Rejuvenating fabric & the future of sustainable fashion – a conversation with Pals Brust, Co-founder & CEO UPSET Textiles

Rejuvenating fabric & the future of sustainable fashion – a conversation with Pals Brust, Co-founder & CEO UPSET Textiles

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“The Dream was to prove to the world that it is possible to have mainstream garments that are sustainable & circular for a price that everyone can afford” 

– Pals Brust, Co-founder of UPSET Textiles. 

After working for almost 40 years at C&A, and having been the CEO of C&A Benelux, Pals Brust came to see the deep unsustainability at the core of the fashion industry. To meet the issue head on, Pals co- founded our venture Upset Textiles. Now, Upset is working to commercialize a groundbreaking technology which allows the upcycling of cotton waste into virgin quality cotton fibers. 

We sat down to speak with Pals about his decision to enter the world of sustainability, Upsets achievements so far, and their vision for the future. 

Where did the idea for Upset originate?

Back when I was CEO at C&A Benelux, I joined Dutch Minister Ploumen on a stakeholder trip to Bangladesh after the Rana Plaza disaster, “I saw blue water flowing from dyeing houses and buildings which I assumed were prisons, but were actually factories for the apparel industry”.  It was then I realized there was an urgent need for change in the textile industry.”  

I was struck by the fact that the cotton production is growing in countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, while it depletes their water resources.  It’s a paradox, the countries with high water scarcity are growing these water consuming crops. For every kilogram of cotton, at least 10,000 liters of water is needed. That the fast fashion and high consumption pushed by the textile industry was drying out these countries seemed deeply unethical to me. It needed to change. This pushed me towards working on sustainability  and I saw recycling as the first step towards conserving our natural resources.

How was the technology developed?

The journey to find the technology was extensive and required a detailed study of mechanical and chemical recycling; we concluded that mechanical was the best way because chemical didn’t seem  realistic at the time. We choose to start with post-production waste to ensure a monostream and to guarantee we knew the history of the garment before it was recycled. This way we could ensure no hazardous chemicals were used in the production. Then we met our current technology partner, who showed us some of the material they rejuvenated. We were astonished by the quality and almost didn’t believe it. That was the beginning.

Why do you work in India

We aim  to control the supply chain by saving natural resources like water and CO2. India was  a good place to start this, being one of the largest producers of apparel, a large cotton producer and having  significant quantities of post-production cotton waste which can be rejuvenated and brought back into the supply chain. We will also be working towards living wages and supporting local communities to make additional impact locally.

What are the successes UPSET has had so far

Most importantly, UPSET has been able to prove that it’s possible to 100% rejuvenate materials from recycling. We were able to design a showcase dress with Khaloom weaving our rejuvenated yarns (65% cotton-35% silk, 100% rejuvenated) for our Minister Kaag during the trade mission in India. We carried out substantial testing to assess the fabrics strength and dyeing ability as well as its capabilities for knitting and weaving of the material.

The result was a positive product validation. The technology is viable, and the quality of the rejuvenated cotton is high and on par with virgin cotton.

What are Upsets goals for the future

The key challenges over the coming year will be setting up a waste sorting hub and processing facility in India. Both of these will be crucial prerequisites for scaling up the rejuvenation capacity in India towards approx. 48 million kilograms per year. Leading to an astonishing saving of 220 billion liters of water and 50 million kilograms of CO2.

Enviu is playing an important role in helping us achieve this. Your hands on mentality and experience in building ventures has helped enormously in professionalizing and bringing on board funding partners. Your team on the ground is also vital for building partnerships, networking and benefiting from local knowledge and expertise. Without Gigi in India it would have been impossible to get operational locally.

A future for sustainable fashion

For the fashion industry to fundamentally change, we need to move away from the take make waste paradigm. 

Pals hopes that in time there is nothing but sustainable fashion. “I hope the world will embrace this. In time I hope there will only be sustainable fashion, and that we can rejuvenate as much as possible and make it accessible to the majority of people.”

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