Social enterprise remakes waste into consumer goods

While working for the decades-old family fashion business, Sissi Chao had an experience that literally took her breath away.

“Not long after I started, I started visiting our fabric suppliers,” said Chao. “I could hardly breathe, even before I got in the building. It was awful. Every supplier was the same. And I knew that all of this pollution was going into the environment.”

It was this personal encounter that prompted Chao to make a positive change in the second most polluting industry in the world: fashion. In 2018, she founded REMAKEHUB, a company that takes discarded clothes and plastic waste and repurposes them into apparel, blankets, furniture and accessories. The company won UNEP’s 2020 Asia-Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge.

By some accounts, the fashion industry is responsible for between 8 and 10 percent of global carbon emissions, which makes it a worse polluter than aviation and shipping put together. Fashion also accounts for 24 percent of insecticide and 11 percent of pesticide use. It’s also a resource hog: thousands of litres of water are used to produce the cotton for just a single pair of jeans.

Fast fashion is compounding the problem and is a challenge Chao was also personally familiar with.

“We throw out 58 billion pieces of clothing every year. I used to go shopping every week and would throw away so many clothes. It’s just become the way things are in fashion.”

Beyond discarded clothes and plastic waste, Chao’s start-up REMAKEHUB is also working to reuse discarded fishing nets. REMAKEHUB collaborated with WWF to create sunglasses upcycled from deadly commercial gill nets found on the Great Barrier Reef. These ReefCycle-branded sunglasses have already sold 2,000 pairs. In parallel, Chao’s brand has worked with NGOs to educate more than 5,000 fishermen across Asia and the Pacific on the perils of discarding fishing nets.

For her successes, Chao has also been recognized as a Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree. REMAKEHUB has also won the UNDP Asia-Pacific Youth SDG Innovation Award.

She has high ambitions for 2020 and beyond. REMAKEHUB aims to prevent 50 tons of fishing net from being dumped into the ocean and eliminate 10 tons of CO2 emissions, while looking to scale up and penetrate further into the fashion and furniture markets.

“I think this is just the beginning,” said Chao. “We need people to do better for our planet. We need businesses to do better as well.”

The story was originally published by UNEP

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