They’ve figured out how to craft performance-fibres from graphene, turn food waste into biodegradable polyester, and recycle dyes from discarded garments.
But there’s still a long way to go before the ten newly minted Global Change Award winners will dress the world in their breakthrough materials, overhaul the industry’s supply chain, and transform how we recycle our unwanted garments.
That’s why, during one year, an eco-system of experts, organisations and industry stakeholders are mobilising to support each team to scale at speed.
These are the key takeaways from the first week of the year-long GCA Impact Accelerator programme 2023.
1. Hire people who thrive in areas where you struggle
You might think this is a no-brainer, but as humans we’re hard-wired to be attracted to and prefer those who are like ourselves. This leaves us tempted to bring in partners and hire employees who think like us, have the same skills as us — and even look like us.
Definitely a big no-no, according to food entrepreneur and author Miles Kubheka.
Hire slowly, fire fast and take your time.Miles Kubheka
“If you’re not intentional about the people you bring in, people will make the place their own. Instead, you should hire slowly, fire fast and take your time — even if it feels like you’re burning,” he says.
In the long run, Miles Kubheka explains, a company’s co-founder is likely to become its greatest asset, and maybe even the face of the brand. And entrepreneurs shouldn’t fear someone else stealing the show — because the innovator may stand behind a brilliant idea, but it often comes down to a co-founder to make that idea famous.
“It’s almost always the marketer who becomes famous, and that’s fine. In the end, the founder and the co-founder are two people, passionate about two very different things.”
2. Bridge the gap between climate impact and capital benefit.
For an innovation to create real impact, it can’t only reduce emissions or halt biodiversity loss. It must solve a problem for people, too. And for corporations to be genuinely interested, solving those problems needs to serve a capital benefit.
“When we look at some great solutions, they also happen to be amazing in terms of recapture of raw materials and reuse of materials. Sell a product once, get it back, and sell it again with a different margin. These are all dollars in the bank for companies, and a great accelerant for growth,” says Caroline Brown, managing director at Closed Loop Partners.
The textile industry needs to encourage start-ups and scale-ups to look at, measure and take pride in their climate impact. But simultaneously, they need to look at how the innovation is good for all parts of a business and an employee community, she concludes.
3. Make friends. And do your homework.
Scaling requires capital. And lots of it.
The problem is that an investment rarely comes from sending a cold email. Instead, it overwhelmingly comes from connections. How to get them? Go mingle.
“Making friends is absolutely vital, because they can be the ones connecting you to investors. Always think ‘who are the people in the room and where else do they hang out? Be direct and ask to connect,’” says Dominic Deane, venture capital investor at The Mills Fabrica.
While friends are good for lots of things, Dominic Deane also stresses the importance on researching each potential investor carefully.
“Do a ton of research! You need to know what the investor your targeting likes, where they’re from, who they work with and what they like to invest in.”
4. The future is glocal. Not global.
The pandemic disrupted every single supply chain on the planet, and the long, complex and fragmented pre-pandemic chains aren’t coming back.
According to Anderson Lee, president and CEO at Pinneco, the dramatically transformed markets are now going from global, to glocal.
“Glocal means to have a global perspective to grow many local markets. In other words — to be very focused and build a narrow chain where you aim to buy materials, hire workers and sell products in one market,” he says and continues: “The pandemic broke the long supply chain, because so many of us went bankrupt.”
Global supply chains often have a negative impact on the planet, and their vulnerability became crystal clear during the pandemic. As fashion brands and textile manufacturers are pivoting to enter a new industrial age, Anderson Lee forecasts glocalisation will play a major part in future-proofing the entire industry’s supply chain.
5. Don’t follow the money. Follow the carbon.
We’re right now experiencing the impacts of climate change in real time. But the large-scale impacts of it are hard to grasp, and even harder for consumers to see their role in. The solutions with the power to provide a soft landing need to communicate it loud and clear.
“It’s a math problem and you need to follow the tons.”Environmental scientist and impact advisor Linda Greer
“It’s not about innovation for innovation’s sake, but about making the case in numbers that a solution emits this much less carbon, positively affects the industry in a certain way, and that it’s going to be able to scale into a certain level,” Linda Greer says.
Watch the live stream from Open Perspectives to learn more from Miles Kubheka, Caroline Brown, Anderson Lee, Linda Greer and many other brilliant minds.