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Kering and Silicon Valley find a good fit in sustainable fashion

An iconic Gucci bag is coveted by many who follow fashion trends. But a compostable purse made of mushrooms and dyed using regenerative microorganisms? That’s an unusual look.

Such items soon may come to mainstream stores near you. The new Plug and Play — Fashion for Good initiative, launched earlier this month in Amsterdam, is helping develop and market 12 technologies that it believes are on the verge of revolutionizing the fashion industry.

The fashion market’s myriad environmental impacts are well documented: The majority of cotton is grown in water-stressed areas. No commercially viable recycling technology is available for popular materials such as cotton and polyester blends; meanwhile, we discard billions of pounds of clothing every year to stay current with the latest trends. Breaking down in the wash, those polyester items cause 33 percent of microplastic pollution. Rayon and modal production contribute to deforestation. The list of fashion faux pas goes on.

The objective of the 12-week startup accelerator program is to find, invest in and scale companies that can reverse this trend and ensure a sustainable clothing industry. The program searched for innovations in new raw materials that reduce fashion’s environmental impact, alternative production methods to increase textile longevity and processes enabling closed-loop product lifecycles.

“We’re looking for the next Dropbox or Airbnb for sustainable fashion,” Bradley Sherman, founder and director of Plug and Play  Fashion for Good, told GreenBiz. “That will basically come with making a good change for the world.”

And, said Plug and Play CEO Saieed Amini, “they’ll become part of the largest startup network in the world.”

The program is a joint effort by the Plug and Play Tech Center, the new Fashion for Good Center and clothing magnate Kering, which owns 100 percent stake in brands such as Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Gucci, and develops strategies for Puma and Volcom, among others.

Each organization plays a unique role in the effort. While Kering is a mainstay in the luxury world, Plug and Play is a well-known Silicon Valley startup incubator that has mentored firms such as Dropbox, PayPal and Soundhound in the early stages of their life. Companies that have been part of its community collectively have raised more than $3.5 billion from the broader venture capital arena. Fashion for Good, founded by closed-loop systems innovator Bill McDonough and Dutch retailer C&A, stitched the accelerator together.

“The focus on fashion and retail aligned nicely with the work we do in our Silicon Valley Brand and Retail accelerator, but the real clincher was the focus on environmental and social impact,” said Amini. The Tech Center will help with the investment, business model support and pitch polishing.

Innovative details

The accelerator finalists, chosen from 250 applicants, come from various fields, academic backgrounds and countries. The names to watch are Agraloop, Amadou, Dragon, Dropel, ICA Bremen, MySource, MycoTEX, Pili-bio, RePack, Sundar, Tersus and Tipa. Over three months, these companies will receive mentoring, training and networking opportunities.

These are the first round of what will be a three-year series of three-month startup cohorts. The next group is expected later in 2017.

Some startups are trying to phase out traditional textiles: MycoTEX is working on a mushroom-based textile shaped on custom molds, eliminating the need for spinning or weaving yarns. It requires little water and can be composted after use. Amadou has piloted a collection of mushroom-based footwear and accessories that have been tested for durability.

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