By Marketing Team
Posted in December 24, 2023
From top, clockwise, Raffaela Vecchio, Ariane Santos, Rejane Soares, Cândido Espinheira, Bruna Vasconi, and Luanda Oliveira have created businesses in the circular economy — Photo: Douglas Magno, Erich Macias, Helder Tavares, Leonardo Caldas, and Ricardo Perini.
ESG targets in companies and demand for sustainable products and services create the ideal scenario for recycling and revaluation of used goods.
Never has there been so much talk about the need to seek a world that balances production and consumption. With the industry’s interest in meeting ESG goals (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance), a virtuous circle has formed, where society not only demands but also practices better practices to avoid degrading natural resources.
This has brought the circular economy to prominence, as it aims to transform the current system – whose trajectory is extraction, transformation, consumption, and disposal – through recycling and revaluation of the product throughout the process.
However, for circularity to happen, as Beatriz Luz, founder of Exchange 4 Change Brazil and creator of the Circular Economy Hub, points out, the industry needs to lead the transition. “For this, the key is collaboration, the integration of the production chain. It is necessary to do it together – supplier, customer, and other partners.”
“The thinking within the linear economy we are accustomed to expels innovation, and we need to produce with a new market vision,” agrees Gui Brammer, founder of the waste transformation company Boomera and head of the circular economy at the Ambipar group.
The turning point is already happening in different sectors. In fashion, where the circular economy has been heavily worked on, second-hand pieces and upcycling (where they are revamped into a unique look or use fabrics from old collections) are a trend. A study by WGSN, a trend forecasting company, indicates a growth of 15% to 20% in this market by 2030, surpassing fast fashion, according to Leticia Araujo, a specialist in behavior and consumption trends.
Based on years of research, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a global reference in the circular economy, has listed the sectors where circular opportunities are expected to stand out: rental and resale of clothing; food surpluses; collection; mobility; regenerative agricultural production; renovation and updating of buildings; plastic reuse; and by-products valuation, among others. In short, a world of possibilities for good businesses for their owners, the planet, and humanity.
See below six stories of entrepreneurs who bet on the trend:
Architect Raffaela Vecchio, 37, was always bothered by the fate of materials removed from the construction sites where she worked: most ended up in dumpsters, which, in turn, dumped them in landfills and the like. “I couldn’t accept it,” she recalls.
It was from this discomfort that Relóco was born in 2020, a São Paulo startup that encourages the reuse of materials left over from construction and renovations. “As I couldn’t find a company that provided this service, I decided to take the initiative.”
“In my field, when it comes to sustainability, people talk about energy reuse, for example, but little or nothing about waste,” she says. “I noticed that I could work in this field and also in the social field because I saw how much material is rejected and how many people don’t have access to good products.”
Vecchio sells new and used items, such as floors, coatings, sinks, bathroom countertops, and windows. More recently, also furniture and appliances, although it is not the focus. “Many apartment owners, when they receive the property from the builder, refuse the materials that are part of the construction to install others to their liking.”
The startup is responsible for mediating their sale. Interested parties send photos to the team, the materials are evaluated and made available in the online store, generally for at least half the market value. The company takes 30%.
Products that are not sold, the owner is not interested in taking back, or arrive as donations are sent to partner NGOs for use in housing improvement projects for low-income families.
With this, since its foundation, the company has already given a better destination to 150 tons of waste. “The idea is not to leave anything idle and collaborate to reduce construction waste. There is always someone who can make use of it,” she says.
Before founding Zwanga Africa Fashion in 2016 in Macapá (AP), Rejane Soares, 45, was already sure she would work with fashion and social projects. She always identified with the fashion world and didn’t give up on the dream even after being told by a teacher that, as a black woman, she would never be someone who dresses another person; at most, she would clean a stylist’s workspace.
Soares paved her way and aimed at Afro fashion to reclaim pride in her origins. Zwanga, in the Bantu language, means “what is mine, what belongs to me.” She studied fashion at the National University of Colombia and returned trained and eager to open her own business.
In the meantime, Soares had already acquired equipment and raw materials. However, two months after returning to the capital of Amapá, her house was robbed, and almost everything was taken. What remained was a bag with fabric scraps. The episode solidified the idea of working with material that could be used instead of discarded.
Today, Zwanga produces with colorful and vibrant African-inspired fabric scraps, received from other Brazilian ateliers, French Guiana, and even African countries. About a hundred meters of fabric per month become turbans, clothes, earrings, and bags. “When you put scraps together, you create another life. It is gratifying to be part of a universe that rebuilds,” she says.
The entrepreneur explains that the collections are presented with real models in fashion shows, on social media, WhatsApp, and especially by word of mouth. The production is made at the Afro-collaborative space she maintains on the outskirts of the city.
In addition to sewing, Soares trains women to become entrepreneurs as hair braiders, makeup artists, and seamstresses. “Zwanga offers opportunities. I don’t want to get rich; I want enough to pay my bills and have my beer. I think that to get rich, you have to go alone; you can’t take too many people. That’s not my way – someone has to think about the micro too,” she says.
The word transformation accompanies the life of Ariane Santos, 44, from Curitiba (PR). From a peripheral family that always valued education as the basis for change, she studied business administration at the Federal University of Paraná and attended design classes as an extra discipline.
What was a hobby, at a certain point in her life, became vital. Going through turbulent times related to family health problems, she found in the production of notebooks with the reuse of fabric scraps an activity that kept her hands and mind busy.
From this experience, she created Badu Design in 2013. “It is a socio-environmental impact business, with a focus on the circular economy, which operates in the transformation of industrial waste into designed products through upcycling,” she defines.
She explains that the company avoids disposal in landfills and extends the life cycle of materials. Customers inform which waste and the quantity available, and Badu proposes ideas to transform them through upcycling. This is how seat belts from the automotive industry (which did not pass quality control) or from insurers (that are removed from damaged cars), for example, become backpacks and bags.
Santos says that Badu does not see waste as a donation because the company repurchases the finished piece to offer as a gift – the surplus can be sold in the online store.
In addition, the transformation project includes sponsoring circularity education courses for communities. There are already more than 1,500 women graduated. They work both in Badu’s production and in individual jobs. “We call them environmental innovators. The more people within this circle, the better. We involve industry and society for everyone to understand that making environmental change impacts the world,” she concludes.