Upcycling garment waste into shoes and bags

Philippines | 2018

Objective: use surplus fabric from garment factories and households to make bags and shoes

The fashion industry is a highly polluting sector. Many consumers are unaware that a large chunk of their wardrobe is essentially plastic. More than 60% of the global fibre market is polyester. One single synthetic garment can release more than 1,900 microfibres per wash. Washing billions of garments every year has a devastating impact on our oceans. The concept of “fast fashion” has encouraged consumers to buy and quickly dispose of their clothes.

Pamela Mejia, a textiles expert, sees the circular economy opportunity. Her startup Phinix is a textile recycling centre that collects textile wastes and transforms them into higher valued products such as footwear, fashion accessories and lifestyle pieces. “We are a fashion social enterprise that aims for the triple bottom line – planet, people and profit. Clothing production accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. Recycling 2 million tons of clothing per year is equivalent to taking 1 million cars off the street. We aim to be the be the pioneering facility to recycle textile wastes instead of them being thrown in our landfills.”

Her upcycling start-up addresses more than just waste – the high carbon footprint of textiles means that she also reduces the carbon footprint of bags and shoes by over 90% according to the life cycle assessment study done through the project. A winner of the Asia Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge, Pamela Nicole Mejia received a $10,000 grant from UNEP, as well as training from global experts, and a chance to pitch to win an additional US$10,000 prize to further her efforts.

Pamela’s business also addresses a key need in the Philippines – employment for people with disabilities. The weavers involved in recycling the textiles are people with autism and people who are deaf. The bespoke nature of the show production (the artisans need to look at the fabrics available and then design the shoes) means that Filipino shoe cobblers losing market share to cheaper labour markets are back in business.

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