Photo courtesy of Up-Fuse
For our ongoing series on sustainability, we sat down with one of the first upcycling brands in Egypt – Up-fuse. We got to chat with Co-founder Yara Yassin, who spoke to Egypt Today all about how the brand started and what motivates the team to create a healthier and greener future.
As a truly conscious brand with ambition, Up-Fuse manufactures handbags and accessories using only recycled, sustainable materials for their products, while maintaining a fashionable edge. The colors are bright and the bags are durable, and it only takes an estimate of 40-50 minutes to produce one.
“[From the outset], I wanted to make a casual brand; my partner and I are travelers by all means. We love to go to cities and explore, and usually find that there has to be a companion, [which] most of the time is your bag, which has to be comfortable. So, we decided to create a bag brand. We have an ethical ethos, where we don’t want to kill animals for leather to make the bags,” Yassin recounts.
Taking the cruelty/guilt-free road, Yassin tells us that, along with her partner, they were keen to build a beneficial, sustainable product from waste. “While studying in Berlin, we stumbled upon an agency and we worked together to make the material then came back home full of enthusiasm,” she explains. Upon their return to Egypt, they decided to utilize that material to create casual wear. She highlights the social aspects behind using upcycled material: “We will create job opportunities that don’t need [formal] education. This was something very important.” She continues to explain, “You need to be a carpenter to make furniture, but they can be upcyclers without studying that. If you want to be an upcycler, you can be an upcycler. It’s very easy, we have [machines] tailored to our production process, and we make sure that it’s very easy and safe of course.”
When it came to sourcing and collecting plastic for production, Yassin and her team would visit areas like Mansheyt Naser and Waraq and work with the locals there, creating job opportunities in a safe and clean environment.
“There is a misconception that we are from one world, while they are from another,” Yassin says of how slum areas in Cairo are perceived. “They are very culturally aware of the differences, not like any of the other slums that you can find in Cairo. I have been working with people who live in slums in Waraq, and they were very unaware of the fact that a girl could be unveiled.” She continues to point out the differences between Waraq and Mansheyt, which is also known as ‘Garbage City’. “In Mansheyt, on the other hand, they are very open-minded as there are a lot of outsiders coming in and out of the district, because it’s fascinating how the ecosystem works there.” She also mentions that “it wasn’t hard [working with them], honestly speaking. The people in Mansheyt, the women there specifically, really believe that we are one big family and understand the importance of work.” Yassin stresses the team altogether functions very collaboratively, adding that the workers are adequately trained and knowledgeable on reusing waste.
One bag is made of around 30 plastic bags, which were either faulty, rejected or collected. The plastics bags would then go through the sanitation process, before intially being processed into different patterned plastic sheets, that are then crafted into a wearable bags. A first of its kind in Egypt, the bags are a guilt-free purchase, particularly notable for reusing plastic that would otherwise take 1,000 years to decompose. “In 2018, we upcycled almost 180,000 plastic bags,” Yassin confirms to Egypt Today. “After we get our inspiration and set our mind on a certain sketch, we then go to Mansheyt and ask them to produce the sheets and colours that we need for our bags…the patterns that you see, they are the ones doing them.”
The creative team has little say when it comes to the final product, as they only pick the colours and sketch the product for the craftsmen in Mansheyt to create. “We tell them the direction of the colors or the seasonality of it. We never tell them how to make a pattern from A-Z. After they are done with the production, we buy the plastic from factories that produce it [the plastic that is faulty, rejected], as well as from others collecting it.” She continues, “After we do this, we take the plastic sheets and we produce them [into our products] at our workshop.” Yassin also says that, in the product’s earlier days, they weren’t able to find a factory to work with them in the manufacturing, potentially been due to misconceptions or stigmas pertaining to working with used or dirty plastic. This is why they had to create their own workshop.
“After we produce the bags, we start the marketing them. Usually, with every new product, we do the testing, we produce a small amount of 30-100 to test it, and then we make the bag,” Yassin recounts.
Up-fuse is no stranger to the circular system, as they previously encouraged their customers to bring in plastic bags to be weighed in return for a discount on their products.
For their latest collection, they teamed up with Egyptian artist Farah-zada El Shihy, who is known for her unique illustrative style, creating original patterns for the ecological collection “The Ripples.” Every bag is made of 100% recycled plastic in a unique, mesmerizing pattern hand painted onto each bag.
They are also the coordinators of the ‘Fashion Revolution’ in Egypt, which takes place annually between the April 20 and April 30. The awareness week encourages a future for fashion that is more ethical and sustainable, highlighting the issues of the workers behind the clothes. The campaign is behind the “Who made my clothes” social media campaign for consumers and the “I made your clothes” one for every person involved in the creation process.
Up-fuse is now working on expanding their market to the US and Europe.