Moving fast to beat fast fashion
Moving fast to beat fast fashion
December 3, 2019
United Nations Environment Programme
When Omar Itani couldn’t find anywhere to dispose his second-hand clothes, he set a chain of events in motion that he could never have imagined. Making the decision not to contribute to Lebanon’s landfill, he instead decided to set up his own solution. And that’s when the social enterprise FabricAID was born
Itani was awarded with the title of ‘Young Champion of the Earth for West Asia’ in September 2019 for his battle to reduce textile waste while also making a big social impact.
FabricAID, the enterprise he founded, re-uses and recycles unwanted clothes. Clothes are graded, sorted into over 46 categories, cleaned in the warehouse and redistributed to disadvantaged communities at US$0.3-2 per item. FabricAID has sold more than 60,000 items of clothing to more than 7,000 beneficiaries.
“The second-hand apparel market is projected to double over the next five years, overtaking the retail fast-fashion market,” said Michael Stanley-Jones, co-secretary of the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). “Millennials (25-37) and Gen Z (18-24) are adopting second-hand two-and-a-half times faster than other age groups, finding bargains while lowering the carbon, chemical and water resource footprint of the clothing we wear. Recycling clothing is good for the planet.”
We asked Omar to share his experiences about becoming a Young Champion.
What is the most valuable thing you have gained from the award?
I really felt we received a lot exposure and raised awareness on textile waste. Our award video even got 100,000 views on social media! At the same time, I feel I was able to raise awareness of the waste situation in Lebanon. I spoke at several summits and always mentioned Lebanon and Beirut to raise awareness about the challenges in my region. On a personal level, I wake up every day feeling like a champion! Whenever I’m with friends in a bar, they say, “The champion is here!” Unfortunately, they never mean it seriously…
Have you established any collaborations so far?
It’s still a little early, but there are two interesting potential collaborations that I would like to mention. During the award ceremony, I connected with Patagonia’s CEO, Rose Marcario, who won the ‘Champion of the Earth’ award. We discussed the possibility of FabricAID collecting Patagonia’s unsold stock in Southern Europe. This will allow us to expand our collection process and gain exposure in a new region, which will open many doors in the future. Currently, we are still discussing options. We have also been in touch with Google. Rosemary Koesling, business development and senior strategy expert at Google will be delivering a workshop to the FabricAID team about Google’s 9 Principles of Innovation. This will be the first in many ways Google will be supporting FabricAID, which will include Google store credits, mentorship, exposure and possible funding opportunities. Rosemary will be also supporting our application for the Global Innovation Fund.
Would you recommend other entrepreneurs to apply?
Yes, I would definitely recommend it. Firstly, if you are an enterprise that works with environment, there is no better partner than the United Nations Environment Programme in terms of exposure and support, but even more in terms of credibility. You have no idea how many doors have opened through this association. Secondly, meeting the other Champions, Young Champions and Covestro team was extremely inspiring and helpful. Thirdly, Young Champions team staff have been very kind and accommodating, and I have learned so much from them.
What are your plans for next year?
We will open a new shop in the first quarter of 2020, called Shops 360. The shop will be a second-hand clothing store with a vintage section, feeding the needs of different social classes. The shop will offer something different and unique, design-wise and concept-wise. We are aiming for an artistic and vintage feel, full of colors, posters, old antique items. We’re planning to have a trading system for which you can pay with other items – introducing a barter system that is not only based on money. Also, we’re going to emphasize using recycled bags, and cutting down on plastic waste.
What is your vision for the future?
We just secured US$1.8 million in funding and aim to use this to expand very rapidly. When I started this business two years ago, I had two employees. Now I have 100 employees and we are opening a new regular shop every three months. And we aim to do much more. Not because I want FabricAID to become a big company, but because there is a big need, and we are working hard to try and satisfy it.
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