We are looking into all links in the chain, from production to transport and how to extend the lifespan of a garment. But also, the ‘end of life’ – how to recycle and re-use what has already been manufactured.”

In order to make fundamental changes, our initiatives should be based on correct scientific support. For this reason, the H&M Foundation supports and engages in research and innovation projects through grants and funding. The main grant, The Global Change Award, is given to five promising projects every year.

Erik Bang, Innovation Lead at H&M Foundation
Erik Bang, Innovation Lead H&M Foundation

Words matter

“One important lesson for us as an educator of sorts, have been the importance of using the right words,” says Erik Bang.

“We used to talk about ‘closing the loop’, in reference to shifting from a linear to a circular fashion industry. But illustrative expressions don’t always translate, and we realized this expression was perceived as referring to recycling only. Furthermore, we learned that how we express ourselves have a direct impact on who applies for our grants. If we do not explain ourselves clearly, we might miss out on potential groundbreaking ideas.”

Excitement blurred our judgement

There are other lessons to be learned from working in a constantly evolving field. One is to always keep the long-term goal in sight.

“We have done smaller projects along the way, like podcasts and crowdfunding initiatives, where we have been very excited about the initial idea but realized along the way, it may not hold up in the long run,” recounts Erik Bang.

“It is, unfortunately, easy to underestimate the efforts required to achieve lasting results. Sometimes we simply take on too much. Through crowdfunding we wanted to increase the public’s involvement and create a grassroot movement. In hindsight, it was not relevant for these particular projects, yet we pushed the cohort of Global Change Award winners to go through with it. Through this we have learned to be more honest about what is, in fact, a campaign and what is impact and actual lasting change.”

“Change really can come from anywhere, and that we need to keep our eyes and minds open and curious at all times.”

Erik Bang

Staying open-minded is key

Another great reminder is to not have a set idea of where or from whom change is coming.

“Thinking outside the box is said so often it is easy to forget what it actually means. But for us, it needs to be a constant reminder. The Green Machine, an invention that recycles blend textiles into new fibers and cellulose powder, came to us unexpectedly from a team of retired Japanese engineers. It was a great and humbling reminder that change really can come from anywhere, and that we need to keep our eyes and minds open and curious at all times.”