“I’ve always been upset about the negative aspects of the textile industry, the awful working conditions and the pollution it engenders”, says Dutch businesswoman Monique Maissan. She has been active in China and India since 1986, and is the CEO of Vision Textiles, the company she founded in Shanghai. Having joined forces with a like-minded Dutch fashion designer, she is actually changing something about the situation in the textile business. The result is a clothing line made from recycled PET bottles – being presented during Amsterdam Fashion Week at the beginning of July.
It doesn’t surprise us at all that Monique Maissan will be one of the speakers at the East-West Sustainability Summit, an event which is organised in combination with the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii attended by 169 countries and world leaders like Barrack Obama. The Dutch entrepreneur is the driving force behind ethical business, and will certainly inspire her audience. "When I discovered it was possible to make yarn from used plastic bottles that could be applied to making toys, chairs and, carpets, I had an idea: if I could refine the yarn sufficiently to make clothing – a product for a large audience – I was onto an interesting project that might actually change the world.”
Maissan went to work. She improved and refined the technology to recycle post-consumer plastic bottles into eco-friendly fabrics, and then launched Waste2Wear. “This unique process involves turning environmentally-damaging waste into useable, sustainable yarns. The recycled yarns are then combined with natural fibres to be woven or knitted into eco-friendly fabrics, suitable for garments, home textiles, and accessories.” The 100% recycled polyester yarn can be used on its own or be blended with other eco-friendly yarns to produce Waste2Wear® fabrics. It is suitable for homeware, bags, curtains, etc., but also for clothing. “From a landfill site to your wardrobe!"
In addition, Maissan has launched two related projects. Waste2Weave is in India. There, women weave textiles using recycled plastic and organic cotton. "Before, these women earned $45 per month, meaning it was impossible to survive with the many children they have. Those women were abused by the entire supply chain – this was modern slavery. We give them $100 per month, which is the minimum wage in India. On top of this we save $17 a month for them, so that after two-and-a-half years they will be able to own the devices they are working with. That lifts them out of poverty. We have received a lot of support for this project from great companies, like the Dutch online webshop Wehkamp, and department stores like Claudia Strater.
Then there is the project Plastic Catch, which Vision Textiles developed in collaboration with Ocean Recovery Alliance, an NGO from Hong Kong. "Local fishermen in Hong Kong and Malaysia take an extra net along when they go out on the ocean, to collect plastic waste. These fishermen are very motivated, not only because of the compensation they receive for the plastic they scoop up, but also because, unlike others, they are very aware of the pollution problem and of the consequences it has for the fish stock. The compensation for the plastic-collecting fishermen comes from companies, such as hotel chains, which then also buy the products made of recycled plastic bottles, like the uniforms worn by their staff. For companies it is nicer to be able to say that they’ve taken waste out of the sea than to have to admit that their plastic waste is burned. It's a good story for the company website."
When it comes to clothes made of PET bottles, Maissan knows better than anyone that the shape, quality, and ease of use are important: "You don’t want to wear a burlap bag." Clothes made of recycled PET bottles must be beautiful, elegant, and comfy. For this reason, Maissan became co-owner of ‘the Conscious Collection’ by Dutch fashion designer Monique Collignon, who creates ready-to-wear, as well as haute couture. For the third time now, her new collection with Waste2Wear fabrics will be presented during Amsterdam Fashion Week. "I absolutely wanted to do something, because the waste problem in textiles is huge. And as we all know, if you want to change the world, you’d better start with yourself! My Conscious Collections consist of 70% Waste2Wear fabrics; the rest is from sustainable fabrics (I ask suppliers where their goods come from and check their sustainability licenses)”, says Collignon. She is set to be the first fashion designer in the world with such an haute couture and ready-to-wear collection. "Waste2Wear yarns provide beautiful fabrics, produced using less energy than is needed for the production of cotton or silk. My 2017 summer collection is again made of Waste2Wear yarns, and also introduces Waste2Weave fabrics. As a designer I try to touch people in their hearts, with beautiful, comfortable, wearable designs made from recycled PET bottles.”
Is all this polyester actually healthy for our bodies? “Probably 80 to 90% of what already hangs in our wardrobe is made of polyester, or mixes of it – it’s a fact we don’t realise. Most sportswear, for instance, is made of polyester. The yarn breathes, so it feels really good on the body, even when you exercise. The clothes are comfortable to wear and you can wash them like any other piece of textile. Polyester doesn’t harm our body, that has been proven. The only step that we still need to take is to wear clothes made of recycled polyester. But I’m very hopeful: the awareness is growing that we can’t continue to produce waste. With my designs, I want to help to convince a broad audience of the fact that recycled plastic is very clean and very wearable!" In all clothes by Collignon there’s a label that indicates how many PET bottles have been removed from the environment. "Waste is waste if you do nothing with it. With this Waste2Wear collection, you can help rid the world of plastic and at the same time look beautiful.”
Monique Collignon's Conscious Collection is being presented at Fashion Week Amsterdam 1–11 July.
Watch here the video 'How a bottle becomes a garment'.