Making Waste into Opportunity
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Making Waste into Opportunity

by Madeleine Shaw
Making Waste into Opportunity

What if you could take something that was going to be either burnt, landfilled or made into plastic pellets, and make it into something highly useful that could have a major social impact for very little money? Cool, right? We call it Transformation Textiles (TT), it rocks, and this is how it works.

Major sporting goods companies and mass market retailers make bathrobes, tank tops, track pants etc by the millions in factories located primarily in developing nations. You knew that. What you may not know is what that actually looks like. Consumers typically focus on things like worker safety, fair wages and factory conditions in these transactions: fair enough - they are super-important issues. What you may not have thought about, though, is the waste that it generates. Imagine rolling out dough and cutting cookies from it - the pattern pieces for making clothes are the same as the cookie cutters, and the fact that they're not square means that there will be leftover dough - or fabric in this case. Normally this waste, called "offcuts", is thrown away.

While most offcuts aren't big enough to make anything large, there is ample opportunity to place patterns for small things (say for example menstrual pads, or parts of a pair of underwear), or things that could be pieced together, in the master marker - all it takes is willingness on behalf of the manufacturer. Rachel Starkey is a longtime friend, colleague and Pads4Girls supporter who is pioneering this thought-leading movement.

In her own words: "Transformation Textiles (TT) is a Social Business Strategy where everyone profits. By the simple pre-planning of utilizing the off-cuts spaces in master mass-garment pattern plans, "pro-poor products" are made in a very cost-effective and efficient manner. Pro-Poor Products are by nature items needed, desired & affordable to the world's poor.

Washable Menstrual Kits are a prime example & one of the easiest TT products to fit into any mass-garment pattern. We have found that whenever pro-poor products run in our production lines, our staff are happier. They are not just making another garment; they know that TT products are going to people that need them most. For our staff that means not just another paycheck - they are a part of something much bigger. It is about creating opportunity & hope in the lives of others. Happy employees are usually more productive employees. We have seen an explosion of innovation amongst our production team with many thinking, "How can I use this or that in a useful way?".

With extremely low actual costs for manufacturing pro-poor products, the poor are able to afford them and even resell them to others! TT places a whole new dimension to the "re-cycle/carbon footprint" question: a different question might be what is your "life-giving print"? TT not only saves the environment, it creates an environment for some to have a chance to live. It beckons us with the strong message, "Keep girls in school! Create jobs for vulnerable women!" Pro-poor products are better served not as hand-outs, but foot-holds to help people climb out of the circumstances keeping them enslaved in poverty."

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