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Tom Ford Reveals Plastic Innovation Prize Finalists


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Fashion designer, film director and chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Tom Ford is leading the push for more sustainable practices in the fashion world. In 2020, Ford teamed up with Calabasas-based nonprofit foundation Lonely Whale (dedicated to preventing plastic waste from landing in the oceans) to debut the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize. Today, eight finalists were announced in Ford’s global competition to create “scalable and biologically degradable alternatives” to the approximately 180 billion thin-film plastic polybags used by the fashion industry to ship products each year.

To mark the occasion, Ford has created a video featuring narration from judges of the prize, including long-time environmental activists Don Cheadle and Trudie Styler;  LVMH sustainability advisor and fashion designer Stella McCartney; jewelry designer-conservationist Susan Rockefeller; and Eco-Age founder and sustainability consultant Livia Firth.

Thin-film plastic (also including single-use sandwich storage bags) amounts to about 46 percent of the estimated 14 million metric tons of plastic in the ocean. New plastics entering the ocean annually are expected to triple to 29 million metric tons by 2040. (All statistics are provided by the Tom Ford brand.)

Dr. Dune Ives, CEO of Lonely Whale, tells The Hollywood Reporter that 64 applicants spanning 26 countries made up the pool of contenders for the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize. San Francisco company Sway, focused on seaweed-based compostable replacements for single-use plastics, is the sole American company in the final mix.

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Lonely Whale CEO Dune Ives.

Courtesy of Subject

The other seven finalists are Canadian biotech company Genecis; Kenyan social enterprise Lwanda Biotech; Icelandic start-up Marea which utilizes local algae streams; the University of Cambridge enterprise Xampla, and three other companies that work with seaweed — India business Zerocircle, Bath, UK-based biotech firm Kelpi and London start-up Notpla.

“Each of these finalists was inspired by nature,” says Ives. “We have one company using pea-based protein mimicking the power and strength of spider silk and another group using local agriculture waste like coconut husks.”

Adds Firth, “The finalists’ different scientific approaches have been fascinating to witness and I learned so much. Some used the negative environmental impacts occurring in their surroundings as inspiration and looked to local materials and communities for solutions. While some provided holistic solutions to the global plastic problem, which also offers positive social and environmental benefits.

The next step in the competition is a rigorous, Nike-sponsored material testing phase for one year, with a goal of market adaptability by 2025. Products will be tested in waters in the Caribbean and the Pacific Northwest, as well as in labs at the New Materials Institute at the University of Georgia. The Seattle Aquarium will lead lab testing  to “model what would happen if the material were ingested by a gray whale, and this has never been done before,” says Ives.

A host of companies —  including Stella McCartney, Tom Ford International, Tom Ford Beauty, J. Crew, Veronica Beard, Florence Marine X, Rhone, Vuori, Noah New York, Version Tomorrow, Le Club, Princess Polly, MillerKnoll, HP Inc., GoSili, Imperial Dade and ROQ.US — have all signed on to test the finalists’ materials in their packaging and supply chains.

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Researchers at Kenyan social enterprise Lwanda Biotech.


The winners, to be announced in spring 2023, will receive more than $1.2 million in financing and receive support to achieve market adoption of their products.

In recent years, Ford has spoken out about his personal conversion to a vegan diet and a more sustainable lifestyle, minimizing plastic waste. In 2020, Ford additionally unveiled the first luxury timepiece to be crafted 100 percent from recycled ocean plastic and made in Switzerland. This January, a second $995 automatic iteration of the Tom Ford ocean plastic watch was released — each purchase removes the equivalent of 35 bottles of plastic waste from the ocean.

“I am in awe of Tom,” Firth tells THR, “for starting this incredible unparalleled competition as it is the only global competition focused on creating scalable solutions and biologically degradable alternatives to thin-film plastic polybags, which make up 46% of all plastic pollution annually. To support these finalists at the forefront of sustainable material development, reach scale and market adoption by 2025 is extraordinary and something I am so proud of being part of. This is all about intersectional collaboration, between industry leaders, scientists, NGO’s and other partners together in an action-focused coalition, unified in the fight against plastic pollution.”

Other judges include CFDA CEO Steven Kolb; Morgan Stanley’s Chief Sustainability Officer Audrey Choi; HP’s Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer Ellen Jackowski; Nike’s Vice President of Sustainable Product Liz Rodgers; Rothy’s head of sustainability Saskia van Gendt; and eco activists Melati Wijsen and Danni Washington.

The video is directed by Ruvi Leider and produced by Jonathan Reed and Monica O’Hara, who co-wrote it with Anita Comtois.

Adds Firth, “Plastic pollution is taking one of the greatest tolls on our environment. It is estimated that there are 14 million metric tons of plastic on the ocean floor today that will be nearly impossible to extract. So it is incredible. despite these harrowing facts, to see all these finalists, or should I say climate optimists, not being afraid to tackle these challenges head on and create real solutions, to further the commitment to ocean health. It’s their attitude and determination that inspires progress. Optimism has always had this power. Humanity has eradicated diseases, overcome great injustices and even reached the moon because enough of us believed we could!

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