Banana leather is about to blow up.
Banana leather producer Banofi has won this year’s Hult Prize — the first time the prize was solely focused on fashion. The award was presented by sustainable designer Stella McCartney. Banofi, founded by Margaret Boreham, Isobel Campbell, and Jinali Mody, clinched $1 million in seed funding. The label aims to bring to market a sustainable alternative to traditional leather, derived from banana waste.
Operating out of India, where the business conducts its sourcing, research, development, and production, Banofi, which launched two years ago, has already showcased the market potential for its leather. “We have a commercially viable material that people can use today,” said Campbell. To illustrate the versatility of the material, Mody sported cuffs and bracelets, Campbell wore a corset, and Boreham donned a full moto-style jacket all made from Banofi’s banana leather.
Banofi is no stranger to collaboration. The startup has formed a partnership with Yale University to produce an eco-conscious line of notebooks and luggage tags. Additionally, the company is in the nascent stages of pilot projects with multiple fashion labels. Notably, Misfit Panda, an accessories brand, has already placed an order with Banofi.
While presenting the award, McCartney emphasized the importance of pioneering sustainable alternatives within the fashion industry. “The only way you can really make a difference, you have to show the business of fashion that you have a healthy business alternative,” McCartney said.
“Just talking about a new silhouette, or the next color, I’m like, that’s great, but really, who cares? To say it like that seems so old school to me. The fashion industry is fairly old-fashioned and uses about 10 materials at the end of the day,” she said, adding that the new wave of consumers is increasingly attracted to brands that align with their environmental and ethical values.
Beyond the prize money, the Hult Prize serves as a platform that unites multiple disciplines, including engineering, economics, and marketing. Lori van Dam, the Hult Prize’s president, noted the significance of focusing on the fashion industry for this year’s prize, saying it offered a “really multifaceted topic where we could get a lot of compelling ideas that could also inform people.”
“A lot of people aren’t aware of just how toxic the clothing industry is for the environment, and so we thought it was a really cool opportunity to educate people about what the impacts really are of, for example, the need to have a new outfit to wear on social media every single time,” van Dam said.
The award’s preliminary competitions were held in 12 cities worldwide including Nairobi, Lisbon, Dubai, and Rio de Janeiro. The competition involved finalists from around the globe, ranging from Graff Inc., which produces sustainable material from textile waste to Labwear Studios, which is working to reduce fashion waste through on-demand manufacturing. Each of the other five finalists was awarded $100,000 to further develop their businesses.
Fashion solutions and entrepreneurship took center stage for the first time in the Hult Prize competition, which held preliminary rounds in 12 cities worldwide. The panel of judges represented a broad spectrum of industries and included not just fashion luminaries but also financial experts and venture capitalists.
Banana leather joins a burgeoning alternative leather market with cactus, pineapple, and mushroom leather seeing a number of high-profile collaborations. McCartney is one of the first designers to bring mushroom leather to market, launching a mycelium-based handbag last year.
Also winning awards during the concluding weekend of Milan Fashion Week, Gucci, Valentino, and Chloé were among those recognized by Italy’s Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI) during the 2023 Sustainable Fashion Awards at Milan’s renowned Teatro alla Scala. The event highlighted achievements in sustainable practices, honoring key players in the luxury fashion industry.
The recipients of the awards were picked by an esteemed jury comprising Andrew Morlet, the panel’s chair and the CEO of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation; Carlo Capasa, who serves as the CNMI chairman; Simone Cipriani, the founder and head of the Ethical Fashion Initiative; and Federica Marchionni, the CEO of Global Fashion Agenda.
The prestigious Ellen MacArthur Foundation Award for Circular Economy was conferred upon Gucci. The Italian luxury label was celebrated for its Circular Hub’s Denim Project, which makes use of sustainably sourced cotton grown in collaboration with the Regenagri-certified Algosur farm located in Spain.
Jean-François Palus, the CEO of Gucci, commented on the recognition: “Building scalable collaborations is a vital part of Gucci’s strategy and the ‘Denim project’ is an example of combining the many strengths of the house’s supply chain partners and leveraging innovative tech to enhance circular economy principles.”
Other honorees included Valentino, who won the Education of Excellence Award for its talent development program; Ahluwalia by Priya Ahluwalia, the recipient of the Bicester Collection Award for Emerging Designers; Dolce & Gabbana, celebrated with the Craft & Italian Artisanship Award; Kering, which received the Biodiversity and Water Award; and Chloé, which was bestowed the Human Capital & Social Impact Award.
Edward Enninful, the soon-to-depart editor-in-chief of British Vogue, took home the Visionary Award. Meanwhile, Donatella Versace, the artistic director of Versace, was recognized with the Humanitarian Award for Equity and Inclusivity.
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