Together for tomorrow


Kenyan innovation team wins Global Change Award for stinging nettle fibre

by | Apr 24, 2019

By now most people interested in fashion have heard of orange fibre, fungi fashion and grape leather. The teams behind these innovations were previous winners of the Global Change Award founded by the H&M Foundation.

Soon everyone will know about Kenyan nettle fibre. One of the 2019 winners of the Global Change Award, Green Nettle Textile uses a hardy plant, which grows naturally in difficult-to-access steep slopes, to produce a sustainable linen-like fibre. The by-product can be used as food, cosmetics, as a dye and to make paper. The Kenyan team was awarded Euros 150 000 of the total prize money to help create sustainable fashion and livelihoods.

One of the team members Jonah Mwangi says, “Through the success of our project we will offer job opportunities, offer the community with a sustainable cash crop, maximize land use, maximize food availability, promote conservation, and make a sustainable fabric from stinging nettle.” The other team members are Esther Muthoni, Sophia Mwai, and Susan Macharia.

In Stockholm the Kenyan team showcased a scarf made from undyed nettle fibre, spun and handwoven in Ziwani, a small town near the border with Tanzania. It felt softer than an average wool, but not as soft as a good mohair. Mwagni says the nettle is grown in the Mau and Aberdare water catchment areas. H&M Foundation believes this project could potentially provide job opportunities and nutrients for more than 200,000 small holder farmers across Kenya.

Chair of the Wangari Maathai Foundation and a 2019 judge, Wanjira Mathai says the Kenyan winners were especially inspiring because their solution seeks to complement rather than compete with food production. “They are using slopes that would otherwise not be suitable for food production. I look forward to following them as they develop their idea further.”

Mathai says, “It’s commendable that H&M is looking at how they can become more sustainable. The sector must innovate for sustainability.”

Fellow judge Tariq Fancy, founder and chairman at Rumie says the awards, “Focuses on some of the best minds from the industry on the critical challenge of building circular business models that can better prepare humanity for a sustainable future for the planet and generations to come.”

This year South Africa, along with Nigeria and Kenya, was in the list of top ten countries by number of entries. This year 6640 ideas from 182 countries were submitted. Technology-centric ideas were the most common type of idea, regardless of gender of the applicants.

The Global Change Award is an H&M Foundation project. The H&M Foundation is a non-profit global foundation headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden with a mission to drive, long-lasting change and improve living conditions by investing in people, communities and innovative ideas. It is focused on shifting away from linear ‘take-make-waste” production and consumption models to a circular “take-make-take-make” economy that eliminates waste.

Mathai says, “The fashion industry presents a potent example of how the circular economy can transform what we see today as waste, into treasure.”  To support these innovators you can donate here.

The other winners of Global Change Award are:

The Loop Scoop by €300,000


This digital system aims to close the loop on every garment from design to wear to recycling. It helps fashion designers be more sustainable, consumers to understand where their clothes come from and helps them to recycle the items once they have finished using them. Consumers can scan a tag for all the details of the clothes.

Sane Membrane by dimpora €250,000 


A biodegradable and mineral-based membrane for outdoor wear. The micro-thin membrane does the job just as effectively as the harmful substances added to conventional outdoor wear. It shields against the elements in a sustainable way.

Clothes that Grow by Petit Pli €150,000

United Kingdom

These are outfits that expand with the child, while reducing environmental impact. The garments are folded in a way that allows for tops and bottoms to expand and fit each child for years.

Lab Leather by Le Qara €150,000


This is a vegan biodegradable leather created from microorganisms. Derived from exotic Peruvian flowers and fruits, this innovation mimics virtually any desired leather texture, color, toughness or thick­ness. The material is 100 per­cent biodegradable and the remains from the recycling process can be used as a liquid compost. This invention is a zero-waste solution that saves money, energy, and lives.

  • Image credits: Supplied 


Share this article:

Related Posts

Our work is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 12, which aims to ensure sustainable consumption and production. Read More