Green is the new black, bringing bamboo sportswear to the UAE

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A Baembu t-shirt. The camels approve. (Image via Plhong Flores)

Most startup conferences will tell you that perfectionism is an enemy of entrepreneurship. So, for the Dubai-based Singaporean Aimee Changco (below, images via Baembu), it was probably a blessing in disguise that she was forced to launch her startup earlier than planned.

“The main challenge in getting started was to simply start itself,” the 39-year-old tells Wamda. “After almost six months of planning, we still weren’t completely ready... But an opportunity came up for us to be involved in Market OTB. We seized it, went full force and we’ve not stopped since.”

Changco - along with cofounder Matthew King (below) - are the brains behind Baembu, a UAE social enterprise that sells athletic wear made from sustainable materials. Having launched at the beginning of the year, the entrepreneurs have already won praise from the local business community, and have even been invited to present at several high-profile panels, including Pecha Kucha and Fashion Victims.

As producers of the first t-shirts in the UAE to be made 70 percent bamboo and 30 percent organic cotton, Changco says that ethics and sustainability are a core belief for them. “It’s not a marketing ploy,” she tells Wamda. “We spend a lot of time ensuring our products can trace an ethical and sustainable path back to their origins, right through to the bamboo and cotton being organically grown and sourced through certified, fair trading schemes. Even the ink and printing process has to be ecologically as good as you can get.”

And Baembu’s customers agree.

Christopher Karam, regional director for K-Lynn ME tells us Baembu is his favorite sustainable brand, while Unilever MENA’s Rola Awad has been praising the company’s quality.

“Knowing that what I'm wearing is environment-friendly puts a smile on my face as it has all the accreditations,” Awad says.

Going green

At present, cotton makes up approximately a third of fiber consumption in the textile industry, according to a report by the International Cotton Advisory Committee. However, standard cotton production uses fresh water, which puts one of the world’s most precious natural resources in danger.

As consumers become more aware of what they’re buying, more global clothing companies are turning to creating socially conscious fashion. Levi Strauss, for example, now spins recycled plastic bottles into its denim jeans; while H&M has launched H&M Conscious range.

While there are no specific statistics on the sustainable fashion industry - globally or regionally - there’s no doubt that more fashion brands in the UAE are becoming more environmentally friendly.

The Dubai-based Filipino designer, Ezra Santos' latest collection was created out of ‘piña’, a fiber made from the leaves of a pineapple plant. Other brands focusing on sustainable fashion include Future Fashion; The Change Initiative, and Bamboo Boutique.

“Dubai is where we feel there is a growing market of sustainably conscious consumers,” Changco continues. “Slow as the global industry is to make changes, awareness plays a key part and the market here is generating that awareness. People have the conscience; they have the want and need to express themselves by making a conscious decision to invest in these products.”

Why bamboo?

Botanically categorized as a grass, bamboo is considered one of the world’s most sustainable resources, due to its ability to grow quickly. They also do not require insecticides or herbicides. As for its fabric, bamboo is actually softer than cotton, and has insulating and anti-bacterial properties due to the presence of a natural bio-agent, bamboo kun, which repels pests.

In the past, however, bamboo fiber production has come under criticism due to the strong chemical solvents used to make the fabric itself. Changco is quick to point out that they monitor all stages of production.

“Bamboo fiber has been around for many years, but the uniqueness of Baembu is the mix of bamboo and organic fibers, and we’re accredited by the Soil Association; Fair Wear Foundation and Confidence in Textiles product label,” she says. “The raw materials are sourced from Sichuan, and the apparel is created in Turkey. All of the individuals who have worked on it at the various different stages have been treated and paid fairly.”

The future’s bright

Needless to say, it has been a whirlwind six months for Changco and King, so the duo is still looking at ways to maximize their business.

“We have launched Baembu online and in selected sustainable stockists in Dubai,” she says. “Now we are in the process of looking at the best solution to being fully set up.”

And while Changco reveals that she prefers Baembu to be self-funded, she’s not completely ruling out external investment in the future.

“Being self-funded means that every cost is directly coming from our pockets so we scrutinize every dirham spent and invested,” she continues. “Investment is something we would potentially look at in the future, but we need to have established the business model first as a sustainable one before scaling it up.”

At one in the scrap yard with Baembu and yoga. Changco believes that Dubai is home to a growing market of sustainably conscious consumers.

And she’s certainly one busy lady. As well as the day-to-day business, Baembu is also running Ramadan ShoeboxLOVE – an initiative aimed at sending gifts to laborers based in the emirate. Changco was also recently appointed as the only Middle East-based candidate to be part of KSwiss the Board.

“The next five years holds a lot of challenges, but we’re hoping for amazing opportunities,” she concludes. “Our target is to have Baembu with a global reach and a global influence across sustainability and sustainable fashion.”

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