The project, known as LAUNCH, is seeking to challenge thinking in this area through fostering greater collaboration between materials specialists, designers, academics, manufacturers, entrepreneurs and NGOs.

At a two-day summit held last week out in the US, Nike’s vice president for sustainable business & innovation Hannah Jones, spoke of the importance of tackling material optimisation from the outset when designing new products.

“About 60% of the environmental footprint of a pair of Nike shoes is embedded in the materials used to make them,” she said.

“When you multiply that across our business, and across the industry, it’s clear that innovation in sustainable materials is a huge opportunity, not just for Nike, but for the world.”

According to Nike’s president and CEO Mark Parker, innovation is most powerful when activated by collaboration between unlikely partners, coupled with investment, marketing know-how and determination.

“Now is the time for big, bold solutions. Incremental change won’t get us where we need to go, fast enough or at a scale that makes a difference,” he argued.

Through a unique, multi-year incubation process, LAUNCH aims to unlock systems thinking to transform how fabrics are produced. Part of this work involves an open call challenge which will see strongest ideas taken forward and given access to capital.

Successful projects from previous LAUNCH challenges include a biodegradable, implantable needle that delivers vaccines and dissolves in the body, allowing for mass distribution and minimal waste.

The initiative is backed by the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development.

Maxine Perella

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