In the ever-growing mountain of cast-off textiles from the U.S. and other wealthy countries, Mumbai’s Jaideep Sajdeh saw a chance to build a business that could help the environment, create much-needed low-skilled jobs in India and make him rich.
A global glut of used clothing has pushed down the prices of recycled textiles as much as 50% in the last year. The per-ton price of discarded shirt, skirts and other cloth from the U.S., Canada and elsewhere has fallen so much that exporters are in effect giving them away, selling for the cost of shipping.
As explained in a story in The Wall Street Journal, the multi-billion dollar global industry that sorts and processes worn garments to resell them in places like Africa or change them into recycled yarn and industrial rags is struggling. Demand from Africa and India has dipped so it has not been able to absorb the growing supply generated in part by fast-fashion retailers.
Mr. Sajdeh–whose family has been turning old garments from the West into recycled yarn for decades–decided to create a new source of demand for used textiles by starting a new business: shopping bags made from reused cloth.
Like most “recycled” bags on offer at grocery stores around the world, his bags are green because they are not made out of disposable plastic and can be used over and over again. Mr. Sajdeh’s bags, however are even greener, because they are made of old sheets, napkins and table cloths.
“We used to get sheets in the used clothing containers and I could see you could use these big piece of cloth to make something,” he said.
The process is pretty labor intensive so it could only be done on a large scale in a place like India where wages are low. Around 60 people in Mr. Sajdeh’s facility in a suburb of Mumbai take truckloads of white second-hand material and turn them into bags.
The used sheets and table cloths are cut into standard sizes, checked for stains, stamped with designs and then sewn into bags. Mr. Sajdeh’s company Texool does everything from very basic shopping bags to shoe bags and wine bottle bags and even more complicated bags with extra pockets and zippers that can be used as handbags or school bags. Many carry a label saying “I am not a virgin” explaining how the bag is made using pre-used materials.
To have real environmental impact and have a chance to make real money on the business, Mr. Sajdeh says it needs to be done on an industrial scale–with millions of pieces rather than hundreds. His capacity today is around 1.5 million pieces a year. He plans to increase that to 5 million in the next four years.
The wholesale prices of his bags range from 30 cents to $7.00. He is already supplying them to some of India’s biggest retailers as well as international brands in India including Disney, Mattel, Colgate and Steve Madden.
He hopes that eventually the richer countries that are the source of his raw materials–and also the home to more consumers willing to spend more to care for the environment– will become his biggest buyers.
“As people are getting richer it is no secret that there is more wastage happening, more dumping happening,” he said. “Somebody has to step up somebody has to start taking responsibility doing this on a mass (production) level rather than a cottage (industry) level”
–A global glut of used clothing has pushed down the prices of recycled textiles. An earlier version of this post said it had pushed them up.