Monique Maissan is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Shanghai, CEO of Vision Textiles and founder of Waste2Weave. We asked her to share her journey as she found a way to help connect a third-world problem with a worldwide environmental catastrophe through the beauty of fashion. Here's what she had to say.
I love working with textiles to develop and create new products, but I was always appalled by the entire industry's dirty processes, which pollute the environment. Caustic dyes and harsh chemicals seep into the earth and rivers. Equally appalling are the conditions for workers in the textile industry, which are often inhumane.
Forming a Vision
As a textile engineer, I was determined to operate differently. I started Vision Textiles in 1998 to manufacture in an environmentally friendly way, respecting both the earth's natural resources and my employees.
In 2006, I stumbled upon a groundbreaking discovery: fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles. I immediately knew I had to explore the technology―it was our opportunity to do something good for the environment, to right some of the wrongs for an industry with such a negative reputation for environmentally damaging processes.
My goal was to develop recycled plastic fabrics into a mainstream source of textiles. I thought it could make a tremendous impact and help solve the plastic waste problem. I made it my purpose in life.
The Hand-Loomers' Tale
When I traveled to India and saw first-hand how women in India's handloom industry live, my jaw dropped. Most of these artisans rely on the work for their livelihood, but they live and work under appalling conditions, dependent on middlemen who pay them about US$2 per day―which, in many cases, must stretch to sustain a family of five or six.
I knew I had to do something about this! Beautiful textiles are made on handlooms, so why couldn't they weave fabrics made from recycled plastic? If I could attract buyers from outside of the community, we would not only help these women and their children by significantly increasing their income, but we could also bring awareness to the fact that plastic waste can be a resource.
That's how Waste2Weave got its start. Our mission statement makes a bold promise: "Women out of poverty, plastic out of the environment."
We have essentially connected two social problems--a local rural problem in the third world with one of the world's ubiquitous environmental problems--through the beauty and inspiration of the fashion industry.
It is a very new concept to link third-world production and products directly to first-world consumer markets. By collaborating with a famous Dutch designer, Monique Collignon, we created The Conscious Collection, high-end fashion made from recycled plastic fabrics. The collection debuted in Amsterdam's 2016 Fashion Week in summer 2016. People were amazed!
A Boon for CSR
In addition to high-fashion products, we needed a more accessible product line to ensure growth and stable work for our weavers, because people often think of high-fashion garments as unaffordable.
We established contracts with international companies to buy our recycled plastic textile bags, laptop sleeves, pencil cases, scarves, table runners and other functional items, in addition to fashion fabrics for beautiful ladies' garments. These useful, everyday products can be given as promotional items to customers and employees, providing a way for almost every company in the world to support the company and its mission.
In addition, customers can mention on their website and in corporate social responsibility (CSR) materials that they contribute to environmental and social awareness by using our recycled fabric products. This creates consumer value for the socially conscious, including the Millennial generation who are known to support socially aware companies.
With plans underway to scale up and identify large, international customers who will commit to continually offering recycled textile products made by the Indian handloom industry, I'm working toward a goal of helping hundreds of thousands of women in the future. Simultaneously, the amount of plastic removed from the environment is significant. And another benefit: Everyone exposed to the brand and its products learns about new options for waste.