Afrika Day -WDCD (Rethread Africa) [EP.48]
[00:00:00] Benjamin Barwa: It's worth both sides being able to appreciate. From the side of the enterprises to be able to understand that I need to check these boxes when it comes to investment. And if I need to check these boxes, what do I do? Who could be able to assist me? Probably it's not your strength.
[00:00:20] Adrian Jankowiak: Hi, good evening everyone. Hi, Benjamin and Charles, great to have you here. I'm Adrian. Really looking forward to this conversation and finding out more about what's been happening both with K C I C and Rethread Africa and what design can do challenge.
[00:00:36] Glad we're all set up as speakers as well, and we'll be recording the session as well and we can reshare some of the content on our platforms.
[00:00:45] Benjamin and Charles, welcome. How you doing this evening?
[00:00:49] Charles Oyamo: Hi Adrian. I'm well, thank you. Super excited to join the call and meet Benjamin. I don't know Benjamin, if you can remember me a while back last year during climate launch, but we had an engagement with you guys, so it's super nice to meet you again. I think my colleagues will be joining us. They were just on another call right now. I think it's just extending beyond time, but yeah, super excited to be here.
[00:01:10] Benjamin Barwa: Thanks, Charles, nice to meet you again. I think in this space we always cross paths and yeah. Congrats. I think you're making quite good strides. And Adrian, thanks for hosting us and inviting us for this. I am well. Definitely I'm looking forward to this conversation.
[00:01:26] Adrian Jankowiak: Wonderful. Thank you. And thanks Charles. Yes, congratulations and all good the teams joining us. How has the last month or so been since the winners were announced? What have you been up to?
[00:01:40] Charles Oyamo: The last month or so has been, has been quite busy for us. We didn't expect the engagement that will come out of us winning. So it's been busy for us back to back, but also it's, it's also been a time for us to sort of validate the idea that yes, we are doing something.
[00:01:57] We've been up to some couple of launches and the most recent one was today when we officially launched our website just to coincide with the Africa Day. So the last month or so has been very, very busy for us meetings back to forth just traveling from that whole value chain, from farm to fabric.
[00:02:13] We've been to Homa Bay, we've been around the streets of Nairobi in Lang'ata. Just figuring out who can you work with, who understands what you're doing.
[00:02:21] Adrian Jankowiak: Brilliant. Brilliant. Thanks Charles. Hi, Metesh. Welcome.
[00:02:25] Mitesh Varsani: Thanks. Thanks, Adrian.
[00:02:26] Adrian Jankowiak: Welcome.
[00:02:27] Mitesh Varsani: Really excited to be here.
[00:02:28] Adrian Jankowiak: Thank you. Thank you. We may not have met or I don't think we have, so, just a quick introduction to myself. I'm a industrial designer myself by profession, and first came to Kenya working for an N G O in water and sanitation and through the work that I was doing there really witnessed that we could have done with many more Kenyan designers in the field.
[00:02:53] And that led me to start Nairobi Design Week, the annual festival. And we've just had eighth edition and every year we have a different theme. This year that theme is: it's what we make it. So we feel really rethread Africa embodies a lot of that theme. I'm really excited to find out more about what you guys do as well and hopefully we can explore how we can encourage more entries from Kenya and from the East Africa region for what design can do as well. And really grateful to have Benjamin as well, and K C I C, who are a regional partner for 'What Design Can Do' challenge. And we'd really love to get insights into K C I C, Rethread Africa and how else we can support sustainable design as a community in Kenya and beyond.
[00:03:44] Benjamin, how are you doing tonight? Maybe we can start with a introduction from yourself.
[00:03:49] Benjamin Barwa: Yeah, sure. Thanks. Thanks. For those who I have not interacted with, Benjamin Barwa is my name.
[00:03:55] I'm a project management expert, but then I'm also an expert in SME advisory with a bias on climate circularity as well as environment enterprises. Currently, I am supporting K C I C, which is the Kenya Climate Innovation Center in terms of implementing programs and projects that are supporting environment and climate projects and more so just supporting SMEs in Kenya and Africa to ensure that these SMEs are sustainable. They get to scale.
[00:04:25] And it's great to see that through the collaborations and partnerships that we have had over the years with 'What Design Can Do' whereby we've had a couple of interesting and innovative projects emerge like Rethread Africa that is on this space. And also the collaborations that we've had with Nairobi Design Week and more so in terms of just being able to ensure that when it comes to the local ecosystem, then we are able to actually push the awareness when comes regards to sustainability and circularity.
[00:04:55] I believe there is quite a big opportunity for us here in Africa and also in the whole globe for us to look and employ the circularity models that are coming into play.
[00:05:05] Adrian Jankowiak: Thank you, Benjamin. Thank you. Let's move on to Charles and Minesh and let's find out about Rethread Africa as well.
[00:05:14] Charles Oyamo: Yeah. Thank you Adrian. I love something that Benjamin said that we sort of figure out, sort of map, what kind of solutions are coming out from every single part of this great continent and how we can amplify that.
[00:05:26] And for that very reason, I'm entirely grateful to Benjamin and the team at K C I C because in one way or the other, they played a very major role into what is presently Rethread Africa. So that then leads me to segue to what Rethread Africa is. And Rethread africa is a material tech startup, and essentially what we do is we build the technology to turn agro-waste into sustainable bio based alternatives to plastic based synthetics.
[00:05:48] We started late last year, so around Q four of last year. At the time we were starting we were looking at corn husk as a feedstock but we're very limited in resources and resources, knowledge and technology to do that. So then went back to the drawing board and tried to figure out, okay, which other kind of agro-waste could we use?
[00:06:05] And presently we are, we are seeing very promising results with pineappley fiber. But like I said earlier, essentially we are the business of agro-waste and not specifically pineapple fiber. So we're just figuring out what is the easiest route to commercialization and in a small way, playing our role in the fight against the climate crisis.
[00:06:23] We using materials as our tool.
[00:06:25] Mitesh Varsani: Thanks Charles. Fantastic. It's usually very hard to come in and speak after Charles, because Charles was a student, or rather is a student of communications. But maybe I can just introduce myself again briefly. My name's Mitesh.
[00:06:37] I am the co-founder at Rethread Africa with Charles and two others, and I am the CFO of the team. So, what we're trying to do is, You know, seeing that we've won Make It Circular, we are basically trying to get into market now. We've been recently engaging buyers, fashion designers and the like, so that we can start producing on a larger scale and probably start selling soon so that, you know, Adrian and your team, you can start wearing our fantastic clothes, say within the next six months to come.
[00:07:09] So that's what we've been up to recently. We're looking at how much material we can make in the couple of months and yeah, that's basically what's going on within.
[00:07:17] Adrian Jankowiak: Thanks, Mitesh. And we double up to connect designers and creatives to industry. So if you guys are in need of designers to utilize the, the fabrics, then there's plenty there.
[00:07:29] We had really great use of sustainable resources at this year's festival. We had recycled denim and then someone in the community doing dyes, natural dyes for fabrics. And really that next step of being able to provide the whole fabric out of sustainable resources within Kenya is extremely interesting and it's good to find out you guys are already looking on how to scale the process. You started with corn husks. And so maybe you can take us through some of that development process from the very start on how you guys were thinking on creating this business.
[00:08:05] It seems like you had ideas and structure and were kind of brainstorming around some of the resources available and what to do with them. So how was that process?
[00:08:15] Charles Oyamo: Yeah. Thank you for pointing that out. In my previous life before Rethread, I was building an agritech.
[00:08:20] So sort of my life has been centered around providing solutions that could in a way benefit small order farmers, majorly, because I also come from a smaller farming community. So going into corn husk, it was the most natural sort of agro-waste we could, we could easily identify and see. And at the time, our tech lead Vincent was researching on corn husk as a material and breaking it down at the molecular level.
[00:08:44] So, we got talking and then we were like, since corn husk is readily available, it's the most grown crop, not only in Kenya, but also across the continent and in the world. And surprisingly to us, after doing the research, we realized that almost 85% of corn husk is never used or it's used in low value applications like in some cases animal feed, right?
[00:09:05] So, so it was then how can we give this... what is in other communities waste because if you go to the southern parts of the country where corn husk doesn't have any use after harvest. So farms usually burn the waste.
[00:09:18] So then it was working with those communities to figure out how could we create more value for corn husk. And then the science behind converting the corn husk into material was really, really the same. It made a lot of sense. On paper it worked.
[00:09:31] When we now came down to try and prototype the material, we then realized that we required significantly more resources. And also because corn husk is... essentially the root to fabric for corn husk is more of pulping the fibers from the corn husk itself. We needed to use alkaline solutions and the end results was lye, right?
[00:09:52] So we were here to come up with a solution of what do we do to that lye? Because essentially it makes no sense for you to have a sustainable feedstock or a sustainable raw material, but the end product doesn't come out really sustainable. We are looking at which material is not only sustainable, but in producing the material we stick through to the challenge of making it circular. That's how we learned that there are natural fibers, like, like pineappley fiber, banana fiber, which is more commonly known in our country, that we could extract mechanically. We could use non-toxic chemicals. And in the case of pineapple fiber, we are using zero chemicals to produce it.
[00:10:30] And with that, we are able to see a significant shift in how we could do it, because also the bar entry was really, really low for pineapple leaves compared to corn husk in terms of research and technology. So back to the question of how, what was the thought process behind corn husk was number one: we needed to get a food stock that could have impact when you buy it from farmers because something that get lost in the detail is we don't take agro-waste from farmers just like that.
[00:10:54] We create value to those farmers.
[00:10:55] Our supply chain buys the agro-waste from farmers, and then we need to produce... we usually say we produce better products in a better way. In producing better products in a better way, we realize that there are shortcomings with corn husk that could be addressed with research and and development.
[00:11:10] But at the moment, we don't have the resources all the time to do that. So we are now focusing on other ways. But essentially the process of the technology is more or less the same. The the bit that are changing in the process are very small compared to the feedstock we're using.
[00:11:23] So that was our thought process. Number one, get waste from farmers, give them value for their waste. Number two, make material that are... and this is very, very important. Material that is comparable, if not superior to existing alternatives because it's one thing to have to have a material that yes is made from sustainable sources, but if the material has some shortcomings in terms of the quality standard that the market expects.
[00:11:45] It's a zero sum game at the end of the day. And then finally, we needed to make materials that at its end of life, when it gets there, it's kept in use for as long as possible, but when it's end of life comes, the material goes back to nature naturally.
[00:11:59] And it decomposes in a way that works with nature. I'd be happy to explain more because I can go on and on.
[00:12:04] Adrian Jankowiak: Please do. Yeah. We'd love to know then in terms of your material of choice, how did you land on it?
[00:12:10] Charles Oyamo: So, right now we're working with pineapple leaves and we're seeing very promising results. Last week we worked with a lady from Lang'ata and we were able to weave our first piece of fabric. And from what we can see, the whole process was manual from extraction to spinning to weaving.
[00:12:26] But we're seeing very promising results in terms of the qualities of that fabric. From the strength to things like the color fastness and how it responds to water. We still have some shortcomings in the material itself because we have a strong feeling it's not what we want to put out there in the market because sticking to one of our values of when an end consumer has interaction with that material, the fact that the material is sustainable should come up as an added advantage as an ah, oh, by the way, the material is so good, but on top of that, it is sustainable, right?
[00:12:56] The end residue of what we are taking out of the process should not harm the environment in any way, shape, or form.
[00:13:01] Also I think it's very important to mention that in the materials we are using, yes, you extract the fibers, but what remains behind are the plant material. We figured out a process that we can turn that plant material back into compost that can then be taken back into these farms.
[00:13:15] So right now how the supply chain works is: we are organizing farmers in clusters, around a model farmer in a given radius. Once these farmers need to harvest or need extraction they then do it as a community or, or as a collective. And then we do the extraction at the farm gate level.
[00:13:32] And what this enables us to do is: we don't need to transport a lot of bulk material or bulk weight to a certain processing facility because then the transportation has some emissions in the way. So by putting the extraction of the first bit of the processing as a farm gate level, we are able to, number one, reduce the cost of moving the material. Number 2 and most importantly, for the Smallholder farmers is able to give them back the compost that comes out of the residue one's without the fibers as a value added on service to them.
[00:14:02] We're also working to figure out how then could we make these compost that are giving to farmers better in terms of, it's not just plant residuals that we make behind is taken back to the farm, but you're able to compost it in the right manner so that when it gets back to the farm, it actually helps the farm and it doesn't sort of hold methane and goes back to harm the soil.
[00:14:23] Once extraction happens, we can then move on to the process of refining the fibers because yes, fibers from plants like pineapple leaves can be spun and woven after extraction but for us, the process was how then do we come in to fill in the gap?
[00:14:39] If you follow the textile industry, you've probably seen cases of the likes of Rivatex in Eldoret or Thika clothing mills in Thika importing cotton from countries like Tanzania or Uganda. So for us it was how then can you convert this fiber to be in the same shape and form that cotton is in so that these large textile manufacturers can then use this material and feed it into existing equipment.
[00:15:02] That is something we're working on. Somebody once say that the fight against the climate crisis is not a competition, but it's more collaboration, right? So how then do we come in and work with existing supply chains, existing players in the industry or in the market to figure out, okay, this is what we've been doing for the longest, but we are offering a solution that requires you to uptake it at no extra cost but it has a far more significant value to both people and the planet.
[00:15:28] So that was the thought process behind what we're doing and that is where we are presently, and that's our frame of mind or how we're thinking about our supply chain. And it's anchored on working with farmers, reducing the distance or reducing the transportation distances. And then thirdly, collaboration over competition with existing industry players.
[00:15:48] Adrian Jankowiak: Thank you, Charles. What's really impressive is that you guys have really seemed to consider every part of the value chain and the last mile aspect that brings a lot of ideas down as well.
[00:16:01] Hopefully that's something you can deal with as you've said. It's really interesting that you've covered every aspect and where you are not the experts, you are working with the experts on that particular part of the value chain. So where do you see yourselves then as you uncover this process?
[00:16:17] Where do you see yourselves being the experts on the value chain? The second part of the question is how does that fit into your current vision for your business plan?
[00:16:28] Mitesh Varsani: I think I'll tackle them both at the same time. So what we see ourselves say, I don't know, 10 years down the line is where someone, as Charles said, someone who's wearing the fabric, because it's fantastic quality and the sustainability part is an added advantage.
[00:16:44] It's not like you're buying the fabric because it is sustainable, but you're buying the fabric because it is greater compared to the fabrics out there. And it being sustainable is an added advantage. So seeing a few years down the line, you know, we expect to have a wide range of feedstocks we're using, we are continuously iterating, continuously failing and continuously succeeding in some areas.
[00:17:08] That's what makes it fantastic because that means today pineapple leaves work for us, tomorrow something else might not. The third day, something else might. And so it calls for intense research and development as we grow forward.
[00:17:20] In terms of where we stand in the sustainability area. We hope to be at the forefront of things that are considered to be sustainable, but are not really given the importance in African countries because people say, you know, certain things are more important, food security is more important, for instance. Political security is more important. So innovation is geared towards such areas, but maybe it's time we give something to the rest of the world from Africa.
[00:17:47] And that's why let's start building sustainable things that the first world might import from us. Because ultimately if they continue using non-sustainable ways of designing or of working with fashion, the impact is not only to Africa, the impact is to the world. So why not get Africa to sell the sustainable aspect to the rest of the world. And that's where we see ourselves in the sustainable scale in terms of where we see ourselves in the next couple of years. I hope when everyone who is listening in, or everyone who has hit a like on any of our socials or anyone who has ever worked with us or you know, seen as somewhere is going to be literally everyone across the globe is going to be able to walk into a store and buy something that was designed by Rethread Africa or by the principles of Rethread Africa.
[00:18:38] So ultimately, that's the long term vision. Maybe something more closer, maybe something five years down the line is we hope that we can get big major fashion brands in fashion... designers to get access to our material so that they can innovate, they can show their skill, they can show their creativity using something that will make a difference.
[00:18:58] That's something that is not going to end up in back to earth without having any benefits to the Earth. So probably five years down the line, we're going to have two or three different types of feedstocks we're working with, and people are going to be asking for our material, buying willingly our material, and we will become the next big African thing.
[00:19:19] Love it. Yeah. And well thought through. It's really exciting what you guys are doing. And just that last thing that you said about different feed stocks with the continent, that is the exciting part and the challenging part, isn't it? The local context of what particular vegetables, fruits, et cetera, you have available in the region.
[00:19:40] You're gonna have to learn how to work with that. But then that knowledge is also going to inspire further development and further looking into already existing processes. Do you guys see yourselves then manufacturing being the kind of R and D technology as well as creating manufacturing?
[00:19:59] And then, it may be too early to say in all of this, of course, but is that where you see yourself as experts and then kind of as well creating your own designs and then working with the local farmers?
[00:20:11] Charles Oyamo: Thank you for that question. I think more importantly there is immense opportunity in research and developing these technologies because all across the continent from the Kitenge in the East to the Kente in the West of the continent, we already have existing Textile mills, right? So if we as Rethread Africa are to do everything from research and development and building the supply chain and then going into manufacturing, it'll be too huge task for us at the moment.
[00:20:37] So at the moment, we're focusing on more on research and development building the technology that then turns agro-waste into a material that can get into the existing supply chain and could be produced at scale but also the reasoning behind that is not only because of the resource constraint, but also if we were to do everything by ourselves, it'll take us a lot of time for us to have tangible impact across the continent. And this brings me back to what Mitesh mentioned and in the next five or 10 years looking ahead also being, because we had a conversation with a good friend of ours from Nigeria specifically.
[00:21:09] And we're talking about how everywhere I go around the world and you see a colorful print that has a lot of shades and patterns... that is recognizable as African print but little is known of African fabric that does not exist, right? So I think for us particularly, it's an incredible chance for us to develop a technology that then builds African fabric so that anyone could go anywhere and ask what feedstock made this fabric?
[00:21:34] And they'll say it could be cassava grown in Nigeria or Ghana or corn grown in Kenya. And that will be identifiable as African fabric, right? So that is where we see ourselves playing into. If you are to go and build everything, I think like Benjamin will say, if we are to build everything, then the reality of that happening might require a lot more resources and that is not something that unfortunately have access to at the moment. So I think for us, filling in the gap between agro waste, then building the technology, turn that agro waste into material that then gets into existing supply chain or existing infrastructure, and then using existing rails to sort of amplify that change because look at it this way, if you are responsible for every single agro-waste across the continent, then we'll need immense sources for us to be able to put up production facilities, supply chains, standardization terms of quality for us to churn out fabric that is identifiable regardless of where it comes from.
[00:22:29] But if you are only to focus on the research and development and then work on probably licensing agreements with existing textile manufacturers, then it's a very different conversation in terms of scale. We could go from zero to probably a million square meters of fabric in a single year, right?
[00:22:45] The possibilities that are opened up when we work with the collaboration model where we focus on the recent development and the technology behind it and then leave people who've been doing production for a very long period of time to then handle that is a very incredible opportunity for us because also AfCFTA coming into play then borders and trade will be easier facilitated across the continent.
[00:23:09] So I think we stand a greater chance of impact and scale if you focus on the research and then leave people who've done production and scaling production to do what they're best suited to do.
[00:23:20] And Benjamin, would you like to add in terms of some of that guidance and advice that you guys have been providing and how K C I C fits into this process as well?
[00:23:34] Benjamin Barwa: Yeah, sure. Thanks. Yeah. So maybe just to mention being an entrepreneur support organization, there's a lot that we have to offer, and more so for the local entrepreneurs here in Kenya. One of the lessons that has come over time is we come to realize that we have very brilliant ideas.
[00:23:50] We have brilliant innovations that emerge over time but unfortunately some of them don't get to be amplified as they need to be. And then also the other thing is a number of times you'll tend to find the entrepreneurs might be more of the technical experts. So in terms of looking at their business from the commercial side of it, there tends to be a gap.
[00:24:10] And it's something we've seen over time and come to see that for some of these innovations or even majority of them they will need finance to scale. They would probably need grant financing or some seed capital just at the onset to be able to move these innovations they have probably from ideation to put the prototyping stage, but it doesn't stop there.
[00:24:31] Post that they probably need more investment to be able to scale be it the forms of now equity financing, be it the forms of concessional debts, which is something then we value in this ecosystem and have gone an extra mile to be able to support such like enterprises to access such type of support.
[00:24:50] And maybe just to take a step back in regards to the opportunity that is available here, when we look at the whole space to do its circularity, when we look at Kenya and Africa we have tons and tons of waste that we are generating every year. For example, if we are looking at when it comes to just plastic bottles we are looking at over 50 million bottles that are being used monthly.
[00:25:13] But then when we look at the flip side in terms of recycling these, we're at barely 10%. There's that whole opportunity of 90%, which we still need to take advantage of when we look at e-waste, that's another whole space whereby there's a lot that then we could be able to take that advantage of that opportunity over probably 70,000 tons. And then we only just recycling like 20%. And it doesn't stop there. Locally when it comes to things like food waste, when it comes to textiles, when it comes to the construction space, there's a bit of things that I would say we are doing them wrong.
[00:25:50] And in this day and time with the knowledge that we have, with some solutions that we have seen work... it is high time that then we are able to have local solutions. And I like what we said at the onset, how can we have these local solutions amplified to get to a global stage? Because indeed we do have local solutions that then we could be able to amplify so that we are able to make it global and see indeed there are solutions that are coming out from Africa, whereby we could look at aspects to do with knowledge transfer but one thing also I'd emphasize is there's a whole aspect to do with then how we get to commercialize all these innovations because one of the things we tend to see with these innovations they would probably get to a certain stage and if they don't get the handholding or the support that they need, then they tend to be stuck.
[00:26:35] And it is sad to have entrepreneurs and innovators and these designers having to walk through a journey that some of us have been there before. There's a need to open up the space in terms of giving them more mentorship, more handholding to make the journey more easier for them, for them not to repeat mistakes that we have done before so that they could learn faster, fail faster, and build better and more innovative solutions.
[00:27:02] Then the other thing, collaboration. In the local space, we do have a number of entrepreneur support organizations that are supporting enterprises.
[00:27:11] One of the things I say is a dream I'd want to have is sort of like how the N G O council or even the council that supports the people with disabilities, whereby we have a database of all these enterprises and what has been done for them because we sometimes get to a point and find that there's a lot of duplication of efforts and with this duplication of efforts, then there's a lot of waste in that whole process to support them. So, case and point, if we look at Rethread and maybe KCIC has been able to support them if it is with finance even if it's with technical assistance, if it is with advisory, it'll be very open, prudent in some way to know.
[00:27:49] It's sort of some open information that this business has been able to unlock certain number of milestones. So it makes no sense to take them back through the journey they have been through, but probably now we need to just focus on what needs to be done in the next phase.
[00:28:07] So that also in terms of motivating and being with these enterprises through the journey, they actually feel the real impact of the interventions that are being done. But at the end of the day when we reflect, there's still more investment that needs to go towards the sustainable design space.
[00:28:26] There is also more to do with awareness. I tend to feel sometimes that we in this space actually know the problem. We actually know the solutions. But I feel it's high time that we need to make much more noise about it. Much more noise to the extent that how do we one day get to say that we even have a curriculum in Kenya that actually focuses on circularity, not just at the higher level of education, but even the children who are in probably kindergarten, lower primary and the likes are able to actually appreciate and also be the agents of change. So the time is ripe for Kenya, the time is ripe for Africa. The time is ripe for the whole globe.
[00:29:11] And I think when we look at the circularity space, this is one of the areas that then we need to focus a lot of investments around.
[00:29:19] Adrian Jankowiak: And what are some of those recurring themes and areas that you see some of the early stage businesses, like you mentioned, where they could work on the other general areas and especially in that early stage where you said the businesses tend to kind of have to hover because they've created an idea, but they don't have the next stage of funding and perhaps business acumen as well.
[00:29:45] Benjamin Barwa: Yes. Thank you. In regards to that, I will mention that there's that to do with being able to accept that you don't know it all, so you don't know it all in the sense that you would accept to be coached. You would accept to be mentored.
[00:29:59] You would accept to take other individual's opinions in terms of maybe you need to refine your strategy. Maybe you need to rethink your model. And probably even just go an extra length to be able to benchmark with other similar innovations that have been there. One of the things I have appreciated and I've been doing over my career is being able to support enterprises to actually implement proof of concepts.
[00:30:25] The beauty about this is a proof of concept will either work or will either fail. And the best thing that will happen at the end is being able to document these success stories, being able to document these failures and being able to see what is it that could be done better. So a couple of this information is already available. I think in Kenya when we look at like the waste sector there's already a couple of innovations that have come up when it comes to wastewater recycling, when it comes to probably recyclable packaging, probably waste to fuel when it comes to converting waste to organic fertilizer.
[00:31:02] There's a lot of things that have been done. There's a lot of things that have come up in terms of improvement. So I believe like for enterprises that then they should be able to leverage on this existing information to be able to benefit their businesses. The other thing is also to be able to appreciate that it's a journey. It's a journey. Rome was not building a day. Every day, every week, every month, we have to appreciate that the business will probably have to iterate what needed to be done based on the learnings. And outta these learnings, it can only get better. So a number of times I tend to see like innovators or the entrepreneurs wanting to go big all at once.
[00:31:41] You have to take sort of like an agile approach in terms of executing this so that you can only keep it doing as fast as you can, but thinking through it as smart as you can, and at the end of the day, being able to get a better solution. Another thing I would probably say is there's always a big conversation around accessing financing and technical assistance.
[00:32:03] It sounds as easy as it would just to say it. I want money. Give me the money. But unfortunately it doesn't work that way. And I tend to think like then we need to empower innovators more just to be able to understand what is it in terms of investment instruments are available in the ecosystem, what it actually takes for one to be able to access these investment instruments because sometimes you will interact with entrepreneurs. Try to have them describe your model to you. It's a bit of a challenge. Try to have them pitch to you probably in three minutes. It's a bit of a challenge. Try to have them probably explain some bits and pieces of their financials, their financial health, and they still would struggle on that.
[00:32:49] So it's worth both sides being able to appreciate. From the side of the enterprises to be able to understand that I need to check these boxes when it comes to investment. And if I need to check these boxes, what do I do? Who could be able to assist me? Probably it's not your strength.
[00:33:06] Then from there are experts who are in the field who are available to support be it at a cost, be it for free. But then at the end of the day, it is wise to be able to appreciate this support that is there. And maybe lastly, I would just be able to mention about the aspect to do with the communication bit of it.
[00:33:23] You might have a good solution. You might have something that is the next big thing that we are looking forward to, to be able to solve our problems but then depending on the context, the environment, the audience, that one is engaging. It is quite important to be able to bring out some aspects.
[00:33:41] I think in the case of sustainable design, in the case of circularity, if we are looking at some aspects to do with climate adaptation, if it is an angle to do with mitigation, it is quite important to be able to bring out these aspects. So then whoever you are relating with in terms of the audience could be able to connect with, if you are talking about water saving, if you're talking about a reduction of emissions, if you're talking about reusing like textiles, if you're talking about giving items extended life.
[00:34:12] That whole impact at the end of the day has to come out. So I think we get to a point whereby it's not just business as usual, but then at least we need to push it more in terms of then how we are able to communicate with impact so that at least once we are able to communicate with these impact, then we are able to connect with the right audiences that would actually be looking for some of these solutions that we do have.
[00:34:36] Adrian Jankowiak: Thank you Benjamin, that's really useful. Great to hear about mentors and finding mentors, whether in person or digitally or even online courses and videos is always really useful.
[00:34:48] Rethread Africa guys, how have you benefited so far from the What Design Can Do program? What have the insights been and the reflections that you've gained to maybe adjust your plan and so far and how is the What Design Can Do program going so far?
[00:35:05] Charles Oyamo: Yeah. Thank you. So I think that question ties into what Benjamin said about recognizing that we can't do it alone. And for us and the What Design Can Do journey. One of the greatest insights we've gotten is the fact that there are other people who are building solutions in the same space, or have the same thinking.
[00:35:22] Their day-to-day might not be as similar as Rethread is, but just that peer review, touching base with them and just figuring out what sort of... some of them are older than we are, so they're figuring out, in terms of the business age, they're figuring out when they were at our stage or when they're encountering the challenges we are encountering, how did they approach these challenges? And just learning how we could approach them better really helped us a lot. Secondly, mentorship. Just having industry expert, be it in the field of textile engineering or finances or impact because for us, impact is a big thing.
[00:35:55] And if we can't able to measure our impact, like Benjamin was saying, then we'll be speaking a very foreign language to the audiences that we're having. So just getting people to guide us in terms of how do we be intentional about what sort of impact are we looking to get?
[00:36:10] And then how do you measure that impact so that you're able to know, okay, this is where we are two months ago. This is where we are right now, this is where we are going two months. Also finally and most importantly, it's the fact that the whole learning journey has been tailor made or custom made in a way that suits our need as a business at this very moment.
[00:36:26] Because at the end of the day, we need to be sustainable. We need to have the resource to continue doing the research that we're doing and churning out the products because it's a good thing we are doing. But then if we can't be present here next year at a time like this, then we are doing a disservice to not only ourselves, but also to the environment.
[00:36:44] We started out with this promise that we want to help fix this particular problem we are saying. So just figuring out the business that then accompanies that whole journey or story is very, very important for us.
[00:36:55] So three things.
[00:36:56] Number one, getting in touch with and learning from our peers from across the globe. They're at different stages and they're of development and of business. So just learning from them and just sharing with them how it is we do things here.
[00:37:09] Number two, the mentorship sessions that are coming along.
[00:37:11] And then number three was, currently it's the tailor-made training that come with this.
[00:37:15] But also just to say that I think we also ought to give credit to entrepreneurs from our country, particularly because of the fact that I think almost 10% of the application submitted were from Kenya, 10% if not more. And that shows the work that the Entrepreneurs support organization like the Kenya Climate Innovation Center doing to support people to move from just having this beautiful idea in their head to putting it down on paper and actually actualizing it.
[00:37:40] All hope is not lost because essentially I feel like a lot of people are doing incredible work outside here and we are privileged to come to Nairobi, decide with Adrian, with Mitesh. We were part of the experience even though I think it was only for a day or two, but we met people who are doing incredible stuff and it'll be very encouraging for you guys to know that one of the people we are looking at working with in terms of designing the fabric itself. We met at Nairobi Design Week. He's from Kibera Fashion Week. So, I think just identifying that creating spaces for people to come out and share what they're building, what problems they're solving, and just sharing the knowledge that received through the process is really important because everybody can't be rebuilding these structures from ground up.
[00:38:21] It takes a lot of time and resources that unfortunately as a world and as a country we don't have access to because time is not on our side in the fight against the climate crisis. So, these spaces has really enabled us to progress because we are built by community.
[00:38:34] And right now that community happens to be, What Design Can Do. They make it a challenge. And by extension, Nairobi Design Week, Kenya Climate Innovation Center and what we're able to get from all this community and all this engagement is what then comes out as the product that Africa is making.
[00:38:50] It's not a solo sport. And, the biggest gain we are receiving from being one of the winners is the community that we are getting into and the kind of introductions we're getting and the kind of networks we're tapping into.
[00:39:01] Adrian Jankowiak: That's really wonderful to hear Charles and thank you and really great that you connected with Kibera Fashion Week. I hope that we get to see some Rethread Africa textiles and clothes made with those textiles exhibiting at a future design week for sure.
[00:39:19] Mitesh Varsani: Benjamin we are moving towards market and what would be the one thing you would tell us to be very careful of?
[00:39:25] Benjamin Barwa: Yes. Thanks for that Mitesh. So I think probably three things I could pick out. One would be in terms of being able to bring out clearly what is your unique value proposition. So for me, at the end of the day, when I look at be it a product, be it a service that I'd want to access of course one of the key things that stands out is, what is the price point?
[00:39:49] But the most important thing is what is the value? And it's something that needs to come out clearly when you are communicating. So what is the derived value that I would get from actually buying your product? It'll be something that you clearly communicate because then it connects with the end user who would be wanting your product.
[00:40:10] If the end client is somebody who is conscious about the environment, who is conscious about climate, and then actually could be able to connect with the product that you do have as well as how you are sustainably sourcing for the raw materials, then that would be a plus.
[00:40:24] The other thing is also to, of course, have a clear marketing strategy in terms of how you're going to go to the market. So at the end of the day, it's taking just a step back and reflect on your go to market strategy and get to look at it and say in terms of the channels that you are targeting to be able to employ when you want to reach the end users.
[00:40:43] Have you been able to completely exhaust all the channels that are there? And also the other thing is just in terms of being able to map out the end users who are buying the product. Who are they? Where are they? It's a conversation that at the end of the day needs to be pushed further just to have a clear picture of the market.
[00:40:58] So, how many people this product will interest. But then also beyond that, how many people probably you could be able to acquire in terms of clients and the better even, repeat clients in the long term, which then also gives you a bigger picture of, in terms of sustainability, how far could you push your product?
[00:41:18] But then now the other thing is also now to look at it in terms of the short term, which are these low hanging fruits? Maybe that is like now the serviceable obtainable market for now. What is it that then you could be able to quickly push? So I think with such like metrics, then you could be able to have a much more clear calculation of what revenue is it that your business could be able to generate and which could probably paint a clear picture in terms of sustainability.
[00:41:42] Last but not least, I think it's unfortunate sometimes in the local market we do have these brilliant, innovative ideas. So at times, it's worth noting who you communicate to. I've had cases whereby entrepreneurs have had chances to be able to B2B in terms of B2B businesses.
[00:42:01] But then we tend to find that, at the end of the day, the ideas or the innovations are probably stolen from them, which is quite unfortunate. Depending on where the product is in terms of development, it's worth having conversations with maybe the IP specialist, just to be able to see in terms of the iterations that have been done in term to the product... do we get to a point of looking at how to protect the IP, the brand around this so that then we don't have unfair practices happening behind the company's back, but above all also is in terms of communication and who you communicate to because for every business you would want to have that unique thing that makes it stand out. And that's your secret recipe at the end of the day. You're protecting your innovation, you're protecting your brand. And these quick wins that you people are making right now are not eroded in the future, due to some probably unlawful or some unethical practices that are happening behind the scenes.
[00:43:03] Adrian Jankowiak: Benjamin, thank you for that. That's really useful. And both of the intellectual property discussion and everything else.
[00:43:10] So thank you everyone for joining us and congratulations first of all, Rethread Africa and good luck with launching.
[00:43:19] I'm sure we'll see your product soon. Give us a call as soon as it's ready and we'll help make something with it. Benjamin as well, really grateful to have had you on. Your knowledge is proving invaluable to the entire community.
[00:43:33] Thank you.
[00:43:34] Charles Oyamo: Thank you Adrian for having us.
[00:43:36] This was really insightful. We do hope to continue this conversation and in case anyone has any questions about our process or how we do what we do, please do reach out to us. We have a very friendly, sort of open door policy. We really, really want to share with people the process of what we're doing. So thank you for having us and thank you for giving us the platform. I'm really, really grateful to have had Benjamin specifically on this call because Benjamin is one of those go-to people in terms of turning innovations into businesses at scale, because it's very specific about the details he needs.
[00:44:07] And if you look at them in retrospect, they really make a lot of sense. So thank you Benjamin for sharing your insights on this space.
[00:44:14] Benjamin Barwa: Yeah, from my end. Thanks Adrian. I really appreciate being a part of this space. I looked forward to meeting Charles and the team at some point, and I think this was an opportune time to begin and get to hear where they are. Definitely look to connect with them further from this.
[00:44:30] I really love what the Nairobi Design Week is doing. I believe there's quite a lot of potential in this space. Personally and also as KCIC, we look forward to seeing how we could be able to collaborate more so that, we could be able to have some much more interventions in this space.
[00:44:46] Yeah. Thanks. Thanks all.
[00:44:48] Adrian Jankowiak: Thank you. Everyone have a great evening, and we'll catch you another time.
In this episode, we congratulate one of the winners of the What Design Can Do: Make it Circular challenge—Rethread Africa; The team is developing an efficient process to turn agricultural waste into biodegradable textile fabric.
The fabric is also designed in partnership with nature to break down and re-enrich the soil at the end of its life. Their big hairy ambitious goal is to replace 15% of polyester over the next decade.
In November 2022, a group of university students came together to change the world. Charles Oyamo and Mitesh Varsani from Rethread join us to share their experience, goals, and the challenges they faced along the way.
Their strategy involves working with using existing materials and resources in order to free up more land for food production and by extension reducing the reliance on unsustainable synthetics.
His mission is to assist start-ups such as Rethread Africa to flourish and understand the commercial landscape which is often lacking among entrepreneurs.
Are you looking to start your own business?
Tune in today to find out more. Picture Credits Rethread Africa showcasing the process of turning pineapple waste to a biodegradable fabric