Genia Mineeva, the founder of London-based ethical handbag brand BEEN, started off as a political journalist at BBC and took to campaigning and advocacy work for the United Nations, Change.org and the Naked Heart Foundation as her second career.
Her eventual move into the world of fashion was triggered by coffee cup-induced epiphany, where Mineeva found herself questioning why everyday objects had to go to waste.
Mineeva thus launched BEEN in 2018 to hone the untapped potential of innovative recycled materials rescued from landfills, which has been pledged by hundreds on Kickstarter.
As part of the FUTURE20 incubator programme, BEEN has also been selected among the UK’s 20 most innovative startups working to address the most pressing global and local challenges. She speaks to 8Shades about her views on textile waste and how she’s innovating with the way we recycle fashion.
How has your previous career in political journalism and humanitarianism influenced your approach towards fashion and retail?
I guess not coming from the fashion industry has been really helpful and unhelpful in equal measures! When I first had the idea of starting BEEN London and spoke to various people in the industry, I was shocked by how things were seen as the usual common practice. No one seemed to know who really made their garments.
Everyone preferred to turn a blind eye to the terrible working conditions, modern-day slavery and even child labour. It really felt like there was a culture of choosing not to know anything about their supply chain, plus a culture of putting profits first. As a former journalist and campaigner, I wanted to try and do things differently by putting people, the planet and our positive impact as a business first.
We heard that you are using funds from a grant to create a compostable bag using patented leaf leather. What are some of the challenges in the development?
We have partnered with the team at Biophilica, true pioneers in material innovation, to work on this, and I cannot wait to share the results. Innovation is always tricky and full of trial and error, but we love a challenge. I think this material could really revolutionise the leather industry!
The brand is built around the story of waste being beautiful. What other recyclable materials intrigue you and wish to use within your collections in the future?
The thing about waste is that it’s only waste if no one uses it! It’s all of the stories behind our materials that continue to fascinate me – corporate uniforms turned into felt that we use as lining for our laptop cases, discarded fishing nets reworked into regenerated nylon, or single-use plastic bottles turned into the tape found on our zips.
My dream is to tap into bigger brands’ offcuts and deadstock to help change our really wasteful culture and the industry’s inability to acknowledge that it actually does create waste. Amazingly, over the last few months, we have been approached by various big brands to collaborate on turning their waste into brilliant products.
What is a bag trend you want to see eliminated?
Funnily enough, I wouldn’t even know! We only make timeless things meant to be worn for a long time, so trends aren’t really something I worry about. What I’d like to see eliminated in the equation is the pressure to follow trends to the extent that products get thrown away after only a few wears.
In what areas do you think governments can invest more in educating the public about climate impact?
A better understanding of carbon emissions by both the general public and politicians would be beneficial for global efforts to combat climate change. I also think sustainability education should be added to school curriculums.
How would you address sustainability in 2022?
On a personal level, my rules are always simple: buy less, buy better, reduce, reuse, recycle and try not to fly! With the business, I’m a big believer in collaboration and science-based targets. If you don’t measure your impact, you will never know how to do better!
Our latest life cycle analysis showed our CO2 emissions are 87% lower than a high street equivalent bag, which makes a big difference, but we definitely want to reach further. We’ve become geekier and more data-driven over the last couple of years, and it’s helped us to really work out where we want to.
Learn more about BEEN London on their website
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