Entrepreneur

Malaysia Suffers From Major Fabric Waste, Here’s How These 2 Women Are Tackling The Issue

When we think about waste, we most commonly think of foodwaste (compostable) and plastic waste (recyclable).

But too often we tend to ignore textile and fabric waste, which contributes to about 2 million kilograms of waste per day being dumped into already overflowing landfills.

Yet that isn’t the only issue.

Besides taking a long time (think about a hundred years) to decompose, textile waste releases methane and CO2 gas as it decomposes too, contributing to global warming.

Thankfully, the concept of fabric recycling is slowly picking up momentum, and 2 women have been extremely involved in pushing the agenda in Malaysia.

They are Sarahah Kedah (Sarah) and Nik Suzila (Suzy) of Kloth, and Vulcan Post reached out to them to learn more about what’s currently being done about our fabric waste situation.

360 Tons Of Fabric Waste Collected

It was the October of 2013. Sarah and Suzy were attending the World Marketing Summit in Putrajaya when they met Monique Maissan, the founder of Waste2Wear.

From her, they learned about the new plastics economy, instantaneously fell in love with the idea, and wanted to be the catalyst in Malaysia.

Dictionary Time: The New Plastics Economy is a global initiative with the ambition to build unstoppable momentum towards a circular economy for plastics.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

With a capital of RM20,000 from selling jewellery in partnership with their family and friends, Suzy and Sarah established Kloth Malaysia for a fabric recycling movement (Kloth Cares) and Kloth Lifestyle for a brand for fabrics, textiles and products made from recycled plastic bottles (Kloth Wear).

Inside Life Line Clothing Malaysia / Image Credit: Kloth

They also invited Life Line Clothing Malaysia (a fabric recycling factory) and Selangor Youth Community (an NGO which helps promote recycling amongst youths) to become Kloth Cares’ founding partners.

Today, in the span of about 15 months, they’ve collected more than 360,000kg of fabric waste.

Identifying Problems, Providing Solutions

Kloth Cares makes it easy for us to recycle our unwanted fabrics by providing fabric bins in Klang Valley, Negeri Sembilan, and Melaka.

Almost 300 units of these bins have been installed, with more than 95% of them in Klang Valley.

There are 2 types of Kloth Cares fabric bins:

  • Chute bins, which hold up to 250kg and are placed at publicly accessible sites with high traffic,
  • Wheelie bins, which hold up to 80kg and are for ad-hoc or short term (less than 3 months) campaigns with less traffic.

These bins come at no cost and simply need to be adopted by partners who join the movement, dubbed Fabric Recycling Partners.

Kloth Cares chute bins / Image Credit: Kloth

“Our approach is calling the ministries and government agencies, corporate citizens, fabric and textile industry players, academic institutions, community and etc. to adopt Kloth Cares bins,” Suzy said.

To adopt a bin, Fabric Recycling Partners need to provide a proposed site where they plan to install the bins, promote the bin they’ve adopted, encourage others to recycle, and contact Kloth when the bin is full.

“We will then collect the unwanted fabrics and give them a collection report every month or once in 2 months,” Suzy added.

One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure

So much more can be done with recycled plastic bottles, and Kloth Wear partners with manufacturers who produce fabrics made from this waste.

“Our priority is cost effective yet high quality with international certification,” Suzy said.

In 2014, Kloth Wear produced its first product called The Green Hijab. They sold more than 3,000 pieces of hijabs in Malaysia and exported them to clients from Brunei, Kuwait, and Singapore, to name a few.

Image Credit: Kloth

The idea to produce microfibre towels was given by a Malaysian property development company, and Kloth Wear developed them with Waste2Wear in Shanghai in 2016.

Other products they’ve produced include The Green Scarf in partnership with Coca-Cola, corporate t-shirts made for OSK Property, and F1 corporate shirts for EcoWorld, for example.

“In March 2020, Kloth Wear will be announcing our collaboration with a Malaysian owned modest wear brand where we supply high quality fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles,” Sarah shared.

Additionally, Kloth Wear also plans to innovate their upcoming wearable products by making them anti-bacterial and insect repellent.

Change Is Always Challenging

Kloth monetises from Kloth Wear’s product sales and Kloth Cares’ mobilisation fees, incentives from collecting unwanted fabrics, and training and consulting fees.

This makes up Suzy’s sole income, and a portion of Sarah’s income, as she still works in accounting too.

Back when the foreign exchange rate for MYR to USD increased from 3.2 to 4.55, Kloth faced one of its biggest challenges in terms of selling products.

Image Credit: Kloth

It was also difficult for Kloth Wear to meet its minimum order quantity to enjoy competitive pricing when it first started, according to Sarah.

For Suzy, the biggest challenge that they’re still facing is changing consumer mindsets about why they should care about giving plastics new life by making them into fabrics.

In 2013, the vast majority of Malaysians were not aware that plastics are made from crude oil and take forever to decompose. Therefore, they didn’t grasp the deeper understanding why they should purchase fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles, since they could purchase the same type of fabric (like polyester) at a cheaper price. On average, fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles are 20% higher in value as compared to those made from virgin polyesters or synthetic materials.

Nik Suzila, Kloth

Never-ending Work

Over its 6 years of life, Kloth has been on an uphill climb, and Suzy and Sarah won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

They want to expand the Kloth Cares movement nationwide with the help of strategic partnerships, work with researchers for an upcycling project, collaborate with technology partners to innovate fabric and plastic recycling as well as share their knowledge and spread awareness amongst the Malaysian public.

As for Kloth Wear, Suzy and Sarah hope that they can change consumer mindsets and encourage more buying of sustainable materials including certified organic cotton and fabrics made from recycled plastics.

Image Credit: Kloth

They’ve already identified a strategic partner who can create a prototype of wearable items with added textile technology that ensures longer-lasting textiles to reduce environmental impact.

The next step is to look for a partner who can then fund this prototype for commercialisation.

With Kloth doing its part, we asked Suzy and Sarah what we, the common everyday consumers, can do on our part besides the obvious solution of buying less clothing.

“Donate your unwanted garments to any licensed and accredited recyclers like Kloth Cares in Malaysia,” Suzy advised.

Sarah added:

Buy good clothes from high quality materials that can last longer, upcycle your clothes and mix and match.

Sarahah Kedah, Kloth
  • You can read more about other social enterprises we’ve written on here.

Featured Image Credit: Kloth

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