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Recyclers turn old clothes into designer shoes

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

Shoes and clothing are some of the products that are responsible for wardrobe clutter.

Every year millions of garments are discarded as consumers ditch fast-fashion styles for a new wardrobe. While a few communities have textile-recycling programmes, about 85 per cent of this waste goes to landfills where it occupies about five per cent of landfill space and the amount is growing.

This is what made Alex Musembi and Elmar Stroomer to start Africa Collect Textiles Limited (Act) in 2014, an initiative that seeks to collect used textiles and footwear for reuse and recycling in Kenya .

“Initially, we were working with the largest collection company in Holland and this is when we realised that Africa, more so, Kenya needed a similar initiative because most of the second-hand clothes end up in landfills,” says Alex.

After realising the need, the two started looking for funds to start a similar initiative in Kenya and in 2012 they received a Sh5 million grant from KICI Foundation from Netherlands. They used the money for research, which took them six months, and also as seed capital.

Start operations

During research they found out that 100 million kilogrammes of used textile was imported to Kenya. A total of 35 million kilogrammes (of which 20 million kilogramme is in Nairobi) is discarded by the public and other parties (traders, tailors, etc) in urban Kenya yearly.

One of ACT’s employee picks up old clothes from a collection point. Photo/
MILLIAM MURIGI

“The highest number was attributed to our behaviour where giving out clothes to relatives is not highly welcomed unlike in other African countries where such actions are welcomed and valued,”  says Alex.

  This is when the two decided to start the initiative in Kenya and in 2013 ACT was founded. 

They started operations a year later. The company collects used clothing and footwear, sorts it to get all products which can be reused and after that, recycles what cannot be reused to make different products.

“We place our branded collection containers in shopping malls, universities and churches. After that, we pick and sort them. What can be reused is then distributed to vulnerable groups and the rest is recycled,” he adds.

He reveals that recycling textile and footwear is beneficial and sustainable. It is environmentally beneficial in the sense that there will be no more burning (causing hazardous emissions), dumping and filling landfills with used textiles. It is economically and socially beneficial because recycling creates new business opportunities and jobs.

The duo has a warehouse at Kahawa West and a workshop at Kariokor Market, mainly for shoe production. They can produce 200 pairs of shoes and bags per month, but they can also take bigger orders. For acrylic and wool they can dispose of up to one tonne per month.

“We have 20 employees and our plan is to have a collection point in  every mall so that Kenyans can deposit as much as they can because our aim is to promote a circular economy,”  Alex says.

Booming industry

Within the next 10 years, they aim to collect and recycle more than half of Kenya’s waste textiles.  They use acrylic and wool from sweaters, denim shoes and bags from denim jeans, construction material and are prototyping mannequins, running tracks mats and poufs.

In future they want to concentrate more on construction materials because this is a booming industry and they want to give Kenyans an opportunity to own their own houses at affordable prices. Their materials are eco-friendly and their price is favourable. Their shoes range from Sh600 to Sh2,000.

The initiative has been is receiving support from E4Impact and Growth Africa since May this year. So far, they have won circular design award where they pocketed Sh881,000  (€7, 500) and they also featured in a Tommy Hilfiger competition though they didn’t win.