Fast fashion has changed the way we dress. We buy more clothes, more often, but wear them less. The average lifespan of a garment is just two years, and 87 per cent of unwanted clothing ends up in landfill or incinerators.
Alina Bassi, founder of Kleiderly, wants to give our clothing waste another chance at a useful life. The 30-year-old chemical engineer has always cared about the threat of climate change – in her teens she made a film highlighting the environmental impact of Heathrow Airport – but she actually started her career in the oil industry, at a consultancy specialising in offshore drilling platforms. “I learned so much there, but I knew it wasn’t quite right,” Bassi says. As a junior engineer, it was difficult to affect change in large corporations, and she wanted to make an impact. “It was against my personal values – I really wanted to work in sustainability.”
After a few more years in the energy industry, she landed at bio-bean, a startup that turned waste coffee grounds from major UK cafe chains into products that could be burned for heat and fuel. “That coffee would have been composted and now we’re using it to replace wood as a fuel – it’s the kind of cycle that just makes sense,” she says.
After a year in Berlin as chief operating opfficer of Kaffeeform, another coffee recycling startup, Bassi was keen to branch out – used coffee grounds are not the biggest threat facing the planet. Instead, Bassi poured her efforts into tackling a much bigger polluter: the fashion industry.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we produce 100 billion garments per year, and this is set to double by 2050 to keep up with the rising demand created by fashion trends and seasons. The garments don’t last long enough to offset the carbon cost of producing the material (whether it’s natural or synthetic), creating the clothes, and then shipping them to customers. “Now that our clothing only lasts a couple of years, it makes no sense that we have such a high carbon footprint for something so short-lived,” Bassi says.
Kleiderly hopes to change the landscape of clothing waste. Using the principles of a circular economy, Bassi has developed a low-energy, multi-stage process to turn clothing fibres into an alternative to oil-based plastic. She is reluctant to reveal any further details as the process is still being patented. This plastic can then be fed to manufacturers who can use it in their existing machines, so that your old T-shirts and jeans are reused as brand new products. “I wanted to take the fibres and turn them into something that would be used for many years to come,” Bassi says.
With the rise in climate change activism, many fashion brands face external pressure to clean up their acts, and Kleiderly has had interest from labels looking to recycle their clothing. There are other ways to reduce fashion waste, from creating clothes designed to last, to recycling the fabric to make more clothing. But “a problem this big needs multiple solutions working together,” Bassi says.
“We think about the multiple lives of a product and how we can keep reusing it instead of letting it fall into landfills or incinerators,” she says. Kleiderly can even produce clothing hangers from unwanted garments to then sell back to retailers – the ultimate circular economy.
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