There's Nothing Uniform About this Sustainable Fashion Startup in Brazil
Millions of tons of clothing end up in landfills every year. But only about five percent of discarded clothing is unusable, making fabric scrap heaps both amazing and affordable resources for companies with reuse on the brain.
Retalhar, founded by Jonas Lessa, 25, is one of these companies. Retalhar specializes in repurposing uniforms discarded by corporations and multinationals, including FedEx and Arteris.
Lessa explains in this Q&A.
You’ve salvaged nearly 20,000 pounds of material. What’s Retalhar’s process?
After receiving discarded uniforms, we first count and separate different kinds of pieces. All the material is washed to ensure it’s not contaminated. Then, we offer our customers products made with this fabric waste.
After a simple defibration, we reverse manufacture the scrabs into material which is used by the automobile industry, civil construction, and others. Post-defibration, we also produce the raw material that is used to create blankets for social programs and winter clothing campaigns. When we find uniforms in great condition, Retalhar removes any logos and sells the clothes at low cost to small businesses or social initiatives. And older garments are reprocessed to construct corporate gifts like nécessaires, notebook cases, eco-bags, and more.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in Brazil?
The biggest challenge is the mindset changes that must happen. Because of a macroeconomic issue, our competitors are the incinerators and landfills, which operate at lower costs than we do. This is because the conventional market doesn't include the social and environmental costs in the prices of products or services. So, a organization like Retalhar has to convince its customers to pay more for a sustainable alternative. I think it's a movement that we can accelerate—we’re depending on that—but at this moment, the Brazilian economic recession has been a strong barrier for the client acquisition. So many companies are reducing their costs and, unfortunately, ignoring sustainable and social programs are their first way to achieve that.
For the next 12 months, we plan to stick to our sustainability mission but also invest in cost reduction processes. once we already know that our business model is viable, the next step is to have the organizational structure necessary to expand our activities across Brazil and tap into other industry sectors.