In 2007, Waste2Wear founder and CEO Monique Maissan identified a technique to make polyester from PET plastic bottles. Initially, not much was possible, and she had to do a lot of tests to get the yarns to a certain level so that really nice usable polyester fabrics could be made from it, (whether or not mixed with other fibers such as cotton.) The idea did not yet fit in with the zeitgeist at the time, but in 2021, all the more so. Now that more brands are realizing how polluting the clothing industry is, the demand for Monique’s fabrics is also increasing. Waste2Wear now recycles about fifteen million PET bottles a year. She has also developed new products from other plastic waste, such as RPP, a product made from plastic from old refrigerators and washing machines for shopping bags and packaging. How does Monique view sustainability? And how does she see the future of plastic?
MyoMY’s sustainable product manager, Elise Luring, presented Monique with a number of propositions and talked to her.
Statement 1: In x number of years there will be no more virgin plastic
(M) “Our motto and business model is that we hope that so much is recycled that there would be no more plastic bottles ending up in the environment and that we can close our company. But unfortunately for various reasons, mainly because of the price, recycling is not yet conducted on a large scale. The second point is that the demand for plastic is unfortunately increasing due to the increasing population growth. Also, in terms of polyester in garments, I do not expect the amount to decrease. Although I do notice that due to the hype that is now finally around recycling, the percentages of recycling are increasing. Sadlly, I think that the price difference with regular polyester, made of oil, will remain a pain point for a long time. We will of course keep pushing it.”
Statement 2: Circularity is the future
(M) “Yes! I agree one hundred percent. There is no other way; you have to look at the end result when you start developing something new. That will ultimately have to be the start of every designer, every product developer in every product group all over the world. Because if you don’t think about that, our world will become unlivable.”
Statement 3: Natural materials such as leather and cotton are more durable than synthetic materials such as plastic.
(M) “An incredible amount of assumptions are made: plastic is bad, polyester is bad, cotton is good. But if you compare the environmental impact and if you look at the production process and the end of the cycle, you often arrive at completely different insights.”
(E) “Yes, we see that too. Many materials are lumped together, but also natural materials. For example, organic cotton is in some ways better than regular cotton. Although there are also drawbacks. And that is of course also the case in the leather industry. We therefore work with various parties to make this as sustainable and transparent as possible. The strength lies with brands and manufacturers to get the best out of it.
(M) “I often start speeches that I give with the fairy tale of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. That’s a story everyone knows. Because there is actually no piece of clothing that is 100% sustainable. Furthermore, everything you wear and everything you make has an impact on the environment in some way. It is up to us to make sure this is as small as possible.”
Statement 4: 100% sustainable does not exist
(M) “Yeah, that’s how I see it. It’s really about making as little negative impact on the environment as possible when you make a product, during its production and throughout the entire chain. You can make a big difference if you start with a recycled product, instead of a new product. You should then also look at where the product ends and what you can do to slow it down. That you first make another product out of it or recycle it again.; You want to prevent any of that waste from ending up in nature.”
(E) Are there any concessions you have to make to get to that point?
(M) “Rome was not built in a day. It’s a learning process. I think that if you invest seriously in research and in steps you take with your suppliers and your customers, then you are on the right track. That does indeed mean that you sometimes have to make concessions. For example, Waste2Wear has production in China and India and the products have to go somewhere. That’s where it all starts: what is the most efficient, what is the most environmentally friendly and how are you going to package it? And then you also have to make sure that your customer handles it with care. This way you sometimes come to a way that is better, but not yet 100% fantastic. But I am very positive about the future. I believe in science, collaborations and technologies. And I believe there is definitely a solution. We have to do it together and the youth are already the big driver behind changing the way we do things in the future.”