Sustainability is not a mainstream topic in retail technology circles, but discussions at a recent event in Milan, hosted by Accenture and the H&M Foundation, made it clear this will be on the minds of both retailers and consumers in the coming years.

And the fashion industry has one of the biggest challenges – producing sustainable clothes for an ever-growing population. So the H&M Foundation has set up an innovation challenge to address this challenge facing the fashion world. The Global Change Awards, which is now in its second year, provides start-ups with an opportunity to win €1 million and take part in its accelerator programme which includes mentoring by a panel of fashion technology experts, as well as Accenture and the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

In 2015, five start-ups from all over the globe won the award and over the last year have been taking part in the accelerator programme, concluding with an intense two-day programme at Accenture's Innovation Lab in Milan, Italy. Essential Retail was lucky enough to attend the event, talking to the start-ups and technology experts, to learn more about sustainability in fashion.

2015 winners included:

  • Orange Fiber (Helsinki), which produces textiles from citrus juice.
  • Aalto University, University of Helsinki and VTT (Finland), which creates a solution to convert waste cotton into new textiles.
  • Studio Tjeerd Veenhoven (Holland), develops a process for making renewable textile out of algae.
  • Reverse Resources (Estonia), which develops a digital marketplace for industrial upcycling of leftover textiles.
  • Ambercycle (US), which uses microbes to recycle waste polyester.

Watch this video, where Essential Retail speaks to experts from the event in Milan:

Don't forget to have a listen of the Retail Ramble podcast, where digital features editor, Caroline Baldwin, sits down with Jenni Perzon, Accenture’s lead for the Global Change Awards, and Erik Bang, project manager for the Global Change Awards and the H&M Foundation, to talk about sustainability in the fashion industry.