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Plastic Innovations Stuck in Pilot: Can Tom Ford’s 2023 Hopefuls Change That?

The designer revealed three winners of the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize on Thursday at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards.

Tom Ford, fall 2022 COURTESY OF TOM FORD

The Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize hopes to shake things up — revealing three petrochemical-free prize winners.

The prize winners are Sway, an American firm creating a seaweed-based, regenerative material; Zerocircle, an India-based company making wildlife and ocean-safe packaging materials from locally cultivated seaweed that will dissolve harmlessly in the ocean after use and Notpla, a London-based start-up that renders seaweed into a natural-membrane packaging.

The designer revealed the winners upon receiving “The Eco-Age Visionary Award,” for his work with the prize, at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards in Los Angeles, presented by Livia Firth’s eco-consultancy Eco-Age.

More than five million metric tons of thin-film plastic pollute the ocean every year, according to data from UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. Since 2020, Tom Ford has partnered with Lonely Whale to put on the prize. Today, it is one of a handful of projects focused on scaling up fossil fuel-free, degradable and marine-safe solutions to polybags within current supply chains.

This final selection was made from eight finalists, announced in March 2022 (pared down from 64 total submissions). Over the past year, finalists engaged in a year-long material testing phase sponsored by Nike.

Judges for the $1.2 million prize spanned Stella McCartney, Don Cheadle, Trudie Styler, Livia Firth, Susan Rockefeller, Steven Kolb, Melati Wijsen, Danni Washington and more.

Firth, one of the judges, said maintaining momentum can be challenging, especially in a constrained funding climate. “We’ve seen a few different solutions for different polymers, but it is hard to get sustained traction and many haven’t progressed from the trial period. The hope is here that by leveraging different sectors, including the oxygen of publicity, that the long process of bringing a solution to market and deploying at the scale needed can be sustained and supported.”

Through her work with the GCFA, Firth hopes to advocate, in a pragmatic sense, for how entertainment and fashion can showcase an “alternative system” of creating, producing and experiencing fashion that is “ecologically literate and reflects the reality of the climate and nature crisis.”

In a phone interview with WWD, Rockefeller also offered hope for the challenge, especially Ford’s leadership, applauding his ability to lead in a “concrete, creative and entrepreneurial way.”

By way of her philanthropic work and her digital magazine “Musings,” the environmentalist said, “The key is having passionate leadership from the top, and Tom Ford really understands when the power of commerce and innovation comes together — that is what is really exciting.” For three years prior, the documentary filmmaker has been a judge for the Kering Sustainable Innovation Award spanning materials and supply chain solutions.

There are a number of competitions aiming to replace petrochemical-derived plastic polybags, spanning the Beyond the Bag challenge, presented by Closed Loop Partners, which launched in 2021, and Fashion for Good’s Circular Polybag Pilot (together with Adidas, Kering and PVH) which launched in 2019.

In an email to WWD, Closed Loop said the Beyond the Bag Challenge has grown from five retail partners to 15, deploying more than 6,000 iterative tests and pilots, though formal impact details are anticipated Tuesday.

“There’s no scalable solutions from the thin-film plastic made from biodegradable solutions,” stressed Rockefeller. “Many people are looking for scalable solutions — you need a lot of people at the table to move the needle. This is the moment, given the accelerated waste in our oceans…”

As for Fashion for Good, the organization said via email it is too soon for public updates, but a report of the findings will be expected in Q3 of 2023. As WWD previously reported, the project was delayed amid the pandemic. Some reuse solutions highlighted in the report included Repack, Returnity and LimeLoop.


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