Sustainability is a big problem for the fashion industry. As beautiful as the many new collections from H&M or Zara may be, they have an enormous impact on our environment. That is why more and more people are looking for sustainable solutions to create something new with the tons of rubbish that our clothes ultimately become. So does Alina Bassi. In 2019 she founded the start-up Kleidly, which recycles old clothes and turns them into plastic. For this she is now nominated in the category “Sustainability” at the Digital Female Leader Awards.
In the desired interview, the young founder reveals why the topic of sustainability is so important to her, how she came up with her company idea and what advice she would give to other founders.
desired: Which problem did you want to solve with Kleidly?
Alina Bassi: Tons of clothes end up in the trash every day. At the same time, tons of plastic are produced from petroleum. Both are very harmful to the environment. With Kleidly we want to solve both problems by making new plastic from clothing waste.
How do you do this?
On the one hand, we work with companies that produce things from plastic. On the other hand, we cooperate with charities. They receive a large number of clothing donations that they cannot use for quality reasons. Up to 80 percent of the donations are unusable. We try to give these donations a new life by turning them into plastic. I don't want to go into the exact production process too much here. In the end, however, the plastic we make can be used just like any other plastic. So far, for example, we've made clothes hangers out of it. In this way we can come back to the fashion industry and show that we have made something new out of your textile waste.
How did you come up with the idea?
I studied process engineering and initially worked in energy consulting. Later I switched to garbage processing. For example, I worked for a company that made bio-gasoline from household waste and one that made bio-diesel from coffee grounds. So I already had experience with waste processing for a long time. The real idea for Kleidly only came to me when I was visiting my family in Tanzania at the end of 2018. It was there that I saw for the first time where our clothing donations ended up. We kind of dump our rubbish in the Third World countries and think we're doing something good with it. But we send way too much and that is why the donations end up on rubbish dumps, where they pollute the water in the long term. Much is also burned.
So I started doing a lot of research on textile waste to find out where the big problems lie. In doing so, I decided that this is a topic I want to specialize in. This enabled me to convert the expertise I had already gained into my own idea.
Has sustainability always been important to you?
Definitely! I started reading books and articles on sustainability as a teenager and it was clear to me early on that I wanted to work in this area. That's why I studied process engineering at all. I wanted to use it to work in the field of renewable energies, for example. In the end I ended up in a different field that I also like incredibly.
Have you always wanted to start your own company?
Yes, I had this wish very early on. When I worked in larger companies, it always bothered me that I didn't have enough say and couldn't change as much as I would have liked. When I then worked in a start-up, I enjoyed having an important role myself and being able to actively influence things. But I wanted more. The idea of starting something of my own was always there and I put it into practice when the right business idea came up.
Are you your own boss now? How does that feel to you
I love it! But it's definitely much more stressful than being employed. Although I was aware of this beforehand, I only realized how much stress my position would bring with it when I assumed it. You can never really switch off. When your friends go home at 5 p.m., they have free time. That rarely happens in the life of a founder. Often you work until late in the evening or on the weekends. And you are under great pressure – or rather you put yourself under this pressure because you want to achieve your goals. Still, I love running my own company, being my own boss and feeling like I can really change something.
What advice would you give to other women looking to start their own business?
I have two important pieces of advice. The first is to think carefully about what you want to do. You have to find your “why” and work in an area that fills you with passion. My “why” is that I want to achieve something good in the world, that I can use my specific knowledge and that I also do this in an industry that I really love, namely the fashion industry. There are many ups and downs in a founder's life. That is why it is so important to have a goal that drives you and because of which you also tackle unpleasant tasks. This goal was clear to me from a young age, but even if you don't yet know what really drives you, you can find out if you really concentrate on your own wishes.
The second tip is to build a good network. Find mentors and other founders who are in a similar situation and who will accompany you on your journey. When I started my business, I often felt lonely. I didn't have any friends who did anything like that, so I felt that no one really understood my concerns. Then I took part in the “Google Female Founders Program” and found a lot of like-minded people there. Some of the other participants are now my closest friends. We can share everything on our way, which helps a lot. It's good to know that you aren't the only one working on a Sunday morning.
Networking is very difficult for many women. Was that the same for you at first?
In the beginning it was very difficult for me to share my ideas with others. I probably couldn't really express and explain them at all. But it was worth doing it over and over again. It is important to be open and talk to people. If someone wants to introduce you to another person, you should talk to that person. Don't cancel because you are uncomfortable. You never know how you can benefit from a contact, even if it's only through a good conversation and a new perspective.
Thank you for the exciting interview, Alina!
By the way, this year Alina Bassi is a finalist in the "Digital Female Leader Award"! The award, which was launched by Global Digital Women, recognizes women in the digital economy for their special projects. The aim is to make women more visible to give in the industry, to tell their stories and thereby inspire and motivate others. You can find more exciting interviews with inspiring women in our topic series "empowHER":