Hennes & Mauritz, or H&M as it is better known in most retail establishments, is the world’s second largest fashion retailer. The company’s brand is known for inexpensive, quality merchandise, but the company recently revealed that they are looking for a change. In particular, they are looking to change the way they make clothing.

The company has offered the world one million euros, slightly over one million dollars, to come up with a way to recycle clothing materials in new ways. This prize is to be offered every year, rewarding innovators who can easily change the entire fashion market.

Throw-Away Clothing

Right now there are many retailers – H&M included – who are dependent on customers buying new clothing constantly. Their pricing structure is set up so that customers buy an inexpensive shirt, wear it out, and then go in and buy another one. Without the constant sales, the companies simply wouldn’t move enough merchandise to be successful in the low-price marketplace.

The downside of this increasingly popular retail strategy is the old clothing. When you’ve worn out that old, cheap shirt you can’t do much with it. You might turn it into a dusting rag, but most people simply throw the old clothing out. After all, cheaply made goods don’t stay stitched together very long and they can’t be donated.

Environmentalists have been calling attention to the tremendous volume of waste in the fashion industry as well as the volume of chemicals necessary to grow cotton for clothing reliably. H&M is looking for a way to recycle the fibers of these old clothing items to boost it’s environmental street cred as well as prepare for raw material shortages.

Recycling Clothing

The $1.16 million prize isn’t just for recycling cotton and synthetic fibers. Technology currently exists to do that. Unfortunately the cotton fibers that are removed from the recycled materials aren’t nearly as strong and useful as the original ones, making current recycling methods inferior in the marketplace.

H&M is looking for a new technology that can recycle the fibers with an unchanged quality. Essentially, that worn out and torn pair of jeans can be remade into a new pair of jeans from the same high quality cotton. So far this technology is only imaginary, but H&M has hopes for the near future.

Of course, while the company waits for the next big break-through in recycled materials, there is still plenty for the company to worry about on the customer service front including return policies and even safety recalls.