Monique Maissan is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Shanghai, CEO of Vision Textiles, and founder of Waste2Wear. Monique has been a pioneer in sustainability in the notoriously environmentally unfriendly textile and fashion industry for more than 20 years. We asked Monique about her journey with sustainability and the challenges she's experienced. Here's what she shared.
I've always loved developing and creating new textile products, but I found the textile industry's polluting processes appalling--such as releasing harsh dyes and caustic chemicals into the environment.
I made a commitment to operate my company differently. In 1998, I started Vision Textiles, where we implemented environmentally friendly manufacturing processes.
In 2006, I learned about a groundbreaking technology: manufacturing fabric from recycled plastic bottles. I knew instantly that it was my opportunity to right some of the many wrongs in an industry where environmentally damaging processes were the norm.
I made it my goal to develop recycled plastic fabrics into a source of mainstream textiles. I knew it would make a tremendous impact on people, the environment and the global plastic waste problem. I made it my purpose in life.
You were at the forefront of sustainability in recycling plastic into yarns that become clothing. What challenges did you confront in this process?
I started making fabrics from recycled plastic bottles in 2007. At that time, the "reception" to our innovative idea of sustainable fashion was not particularly welcoming. Potential clients were often totally uninterested in the innovative, environmentally friendly products we offered. In fact, some wondered aloud why we would go to all that trouble!
Fast forward to 2019, and the world has changed significantly in this respect. Every company in every industry is talking about sustainability. One specific area of concern is finding solutions for our global plastic problem in the oceans and landfills.
Still, there is not real awareness around how to become a sustainable company or how to create consumer value when you do. It's difficult to determine the steps required to reach that goal, how to engage both customers and your own personnel, and how to educate stakeholders in the right way and at the right level.
Levels of awareness around sustainability practices vary widely in different parts of the world, and, unfortunately, "the wheel is being invented in many places again and again" as a result.
One of the biggest problems we faced, besides getting people to try something new and create a mindset shift, was the price. A sustainably manufactured product is generally more expensive than a non-sustainably manufactured product. This poses a problem because even when companies realize that they have to become more sustainable, they are still concerned about the influence of implementing what are often expensive sustainable practices on their bottom line.
I see a glimmer of hope that this pricing difficulty is changing because Millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable products. However, overall, it is still a big hurdle for most products in most industries.
What experience will you share with others who are interested in adopting sustainable practices?
Sustainability is at this moment a hot topic, but if you only do it because it is hot, then it will be very tough. You must be 100 percent passionate about your project and go the extra mile, as it is not an easy market, and you have to continually innovate and be present and aware of what is going on to stay relevant.
There are a lot of "fakes" out there, which make it challenging to be truly sustainable. Their product offering is often lower in price as it is not truly certified sustainable, but people do not know or sometimes--and this is much worse--they do not care.
Price will always be an issue when it comes to sustainable goods and products. As I always say, "It simply costs more to save the planet."
But let's be honest: What is the price to save the planet, really? I only have to look at my two kids, and I know the answer in my heart.