Sissi Chao founder of REmakeHub, a social enterprise that provides a circular solution for waste pollution in the fashion and design industry.
Sissi Chao has master’s degrees from the London School of Economics and Political Science, St Andrews University, and Duke University. She has worked in a consulting firm Accenture as well as in the tourism industry at Mouzenidis Group in Greece. She decided that her life mission is to clean up the waste, turn them into renewable resources, and recover the planet ecosystem. She has used her voice to share her story in more than 50 events and try to inspire others to make positive changes in the world, and she has also been known as the “Princess of Waste” and “The Waste Innovator”. She has been honored as Forbes 30U30, SDG activist, Gen.T “Asia Tatler》Top 100 Asian Shaper, PwC NextGen Club member, Ocean Activist, and inspirational speaker at Fashion Summit (HK). Her projects “Made for Saving Our Ocean” & “Fashion from Waste” is now on view as part of the socially responsible startup called “REmakeHub”. It has won the 2018 UNDP Asia-Pacific youth SDG innovation award, the top winner of 2019 YOUTH entrepreneurship for the south (YES), Official 2019 R.A.W Prize recipient and has also been featured in BBC, CNA, CNC, ICS, Phoenix News, Forbes, etc.
When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in circular waste management solutions?
We established at the beginning of 2018, in February. So until now, it’s almost two years.
Sissi Chao is a passionate entrepreneur that has traveled the globe to advocate for the limitless potential of waste and promote a circular economy in which “remake the waste so that both human and nature can thrive.”
What initially drew you personally to becoming engaged in this theme?
First of all, my family business is related to textiles. They have been in the fashion business for more than 20 years. I came back to China around the end of 2017. I did some internships in my parents’ factory. I saw a lot of waste in the fashion industry. Not only about fabric, but also in the production chain as well. Then I decided to tell my parents that I would not continue to work on the pollution side, but on the solution side. I saw an old man who came to our factory to collect all the waste. This event inspired me to see how everything works in the fashion industry. That’s why I decided to do something related to sustainable fashion and to deal with the waste. After that, this idea remained inside my brain for many months. In the very beginning, my parents were against me. They didn’t want me to do something related to waste, because they thought it was not a very decent job. So I left my parents for Shanghai to do my own startup. One day I saw in my dream that I was holding the planet on my hand. It was like a hint. I had this sign in my dream. So I thought it was like a message sent by the planet telling me that I should be the guardian or a messenger of Earth. This helps me to continue to do my job as a mission-driven job. So that’s why we started and why we continue doing it to save the planet.
“Only humans can help solve the problems that other humans have created, I don’t see Remake Hub as a business, I see it as a mission. and I’ve made it my mission to clean up as much waste as possible.” – Sissi Chao
So this is how did you come to create REmakeHub?
In the very beginning, we were working for charities and different brands. We tried to clean up the wastes, starting from upcycling and minimalism, using a lot of different methods of going sustainable. Then, in the end, we decided to use technology and creative design as the main DNA of RemakeHub. Because we think that technology and creativity are going to drive us in the long term. We tried minimalism, especially for fashionable ladies. They cannot wear the same T-shirt, for more than two months. Then they start shopping more up, after the campaigning finish. We can see that this it’s not really sustainable.
“I wanted to find a solution that would allow me to recycle all the waste and turn them into renewable resources, for the sake of future generations.” – Sissi Chao
Did the people you were surrounded by always been receptive to the message you’re sharing? Or did you find some problems in the beginning?
I think everything is hard in the very beginning. You don’t know which way you’re going to go. And you don’t know which way the right way. It’s like you’re in a maze and you have to go through all different kinds of way. With all the experience you have accumulated and the challenges you had to overcome during this time, you will find a more clear way to go. But for me, I thought it was always something that I wanted to do. Other people’s opinion does not really change much what I wanted to do. So I think that’s the kind of character that lead me to who I am today and what is REmakeHub now today.
Sissi Chao’s startup REmakeHub a social enterprise that turns fishing net into renewable materials and products through highly innovative technology and creative design. Established in 2018, the business was built on a big ambition to support a “PLANET SCALE” solution for eradicating waste and embracing the circular economy, supported by the top leading manufactories and science-based experts in China. The team is formed by “Planet Guardians” which includes scientists, engineers, artists, architects, entrepreneurs, superstar, fashion designers. REmakeHub has involved Asian companies that are leaders from waste management, technological centers, and recyclers, to thread and fabric manufacturers. All these companies collaborate and share their experience in recycling different types of debris and innovative upcycling ideas through their international alliances with design specialists.
REmakeHubs follows the “Cradle to Cradle” design concept, promote resource reuse to extend the product life circle, thereby achieving zero-to-landfill.
Can you tell us more about REmakeHub and what this means for social and environmental impact worldwide?
REmakeHub is a social enterprise. We focus on recycling waste into more valuable material products. We have different categories of waste. We have a sub-brand called REmake-Ocean, that works to tackle the submarine plastic issue. The material comes from fishing nets. We reuse fishing nets into a few different applications. We make them into sunglasses, which we had a pilot case with WWF Australia. And we also make it into office chairs. And more recently, we’re trying to develop it into fashion, apparel, yarns. We also have another sub-brand call REmake-Yarn and we are using chemical programs, recycling processes and also physical recycling process to turn polyester and cotton into recycled material again. The last one is called Fashion from waste, which is a part of all of those things. What else can we do from all the rest of the material? We can make them into tabletops. We use an eco-friendly technology called Eco Hot blocking. With Eco Hot blocking technology we can make tabletops, chair tops, buttons used for fashion. With those kinds of material, we can try to leverage or embrace the value of waste. We use different materials and a few different technologies for recycling. Since we are a hub, we don’t have many limitations. There are different companies asking solutions. Sometimes we will use our waste into a different industry, for example, as the cosmetics industry, and jewelry industries as well. It depends on who is the client looking for a solution and also the solution that we can provide them. Not just on making the fashion, we also in furniture, electronics, and also cosmetics.
Sissi Chao is raising awareness of the impact of fast-fashion on the environment. She is trying to make a fashion revolution
Ok. So you are making a solution to fit every kind of different demands?
Yeah, but we cannot fit everyone. We fit as many as possible. If exist the supply chain, we could do modification and some adjustment, to customize a solution for them, that’s what we can do the best.
Can trash be more than trash? Can all types of waste be turned into new recycled fashion or there are some limits or difficulties?
Not all. As I said, we can do things with marine plastics, textile waste, and some of the food waste. Food for example like chocolate beans. The bad chocolate beans. If they are over-roasted. They don’t know what to do. With fruits, the leftovers of the apple juice. If you don’t know what to do with the scraps of the apples, we can make them into buttons used for fashion. So we can have a different way to play different matches things.
What were some of the biggest challenges for you personally and for REmakeHub?
The important thing is how we can push the fashion brands to actually use the materials. To use them in the supply chain. And also we are looking for big fundings that they can help to scale it up.
An important challenge is to save planet Earth from further harm. What is the biggest misconception you’ve seen, and how did you work for breaking it?
Well, I think maybe not in terms of misconception, but more in terms of challenges. How they can give up a certain portion of profit and invest back into their own factories in the long term. They would never know if one day the brand will no longer meet the requirements. Some of the big factories are understanding this, and they are either transforming themselves into a more sustainable factory. While some of them are investing in a new factory to build, with more sustainable facilities. This requires a big amount of reinvestment. This is going to be a big challenge for big suppliers to transform themselves in a very quick time. It takes time for them to realize this and it takes a longer time for them to decide if they want to do it or not. Because it’s not a must. If they can still make money, maybe they’ll wait five or ten years, and then they will just close their factory. But some of them while looking for a long term, they will struggle to generate a profit and invest it back into a more winning factory. That’s the challenge for them.
To grow REmakeHub what are the skills that are more important for you? Are there new skills that you found out and discovered you have?
I think for us, at REmakeHub, since it’s a Hub, we are more like a platform that promotes this idea into fashion and furniture industries, etc. We can connect everyone who is in the supply chain to work together to the world circular economy. We need to connect each of them and make a circle that you can work with. You need also to make very nice branding, a very nice story to tell the end consumers with the latest technology. So, for example, blockchain is a very hot topic and how we can use blockchain in the fashion industry. RemakeHub is providing blockchain technology as a QR code into the final product. In this way, everyone scanning a QR code will receive a landing page describing what is the product, where it comes from, the whole journey of the product. And then you can also add the campaign to educate consumers about the planet issues or the marine plastic pollution and stuff like this. So we are more about helping the supply chain to be connected, how to help the end consumers to understand more about the real meaning behind a single product.
Raising awareness among potential customers and educate them about planet Earth’s pressing issues. Do you think manufacturers and consumers bear more responsibility for creating a fairer global economy? What role do you think social media plays in this cause today?
We are all connected on the planet. There is no escape. As you can see, the butterfly effect explains everything. So when we talk about media power, I would say that it’s the most important thing in the whole supply chain, because that’s where the information would flow. If nobody knows that the turtles are saved from the fishing nets, nobody will understand it. Nobody thinks that is a problem. Thanks to the media, through the information, the people and the consumers can understand the situation and the challenges we are facing on the planet. In this way, consumers can ask and demand sustainable products. Then manufacturing will definitely catch up on producing them.
How has REmakeHub grown since its start? What are the goals you have achieved so far?
We have cleaned up around 260 thousand plastic bottles and recycled around 26 thousand pieces of old clothes. Now the target is to recycle fishing nets in the sea. The ocean covers 70 percent of the surface of the planet. If the ocean system goes wrong, then the land system will no longer live. We cannot escape this situation. Everyone’s talking about the plastic issue that goes back to our food supply chain. I think it’s a big problem. I don’t want my future generations to drink something which contains toxic microplastics. In 2020 we are trying to find partners, brands, and NGOs that can help us to promote sustainability in marine plastic recycling products. They can produce sunglasses, which are made from ocean fishing nets, or they can produce types of furniture made from fishing nets. Our goal for this year is to let at least one million people understand this concept. We will also clean up at least 20 tons of fishnets and recycle them in 2020.
Has something in your life changed since you started RemakeHub?
Yes, definitely! Before I was a shopaholic, I was one of the polluters for the planet and I didn’t realize this. But later on, as I started having information, I started thinking about my shopping habits. I reduced purchases and I began to take care more about recycling my clothes after I no longer needed them. Before we usually just threw them away in the bin. And now we recycle them, in this way, we are sure that they can be recycled into yarns again. This is waste value.
Photos courtesy of Sissi Chao and REmakeHub