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In this first instalment of our Futures 100 Innovators longlist, we get to know global disruptors and change-makers creating the future across 10 sectors.
Welcome to the Futures 100 Innovators, a new annual longlist and awards from The Future Laboratory spotlighting a global line-up of 100 innovators, disruptors, activists and change-makers.
Each month, we will profile 10 people that our team of researchers and analysts have identified as driving forward industries ranging from beauty and wellness to luxury, design, retail and travel. After 10 months, our complete Futures 100 Innovators list will be presented to a panel of industry judges who will select and award their 10 leading innovators, revealed in October 2022.
You can also nominate your own innovators via: [email protected]
'We’ve launched our Futures 100 Innovators Awards to celebrate those among us who are taking on the challenges that some of us may regard as unimportant, unworthy or unrighteous. They are tackling age-old problems of inequality, inclusion and levelling up that will still sit with us, unless we innovate and imagine differently,’ explains Martin Raymond, co-founder of The Future Laboratory.
It’s about power of an individual’s idea, a community they have formed or a spark they have generated that has kindled a flame, stoked a new movement or fired up a new technology
Building tools to boost diversity and representation in gaming and virtual realms
AM Darke is an artist and game-maker who is designing radical tools for social intervention in the avatar and gaming space – in particular where Black identity and beauty are (or largely aren’t) represented. Darke’s current project, the Open Source Afro Hair Library, is working to promote greater inclusion, diversity and representation of natural Black digital media and gaming, challenging the cis, white male game-makers and designers of Silicon Valley and beyond.
Gathering public submissions of hair styles to build a 3D model database of Black hairstyles and textures, Darke writes: ‘It is a feminist, anti-racist resource for digital artists and 3D content creators… By making the Afro Hair Library free and open-source, it can have a broad impact on relevant industries and eco-systems by lowering the barrier for all creators – both hobbyists and professionals – to integrate accurate, diverse and respectful representations of Blackness in digital media.’
Transforming how the world understands sexuality, pleasure and intimacy
Unapologetically honest about how the lived experience of disability feels, Andrew Gurza is a consultant, writer and co-founder of sex toy company Bump’n. From his own blog, social media channels and Disability After Dark podcast, Gurza shares stories of life as a queer, disabled man, from conversations about body image, care and loneliness, while using Disability After Dark to explore parts of the disabled experience that the public rarely hear about, such as sexuality, pleasure and intimacy.
With the recent launch of Bump’n, Gurza is co-driving a brand of sex toys for people with hand limitations. Its flagship product, the Joystick, is designed for people with hand dexterity, weakness or mobility issues, or those who want a hands-free experience. Emphasising that sexual pleasure is a human right, Gurza is breaking down barriers – whether conversational, emotional or physical – around ableism, sexuality, identity and pleasure.
The Open Source Afro Hair Library seeks to address the lack of thoughtful representation of Blackness in games, virtual [and] augmented reality, and other 3D media
Democratising access to well-designed architecture, interiors and objects
A multi-disciplinary creative, Sean Brown explores how we interact with objects and spaces within their wider social or environmental context. Indeed, Covid-19 was the spark for Brown’s homeware brand, Curves by Sean Brown, which emerged following two intersecting moments: Brown moving into a new home as the pandemic hit, and lockdown bringing his creative collaborations to an abrupt standstill. ‘It forced me to look at my dwelling, get in touch with my space and just evolve in that way… I really started to see how space and function with objects worked for me,’ he explains. The result is a line of accessible homeware, from home-made rugs that pay homage to 1990s hip-hop records to puzzles and incense that help people to find peace at home.
Concurrently, Brown’s project Hypatia Space is examining the experience of people with disabilities in their homes, and how to create functional yet design-led spaces that don’t discriminate. ‘They’re spaces designed with intent where creativity and function intersect,’ he says.
Using satellites and machine learning to future-proof African farming
As Africa programme director at NASA Harvest, Catherine Nakalembe is working to secure the future of crops and farming across East Africa – with a little help from satellites and machine learning.
Recipient of the 2020 Africa Food Prize, Nakalembe’s work is protecting farmers from crop failure at a time when the climate emergency is pushing farming further north and demanding radical technological interventions combined with people-centric solutions. Her work with NASA uses data from farmers and satellite imagery to ascertain how crops are faring in countries such as Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, giving instant insight to governments and helping to mitigate food shortages where crop failures could occur.
Now, Nakalembe is creating a framework that will unite her research and knowledge gained so far, with the ambition that countries will use it to launch their own crop-monitoring systems or early warning systems using satellites and on-the-ground data.
It is not just making solutions-based research but also showing that I do not own it. It is ours, anybody in your institution can use it
Championing re-usable cups to transform the festival industry
Hadi Ahmadzadeh represents a new generation that are problem-solving from the inside out. Attending clubs, parties and festivals in the UK, he was able to see a huge problem in the industry – that of widespread single-use plastic waste, from drinkware to décor. Deciding to make and drive industry change, he co-founded Ecodisco, a solutions provider-turned-sustainability consultancy that is helping to make clubbing and festivals greener through a re-usable cup system.
He recently won funding from Innovate UK to design and pilot this re-usable cup rental system, and it has been trialled at smaller UK festivals, with a £1 green fee charged to ticket buyers at each event that covers the cost of delivering, collecting, washing and storing Ecodisco’s re-usable cups on behalf of venues or promoters. ‘The system has the potential to prevent over 100m single-use plastic cups from entering incineration or landfill and also saves venues money,’ Ahmadzadeh explains.
Democratising luxury and building an inclusive metaverse vocabulary through digital fashion AR and NFTs
With a background in fashion and its intersection with technology, Leanne Elliott Young is on course to transform how we not only experience luxury and fashion, but how we consume it, in her role as co-founder of the Institute of Digital Fashion (IoDF).
A response to the patriarchal structures, lack of diversity, failing innovations and bland activations in fash-tech sector, the IoDF recognises the need to use technology to democratise and elevate digital fashion and luxury as a form of artisanship in its own right, both now and among future generations of fashion designers, luxury houses and consumers.
To grab the luxury market’s attention, the IoDF has worked on a number of inclusive activations, including a red carpet takeover at the 2021 Fashion Awards; creating a world-first meta-garment moment then minted as a historic NFT. The augmented reality (AR) accessory worn by all those attending as well as those at home, opened up the conversation between creators and collectors about the future of digital fashion and metaverse at the intersection or IRL and URL. Taking a tiered structure allowed entry level accessible NFTs prices starting from from £17 ($22, €20). Of note, a third of all IoDF projects have so far been philanthropic.
Incubating designers of colour to transform fashion’s future
Known for launching Pyer Moss, a constantly evolving fashion label that combines storytelling, activism, debate, theatre and social commentary, Kerby Jean-Raymond is now channelling his own experiences into nurturing a new generation of talent. His ambition: to redress the balance of representation and opportunities for designers of colour in the fashion sector.
Recognising a lack of formal fashion accelerator and support for Black, Indigenous creatives of colour, he’s established Your Friends in New York together with French luxury group Kering. The philanthropic initiative has seen eight creatives move into a warehouse space in Brooklyn, where they’re receiving assistance ranging from financial advice and range planning to holistic, emotional support. The aim is for the group to grow and learn from one another as will Jean-Raymond, whose Pyer Moss brand sits within the group. ‘It is important to me to create and work on ventures that are future forward, involve the community at large and that will continue to help others grow in the fashion and art space,’ says Jean-Raymond.
Building a sustainable marketplace in the digital realm
Transforming how and where people engage with retail and fashion brands, Finnish strategist and tech consultant Evelyn Mora is behind Digital Village, a social metaverse that has already been used by a number of global Fashion Weeks to host events and unite communities in the wake of the pandemic.
Now, however, Mora is shifting Digital Village (DV) to prioritise social and digital sustainability, helping to democratise access for people and brands who want to create and integrate digital assets in Web3 and the metaverse. Central to this is the DV Marketplace, which allows members to mint NFTs or offer assets for co-ownership and as investment opportunities, alongside the DV Coin, its native in-game currency that Mora hopes will onboard traditional businesses into the metaverse by focusing on sustainability goals and achievements. For both users and retail brands exploring this space, Mora hopes that it will drive more mindful choices, alongside support for local and sustainable businesses in the real world.
The DV coin focuses on the overall sustainability of society – cultural, economic and social aspects – and not just on environmental sustainability
Hacking humanity’s relationship with technology
Emma Rae Bruml is an artist, researcher and coder focused on humans’ relationship and connection to technology, how we use computers and their associated hardware, and how this is shaping our relationship with machines.
As co-founder of the Computer Mouse Conference, Bruml wants to unpack and question how the design of technology and the ways we interact with it have been shaped and influenced by everything from gender performativity to capitalism and the attention economy. Could a computer mouse be designed in such a way as to resist clicking on adverts or ‘buy now’ buttons as a form of anti-capitalism, for example?
Beyond this, Bruml is also an organiser of the School for Poetic Computation, an experimental school for people working at the intersection of code, creativity and future computing. It allows people to get acquainted with code at their own pace and in their own way, balancing process and craft by approaching code like creative writing. As Bruml describes it, ‘a place for unlearning and learning’, and hacking the conventions of art-making with computation.
Simplifying access and uniting youth communities in Web3
A youth expert, Tiffany Zhong has spent several years understanding not only the behaviours of her own Generation Z peers – and sharing this with global businesses – but also how young people use the internet and spaces within it to interact, foster community and build their visions of the future.
As CEO of Islands, a start-up platform that aims to help initiate newcomers into the world of NFT art, crypto-assets and communities, Zhong’s goal is to create a single, centralised space for the burgeoning, and often youthful, Web3 community.
Focusing on simplicity, Islands plans to offer its members templates and suggestions for setting their own guard rails for constructive use of the space, giving some decisions over to votes in line with an ever-more democratic web experience of the future. Zhong expects to put some decisions and rules relating to Islands to votes. ‘It’s important to build in a non-toxic way, but also to give creators the ability to build the way they want,’ she tells Forbes.