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Jump Seat Programme #1 - the social startup Onzurna came from Morocco to discover sustainable fashion in Hong Kong

Onzurna, a social startup from ImpactNetwork - our global network of Accelerators for Green and Social Startups now present in 18 countries - came to visit SoInSoGood last week as part of the Jump Seat Programme - an exchange programme within our network.

Who is Onzurna?
Unlike cars, we don’t think much about how we are polluting when we buy a new piece of cloth. However, 1 trillion kilowatt hours are used every year by the global textile industry, which is equivalent to 10% of the global carbon footprint, making it the second polluting industry.
Onzurna is building an environment-friendly clothing line for women in Morocco (looking for biomimicry fabrics, organic cotton, linen, bamboo and hand-dyed fabrics, recycled materials, no-waste pattern-making and production etc). In the heart of their business also lies a social mission : they aim to produce as locally as possible with rural women in Morocco. Each item will be made by hand by talented female artisans, providing them a decent employment.
We were happy to welcome the two energetic and inspiring women behind this project : the founder Massita and Sanaa, focusing on women empowerment.

Why coming to Hong Kong?

  • Hong Kong is one of the major textile hubs. Textiles and garments constituted Hong Kong's biggest industry for about four decades and still remain its second biggest (total exports amounted to HK$ 278.4 billion in 2012). As one of the major international trading centres in the world, Hong Kong offers indeed many advantages (free market economy, second largest container port, biggest airport for international cargo etc).
  • Manufacturing operations in Hong Kong are now focused on sophisticated and high value-added items, which makes it interesting to source innovative material. Along with rising labour costs and stricter environmental regulations on the Chinese mainland, an increasing number of Hong Kong textiles manufacturers have relocated their production of lower-end and mass products to Southeast Asian countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam.
  • Hong Kong government supports the textile industry by giving zero tariff preference for Hong Kong made garments and financing programmes such as HKRITA (to support textile R&D) and Hong Kong Science Park Design Incubation Programme (to fund textile startups).

Hence, Hong Kong is an ideal one-stop shopping centre for buyers looking for new and trendy fabric materials. Below are the companies we met with Onzurna, which are participating in the development of a sustainable fashion in Hong Kong.

Who are the actors of sustainable fashion in Hong Kong?

Sew On Studio - the startup reducing fashion waste while using the community skills

  • Sew On Studio source a lot of innovative eco-friendly textiles, such as recycled cotton, which is not easy to find on the market! They are able to do so thanks to their link with Polytechnic University of Hong Kong. Onzurna managed to get 2 yarns of this recycled cotton fabric to make unique pieces, stay tuned!
  • In their mission to reduce waste, they designed some zero-waste patterns and also produce from clothes scraps. You can check their line of unique bags.
  • Because they want their enterprise to help the community, they hire low-income old ladies and teach them their techniques. They also organize a lot of workshops for kids through NGOs.
  • Down the building they have an eco-friendly printing service (to print your tshirts for your company or yourself that’s here)

Farbo Uniforms - a uniform supplier using eco-friendly and biodegradable material

  • Farbo Uniforms’ unique value proposition is to provide carbon footprint analysis to their clients, as this is the only way to get objective information on their impact on the planet, taking into account the whole chain of the garment (raw material - production - logistics - usage - disposal). Unexpectedly, it might be more “eco-friendly” to produce with polyester than organic cotton as it requires less water and is more easily recyclable.
  • Thanks to their relationship of trust with their regular clients, they manage to have an impact on their habits, for example by convincing them to give back the uniforms instead of disposing of them.

HKRITA - a unique institute linking universities, brands and the government to contribute to innovation in textile.

  • HKRITA has launched dozens of innovative textile R&D projects, always targeting for commercialisation. Lots of them are already available for licensing such as yack yarn.
  • They work hand in hand with brands (including H&M, Patagonia, Puma) as they have a large pool of textiles experts, from the design stage to the commercialisation. As an example, they partnered with H&M to produce clothes from the used clothes H&M collected from their customers.
  • They are hosted at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and get funding support from Innovation and Technology Commission, HKSAR Government (which will invest 50% on projects with industrials and give them a 40% cash rebate)

A Boy Named Sue - the platform promoting and selling 'cool clothes with a conscience'

  • Thanks to them, our two entrepreneurs got some tips on how to promote their sustainable fashion brand
  • They confirmed Hong Kong ecosystem is still hard to penetrate for ethical brands as the culture is more about buying new (and cheap - which is so easy being so close to China). They focus more on the US market.
  • Hopefully, they will sell Onzurna’s products on their platform!

The Mills Fabrica - the business incubator and springboard for techstyle startups

  • Our entrepreneurs learned from a woman experienced in the luxury world what it takes to develop a fashion brand.
  • Agreeing with most of the people we met, she insisted that what matters is to build a line of clothes that people will identify to, being green being a plus and not the selling point.

Green Ladies - the second-hand shop promoting eco-friendly habits and hiring middle-aged ladies

  • They welcomed us in their well-designed shop in Wanchai. As promoting second-hand in Hong Kong is hard, they put a lot of efforts in selecting nice clothes and placing them in an attractive environment.
  • Every single detail is there to raise awareness about sustainable fashion. Each cloth label is indicating a figure about the amount of water needed to produce a piece of cloth, the time it takes to decompose, or any other impact the fashion industry has on the planet. Decoration is made of upcycled products, staff is trained to ask several times if people really need to buy, catchphrases are written on the walls... they definitely put some efforts on user experience and we were all impressed!

Now is time to wait for Onzurna’s collection so don’t forget to follow them on their facebook page!

PS : some easy tips to all go towards a more sustainable fashion - ACTION REQUIRED

  • Reduce what you buy, try first, think twice before buying
  • Buy second-hand, go to green ladies (also sell them the clothes you don’t wear anymore)
  • Choose ethical and green brands (watch The true cost on Netflix if you are still not convinced, to see the impact on thousands of families of the fashion industry). 
  • In Hong Kong, you can check BYT, Redress and their eco-chic design award, Bamboa in PMQ for bamboo clothes, Kevin Cheung for upcycled products such as purse made from carpet scraps

Berenice Guinel

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