Esethu Cenga

20 Nov 2023
20 Nov 2023

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Four years in and we’ve diverted just over 700,000 kilograms of textile waste from landfills. At our current rate, we will divert 1 million kilograms of textile waste from landfills in 2023.

What led you to co-found Rewoven and Future of Fashion?

Being from South Africa, a highly unequal country, I am constantly reminded how unsustainable practices affect real lives. Seeing [this] infuriates me, and I am therefore driven to try and contribute towards creating the inverse of that

I am a textile and fashion lover. For me, textiles and clothing are not just for pure aesthetics. For a long time on this continent, textiles and clothing have represented way more – they are an expression of who we are, an attempt to be connected (with ourselves and others), and an expression of something intangible. I am excited by the idea that fashion expresses something intangible, unseen and ethereal.

However, textiles and fashion today are not that, and are instead part of this extractive machine that is polluting the planet and exploiting people, particularly women, all in the Global South.

The West dumps its textile waste on the continent under the guise of charity and trade. However, most of these ‘donations’ are actually not reusable, ending up in landfills.

I could not resolve that cognitive dissonance – being a fashion lover but knowing how extractive the fashion industry is to the Global South – without becoming passionate about ethical fashion and circular fashion.

Lastly, I would say I’m a decolonial thinker – I pull from alternative perspectives and not only the Western paradigm. I pull a lot from the African and Eastern perspectives. From those perspectives I have learnt that humans aren’t meant to dominate and control nature, but rather to form part of it, we are meant to live harmoniously with each other and everything.

All of this led me to co-founding Rewoven (a textile recycling start- up based in Cape Town) and Future of Fashion (a non-profit aimed at awareness and ecosystem building in Africa on circular textiles and ethical fashion).

What are your responsibilities?

My role in Rewoven is CEO. I am responsible for the overall management of the organisation. At Future of Fashion I am responsible for project managing and overseeing all activities including the Future of Fashion Indaba, Future of Fashion special programmes, research and consulting projects.

How have your degrees helped you in your career?

My degrees really laid the foundation for me to understand the many challenges in the context of globalisation, particularly for the Global South.

What has been a highlight of your career so far?

Gaining traction, successfully fundraising for our seed-round, and the development and growth of our team. Four years in and we’ve diverted just over 700,000 kilograms of textile waste from landfills. At our current rate, we will divert 1 million kilograms of textile waste from landfills in 2023. To have a team of ten people is also an achievement.

How do you see Africa evolving in terms of recycled textiles?

The circular economy is not new to Africa. In fact, circularity is entrenched in African traditions and customs. We have always understood that things need to be made well, and they need to be reused, mended and passed down to the future generation.

A few African countries recycle their textile waste. Ethiopia has been manufacturing recycled cotton for the last 15 years. Given that Africa is at the nexus of the textile waste problem on the globe, and we are the future of clothing design and production, the growth of textile recycling is inevitable and will have a myriad of economic, social and environmental impacts.