Virgil Abloh is on the hunt for the next big thing in sustainable design

Virgil Abloh and Evian raise a glass to the next generation, announcing €50,000 grant for sustainable design initiatives, open to 18–35 year olds. Here, discover what the creative polymath hopes to see from the entries

Designing the Activate Movement initiative
Behind the scenes, designing the Activate Movement initiative
(Image credit: Evian)

Announced today at New York Fashion Week, Virgil Abloh and Evian's new Activate Movement initiative comprises a €50,000 grant for sustainability-focused design and innovation projects, open to 18–35 year olds, alongside the launch of an exclusive 750ml glass bottle and two refillable SOMA bottles. Both facets of the initaitve centralise circularity and look to a positive design future.

‘We hope to inspire curious minds and support young people who want to enact change for a more sustainable future,' says Shweta Harit, Evian's global vice president of marketing. ‘The launch of the sustainability-focused contest is to prompt the youth of today to consider purpose-led sustainable innovation. We invite anyone to apply that hopes to activate change through sustainable design thinking.'

750ml glass bottle and two refillable SOMA bottles

750ml glass bottle and two refillable SOMA bottles, pictured alongside Activate Movement design sketches

(Image credit: Evian)

Supporting the work of emerging talent has long preoccupied Abloh. His London-based design studio Alaska Alaska is staffed by young, multi-disciplinary creators, handpicked by the designer himself. ‘I chose people that reminded of me, in the early years of my career,’ he explains. ‘I started out as an architect but had like much bigger ambitions than just architecture, so what I now try to look out for young talent, find it, and give it impact. That’s the exact opportunity that I had when I was young.’

‘I’m looking for something that is open-minded and modern. Lead us to better solutions for the future’ – Virgil Abloh

Abloh’s meteoric rise to global success started with an internship in Fendi’s Milan headquarters. Here, he was scouted for his ability to connect so naturally with the pop-culture ideas and aesthetics of ‘now'. Abloh has often celebrated his internship start, and looks to provide even better, more creative, and more diverse opportunities for those just starting out in the industry.

Virgil Abloh portrait

Virgil Abloh pictured in 2019, on the Pont Neuf in Paris, airing his Mies Van Der Rohe-inspired metal mesh ‘Color Gradient Chair’ (2018), part of his furtniure project for Carpenters Workshop Gallery, which debuted at the Venice Biennale 2019. Read more here. 

(Image credit: Marvin Leuvrey)

Abloh’s advice: work hard – and use digital

According to Abloh, there’s never been a better moment to jump into the design world – and make a splash. ‘The barriers are the lowest that they've been in quite some time,’ he says. ‘I think it’s obvious that there a lot of undiscovered talent out there – that’s why I enjoy this project so much. I'm giving a people a chance to let their work come to the top.’

‘Hard work, good ideas and persistence will undoubtedly lead to success,' he continues. ‘Whether it be opportunities like Activate Movement, or even just putting your work out there, and letting it be seen and resonate online – it will lead to an initial practice.’


Abloh will judge the entries himself, alongside a representative from Evian, and an expert panel. The judges hope to be taken aback by the entries' creativity – and grant guidelines have been left deliberately sparse to support this. ‘The upside of a project like this is not having too many prescribed details,’ Abloh explains. ‘I want to be surprised. That's the benefit of having an open-source angle to this. I don't want to have a pre-described notion of what comes in. I’m looking for something that is open-minded and modern. Lead us to better solutions for the future.’

Glass half full

There’s a tug of war industry-wide between the impetus to create more objects, and the necessity to be sustainable. ‘I think our generation has learned that more stuff isn't necessarily necessary, its how we use and how we attach ourselves to the thing in the world that are important,’ says Abloh.

This circular ‘less but better’ approach has influenced Evian’s new limited edition Activate Movement collection, designed to make you want to hold onto your water bottle for longer, ultimately reducing reliance on less single-use, virgin plastic. Designed in collaboration with Abloh and Alaska Alaska studio, the bottle features an infinite loop of droplets. The logo represents ‘the power and potential of every small action to create positive change’, Abloh explains. QR codes on the Activate Movement glass bottles will direct people to the online contest, ‘merging the physical product with the digital space'.

Scan to Activate Movement – Virgil Abloh x Evian

’Scan to activate movement’: detail view of Evian and Virgil Abloh’s new glass bottle design

(Image credit: Evian)

A natural fit

The designer has held the title of creative advisor for sustainable design at the water bottle company since December 2018. In this position, he has launched glass bottles and accessories through much-hyped ‘Drip Drop' events in New York City. Evian's Shweta Harit makes no secret of the brand's ambition to ‘drive scale' and reach more people through Abloh's large audience. ‘By having a series of ongoing creative projects and discussions, Virgil has been able to gain a deep understanding of our long-term commitment towards sustainability and demonstrate how he will be able to bring his unique touch into making this happen,' she explains. 

The collaboration with Evian feels is a natural fit for Abloh, too. ‘For me, it’s always exciting to collaborate with what I perceive to be the best in class,' he explains. ‘It’s important that I have the ability to design products that can affect change or feel like a good contribution to the world at large. Obviously freshwater is a vital source of life so it became synergistic for Evian and I to create a lineage of products that give us the ability to add colour around water.’

Behind the Scenes of the Activate Movement evian x Virgil Abloh campaign

Behind the scenes, designing the Activate Movement initiative

(Image credit: Evian)


Entries open today (10 Febuary) until 31 March 2020. Apply for the grant:

Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.