FEEL GOOD | South African wins R1.19m for her recycling start-up

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Esethu Cenga, 27, along with Lonwabo Mgoduso and Tshepo Bhengu founded the start-up Rewoven in 2017.
Esethu Cenga, 27, along with Lonwabo Mgoduso and Tshepo Bhengu founded the start-up Rewoven in 2017.
  • A textile recycling start-up bagged the Äänit Prize, the Mandela Rhodes Foundation's new award for social impact. 
  • Esethu Cenga, 27, along with Lonwabo Mgoduso and Tshepo Bhengu founded the start-up Rewoven in 2017.
  • Rewoven diverts textile waste from landfills by collecting it from the source and recycling it into new fabric.

A textile recycling start-up has won R1.19 million as part of the Äänit Prize, The Mandela Rhodes Foundation's new award for social impact. 

Esethu Cenga, 27, along with Lonwabo Mgoduso and Tshepo Bhengu founded the start-up Rewoven in 2017.

They are the first recipient of the prize, which was awarded on Saturday.

Every second, the equivalent of a rubbish truckload of clothes was burnt or buried in a landfill. The fast-fashion industry is one of the most polluting in the world.

It generated around 90 million tons of waste annually, of which only 1% was recycled.

Rewoven diverts textile waste from landfills by collecting it from the source and recycling it into new fabric.

Rewoven's manufacturing process uses 99% less water and generated 50% less CO2 emissions than normal production processes.

READ | Nompilo Nxumalo, owner of Ku Green Hands, is a recycling powerhouse at 28 years old

The fabric had the same look and quality as fabric made from virgin fibres. The labour-intensive textile recycling process provided much-needed jobs, particularly for women, who made up the majority of clothing industry workers. 

According to its website, the start-up recycled off-cut and end of roll fabric, unsold inventory, clothing rejects and corporate branded uniforms.

They accepted all mono-material natural fibres, denim, acrylic jersey, fleece, calico, 100% polyester and polycotton blend.

Rewoven's vision was to create a socially and ecologically sustainable way to create clothing and to contribute to more socially and ecologically sustainable ways of living. 

Executive vice-president of the Aspen Institute, Elliot Gerson, said Rewoven was a compelling and innovative textile recycling start-up that brilliantly addressed critical needs for economic development.

Gerson said:

Broad-scale employment, women's empowerment, and planetary responsibility; this enterprise has the potential to be transformative economically, socially and environmentally. It is sustainable by profit and globally scalable.

Mandela Rhodes Foundation chairperson, Professor Njabulo Ndebele, said the awarding of the new prize was a historic moment in the life of the foundation.

"By entrepreneurship, we mean a belief in the critical role played by individual human effort, hard work, innovation and creativity in leading to the betterment of society and Africa's place in the world. Each of the seven finalists beautifully embodies this spirit," he said.

READ ALSO | Tembisa mom turns illegal dump site into vegetable garden

In accepting the award, Cenga thanks the foundation and praised her team.

"Thank you to the foundation first and foremost, I wouldn't be here without the foundation. more than the education and funding, MRF made me see myself. It changed my life and made me see that I could actually do what I wanted to do, and I was always very insecure before that. Thank you to the team at Rewoven - I don't do it alone. I'm really grateful for this opportunity," she said. 

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