Estonia’s Reet Aus Is Saving The Planet In Style, With Sustainable And Ethical Fashion

By focusing on upcycling post-production waste from garment factories on a huge scale, Reet Aus is cutting down on the excesses of the fast fashion industry.

By focusing on upcycling post-production waste from garment factories on a huge scale, Reet Aus is cutting down on the excesses of the fast fashion industry.

Reet Aus was brought up with a love for art and nature. Her mother was a textile artist and her grandfather, a sculptor. Her grandfather would collect all the leftover fabrics to us in his work, and it is him that she credits for her belief that manufacturing leftovers can be given a new life.

Even as a 12 year old, she would stitch her own clothes. She graduated with a degree in design and started her career as a fashion designer in 2002, but she was disillusioned with the way the fashion industry functioned. “When I graduated, I knew that wasn’t the way I would want to do it. But it took a few years for me to realize I could still use my design skills and make it ethical,” she says.

It was while she was doing her PhD that she found her purpose. Her thesis was “Trash to Trend – Upcycling in Fashion Design.” As a direct result of this she travelled to the Beximco factory in Bangladesh for a documentary called Out Of Fashion (video below), which focused on the environmental dangers of fast fashion. She realized that almost 25% of the factory’s fabric was wasted. This prompted her to come up with a new solution to the problem.

Most efforts to reduce such waste so far focused on recycling old clothes that had been thrown away (post-consumer waste) in United States of Europe. However, this recycling requires additional resources like energy and water, to make a usable product. Reet realized that by focusing on post-production waste which is found in the places where these garments are originally made (Bangladesh, India, China), she could make something the world had never seen before –mass-upcycled clothing. This would not only cut down on the waste, but also save on the additional resources.

With this in mind, she came up with UPMADE®, a novel circular business model, which helps factories cut down on the waste by channeling leftovers back into the design and production of new garments. The three components of UPMADE® are:

  1. UPMADE® Software: This is a special algorithm that conducts waste analysis (to determine what kinds of leftover materials are available) and environmental analysis (to determine what resources can be saved as a result of upcycling).
  2. Design Approach: The Trash to Trend approach helps the brand to upcycle its textile leftovers, maximising fabric use, while tailoring to the design criteria of the brand owner.
  3. Certification: UPMADE Certification is a guideline and a verification system helping manufacturers to effectively integrate upcycling production and circular economic principles into their business.

In the first five years since its inception, UPMADE has saved 174 826 127 litres of water and 108 576 kg of CO2. 12 980 kg of textiles waste has been saved from landfill and instead been converted into new clothes.

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Reet Aus believes that, “We are not used to look upon the world from a different viewpoint from what we have been taught. To discover something new, one has to step into the unknown. The unknown is just another opportunity.”

For her enterprising spirit and innovative solution to the textile waste problem, she has been the recipient of many awards, including, Estonia’s White Star Class V Order in 2016, Woman of the Year (BPW Estonia 2014), and Environmentally Friendly Company (Ministry of the Environment 2013). In 2015, she was listed among the Top 20 Women in Business by the Nordic Business Report. UPMADE® is one of the finalists in Ecolab Award of Circular Economy Digital Disruptor 2017.

The growing fast fashion industry is causing numerous environmental and social problems, around the world. There is a need to revamp how the industry works –to slow it down, to encourage consumers to hold on to their clothes longer, to encourage them to rent clothes instead of owning them. As this piece points out, “Apparel companies will increasingly have to confront the elephant in the boardroom and decouple their business growth from resource use.  To meet tomorrow’s demand for clothing in innovative ways, companies will need to do what they have never done before: design, test and invest in business models that reuse clothes and maximize their useful life. For apparel companies, it’s time to disrupt or be disrupted.” The UPMADE model is a great example of this sort of disruption.

The theme of International Women’s Day, 2019, which falls on March 8th, is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”. #IWD2019

With women still a minority in science, technology & related innovation, it’s time to shine a spotlight on female innovation champions! Enjoy our Women Innovators Around The World series, where we profile 19 inspiring women innovators, from 19 countries, whose work has a big social impact.

Want to know what other innovations women around the world have pioneered? Read about Bonnie Chiu here.

Image source: YouTube

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