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Innovating for a Sustainable Fashion Future: Pals Brust’s Perspective

“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 fashion industry’s core. To meet the issue head-on, Pals co-founded our venture, Upset Textiles. Now, Upset is working to commercialize a groundbreaking technology that allows upcycling cotton waste into virgin-quality cotton fibres. 

We sat down to speak with Pals about his decision to enter the world of sustainability, Upset’s achievements, 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 factories for the apparel industry”.  Then I realized there was an urgent need for change in the textile industry.”  

I was struck that cotton production is growing in countries like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh while depleting their water resources.  It’s a paradox that countries with high water scarcity are growing these water-consuming crops. For every kilogram of cotton, at least 10,000 litres 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 chose to start with post-production waste to ensure a mainstream 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 that can be rejuvenated and brought back into the supply chain. We will also work towards living wages and supporting local communities to make an additional impact locally.

What are the successes UPSET has had so far?

Most importantly, UPSET has proven that it’s possible to 100% rejuvenate materials from recycling. We designed 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 fabric’s strength and dyeing ability and its capabilities for knitting and weaving 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 Upset’s goals for the future?

The key challenge will be setting up a waste sorting hub and processing facility in India over the coming year. 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 litres 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 have 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

We must move away from the take-make-waste paradigm for the fashion industry to fundamentally change. 

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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