From waste to trend, another great Startup Award story!

It’s a soft Saturday afternoon when we meet up with Anita de Wit, one of the creators of circular fashion & textiles agency and one of TEDxAmsterdamWomen Startup Award2015 participants. In a small bustling café, just around the corner from Amsterdam Central Station we order coffee and fresh mint teas and Anita happily reveals to us all that has happened ever since pitching her idea at last year’s Startup Award preliminary rounds. Though she didn’t make it through to the finals, she looks back at the event as a great boost for her business which has resulted in a new Kickstarter Campaign in cooperation with Amsterdam based designer BYBROWN.

You pitched at the Startup Award 2015, what was your pitch about?
I have a corporate background however, I’ve always wondered why it wasn’t possible for corporates to not just add social and ecological elements to a product but actually create one. Existing products are often labelled as eco-friendly but mostly that means that only part of the product really is. Clothing is a perfect example.

Though they are making some steps in the right direction, the fashion and textiles business is one of the most environmentally unfriendly industries in the world. In Europe and Northern America there is 15 million ton of textile waste. And the fact that 95% of this waste has the potential to be recycled was something that blew us away. Not to mention that the water consumption required to create a single garment is simply staggering.

This thought process, the aim to make sustainable materials and to produce clothing that needs less water to be produced, slowly developed into a concept where we take discarded textiles or leftover fabric from production floors and collection bins, fray or shred that fabric and blend it back together to create recycled yarn to make garments. ReBlend is literally clothing from clothing and together with our designer BYBROWN whom we met at the Amsterdam Fashion Week, we have created our first line, which we are now pitching on Kickstarter.

In this last year, what have you been doing to get to a Kickstarter campaign?
The participation all in all was very last minute for us. I think the deadline was on Saturday and I sent my pitch in on Friday, and I still got invited, which was great. Even though we didn’t make it to the finals, afterwards we got such positive responses from people, it was very encouraging and in the summer of 2015 we met with a Spanish thread producer who does exactly what we were looking for, they recycle fabrics and make them into thread.

Together with this producer we sat down and discussed the concept of our partnership. They were adamant they couldn’t work with wool, which we then took out of the fabric we collected. Thanks to our partnership with Sympany, we are able to collect more fabric with a high percentage of cotton. We collect them in 4 colors, 2 basics and 2 are created by blending in other colors.

What makes the process so unique?
Reusing textile and fabric is not something new, many designers would like to work with sustainable fabric or threads however because the big players in the industry do not ask, no one makes. It’s literally a case of need and supply. If one single designers asks for 100% recycled material, it won’t make a difference but as soon as a large group of designers and companies start requesting the same, it will gain some momentum.

One of the things that we learned from our Spanish partner is that thread from 100% recycled fabric is very vulnerable and practically impossible to process. To guarantee a certain level of durability, this company adds recycled PET. Yes, from the bottles. The ReBlend materials are still two-thirds recycled textile, which was a first for them as well, however the blending with a relatively low percentage of PET, still offers us a sturdy and long-lasting product.

What was your biggest challenge?
Finding a yarn manufacturer was by far the most challenging. We had a worked with a group of students back in 2013, who had made us a brilliant batch of fabric as well but as we were looking ahead, we needed a manufacturer who would be able to work on a larger scale.

Second of all, one that many entrepreneurs out their will face as well, funding. We work with some brilliant partners, Stichting Doen, Sympany and BYBROWN to begin with but finding funding is always a challenge. And of course, buyers. People who want to purchase our product.

What does the future look like for ReBlend?
At the moment all our energy is focused on the Kickstarter campaign. We are working hard on social media to gather attention for our product and so far we are very happy with the results.

Ideally we would like to start a ‘Yarn Collective’. An entity that will allow smaller labels and designers to benefit from the yarn and fabrics we produce. We would reserve a batch of the product the manufacturer creates for these designers, which they can then use for their own collections and productions.

At the moment we are also looking at organizing a Circulair Fashion Event. It would consist of a fashion show by BYBROWN and we would offer space to five to seven other designers to also present their designs to the public. In my opinion, the event would also aim at starting a business dialogue about sustainable fashion and the role corporate companies can play in this development.

What did you personally take away from participating in the Startup Award?
For me it was an eye opener. What I learned from watching the other pitches was that I needed a more refined story. I know my brand inside out, I know what we want to achieve but I know now that I need to sell it as well as just tell it. Finally, what advice would you give anyone thinking about starting their own business and participating with this year’s event?
Ask the yourself the hard questions, the ones you know other people will ask as well. And keep asking questions. Don’t take no for an answer. It’s what we did, we kept asking: why can’t things be done differently?

Approach people and ask them to sit with you, ask their opinion, don’t be afraid to speak to strangers. You never know who you might be talking to and how they might be able to transform your idea or business model into a successful endeavor.

And when it comes to the Startup Award? Just do it. Really. The right people can be reached but you need to get up on that stage. And you need to share your story.