This sponsored post, part of a series on Asia’s Young Social Entrepreneurs, is brought to you by DBS Bank. In partnership with the National University of Singapore, DBS is a proud supporter of the Social Venture Challenge, an Asia-wide competition for social enterprises.
The White House released a new report this month documenting the impacts of climate change in the US, and the findings suggest that the discussion has long moved beyond “Is climate changing?” to “How can society better manage climate change?”
Climate change is real. In particular, it found that temperatures in the US over the last decade have been the warmest on record. Heavy downpours, resulting in massive floods, have been increasing for certain regions, while other regions have been experiencing severe drought. Since the 1980s, the intensity and frequency of hurricanes and storms have increased. And sea levels continue to rise while ice continues to melt.
The picture is clear. Society will have to get used to dealing with severe weather conditions and natural disasters. But is humanity well-prepared when it comes to responding to them? Not always, according to the team at Interclo.
Following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Nabeela Ahsan, a fashion designer and founder of Interclo, was volunteering to support relief efforts. As she sorted through clothing, she found, to her surprise, donated wedding gowns, sweaters, and jackets.
“She couldn’t help but think to herself, never in the best of months do people wear jackets and fur in Haiti. It’s always so warm,” recalled Mateen Kirmani, Director of Strategy & Marketing at Interclo.
When disaster strikes, everybody wants to help, says Kirmani, but what happens is that relief organizations end up with items they can’t use. “They have very little control over the donation process. They only control when to switch on the drive and when to switch it off,” he said.
Both appropriate and inappropriate donations arrive on site for volunteers to sort, but because of the sheer volume, they often don’t get sorted well. For relief efforts abroad, most items get shipped overseas and sit at the port, waiting for someone to come sort them once again.
“A lot of times, like in the case of Haiti, the donations that were either climatically or culturally inappropriate end up sitting at the port, blocking access for really important relief supplies to come through,” said Kirmani.
Once items are finally attended to, up to 60 percent of clothing ends up in landfills because they are unfit, unhygienic, and non-reusable.
Realizing this is an inefficient manner to respond to disasters, Ahsan decided to do what she does best: design clothes. She began working on a project to design suitable clothing that can be distributed during recovery efforts. It became the Survival Plus, a waterproof, lightweight jacket that can also be used for sleeping or sitting. Because of its easy-to-clean fabric, the Survival Plus remains hygienic longer and can simply be wiped down.
“It’s also a product that has good use after a disaster. You can use this product when you go out for a picnic. You can use it as a floor mat,” explained Kirmani. “They all come vacuum-packed. The cool thing is when access is blocked, let’s say in a mountainous region there are landslides and you can’t reach people via road or rail, the product is light enough for you to be able to airdrop to remote locations.”
While working as a management consultant in Singapore, Kirmani was contacted by Ahsan to get advice on starting Interclo in Asia, since the region’s population density is so high that any disaster impacts a large number of people. Kirmani eventually felt the desire to join Ahsan on her project, and ended up leaving the private sector. He wanted to work on something that left behind a significant positive impact.
“As I helped Fortune 500 companies grow their business, I realized that it’s great helping clients that praise you for the work that you do for them, but at the end of the day, I used to ask myself what’s the impact,” said Kirmani.
Kirmani joined Ahsan to make Interclo a business and today, the Survival Plus is ready to be manufactured and shipped out when needed. It costs $40 to $60 depending on the version, which is up to 50 percent less than what relief organizations spend on the items the Survival Plus can replace. But realizing that relief organizations are hesitant to be the first to try a new product, Interclo has been searching for their first customer. When they do, that’s when things can change quickly, says Kirmani.
“That’s what happened with a company we know of called ShelterBox. They have a kit for disaster response and they face the same challenges as we are right now but over the last three years, they’ve become really big,” he said. “It’s really about getting this to the decision makers.”
Kirmani remains optimistic. The Social Venture Challenge gave Interclo an opportunity to get good connections. Christopher Chua, the ex-Secretary General of Singapore Red Cross, is now mentoring the team and Kirmani is hopeful that this will result in a breakthrough for the company. “We’re really happy to have him on board,” he said.
Watch this video to learn more about Interclo:
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