Nike, NASA Launch Sustainable Fabrics Challenge

Like many other industries, fashion and textiles take an immense toll on our natural environment. But toxic chemicals and excessive water consumption are only the beginning of their dark side. Fashion and textile companies, while portraying their glamorous side to the developed world, are some of the main industrial oppressors in the developing world.

Nike, along with partners NASA, the US Agency for International Development and the US Department of State, recently announced the LAUNCH System Challenge 2013, a competition that’s looking for innovations to transform the system of fabrics. Rather than being seen as wasteful and unjust, these partners hope to find practical ideas that will allow the textiles industry to advance equitable global economic growth, drive human prosperity and replenish the planet’s resources.

LAUNCH process graphic

Image via LAUNCH

According to Nike, the global apparel industry is expected to produce more than 400 billion square meters of fabric every year by 2015. In Hong Kong alone, residents throw away 253 tons of clothing on average each day, according to the Environmental Protection Department. That’s one city. Now add in places like New York, Paris, Los Angeles, Bombay, Tokyo, and the amount becomes staggering. To say that the textile and fashion industries face some huge sustainability challenges is a glaring understatement. That’s what Nike and the government agencies involved hope to tackle with the LAUNCH challenge.

“LAUNCH was founded on the simple idea: to scale innovation for impact, the networks, strategies and resources of global stakeholders need to be leveraged.  We call this “collective genius” and we harness this to create “a better world”,” say the partners on the challenge website.

The challenge is specifically seeking the following innovations:

  • Fabric materials that focus on positive social and environmental impact
  • The “making” or manufacturing of fabrics utilizing low or positive environmental impact approaches, with a bias toward inclusive business models that positively develop human capital, respect rights and deliver shared value

Submissions that meet one or more of the criteria must also have the potential to scale in 2 years, as well as game-changing early stage technologies and prototypes. Innovations can be business models, financial instruments, technologies and programs that accelerate research, education and capacity building.

LAUNCH is also hosting its first nano-challenge, directed at university students, to uncover game-changing innovations that can unlock the barriers to the system of materials and the ways in which they are made. Details on this subset of the main challenge will be revealed shortly.

LAUNCH 2013 is open to individuals and teams. Ten of the strongest innovations will be selected in August for further development.

Learn more about the competition here, and register your innovation here.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog

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