Hong Kong businesswoman Ronna Chao is pioneering a more sustainable, environmentally-conscious practice of textile recycling.

By “upcycling” —using byproducts and discarded textiles from fashion, hospitality, and other sectors to create new pieces—Ronna and her team at Novetex Textiles are building a forward-thinking solution to address overconsumption and wastage across industries. This solution is The Billie system, a patented six-step recycling system that converts textile waste into recycled, thoroughly sanitized fibres ready to be spun into yarn. A longtime advocate for sustainability, Chao sees upcycling as one way to fight against waste and ultimately the climate crisis.

Origins of The Billie System

Seeing the value in what were once considered wasted materials, Novetex, along with the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textile and Apparel (HKRITA), have developed The Billie System—a system that takes textile waste and processes it into silvers which can then be spun into yarn to create new textiles.

The Billie processes unused or surplus materials and discarded textiles. The system mostly relies on automation, uses no water, and produces no hazardous discharge, something that is innovative in textile recycling.

“We produce a lot of textile waste in the form of unused inventory, seconds or defects in the manufacturing process, or maybe mis-dyed yarns,” says Chao, who considers the issue a glaring environmental but also economic concern within her own manufacturing process.

For Chao, it’s just common sense: “You’re recapturing the value of something that is considered waste.”

The considerable financial benefits for the manufacturer are in turn rewarded by the consumer, who when purchasing clothes made from upcycled materials is supporting the whole process. This embrace of sustainability, Chao says, is key to a “shift to quality and durability”.

“Make less, consume less, sell less, buy less”

Beyond the positive economic implications of reducing waste, the environmental objectives of the project has far-reaching consequences.

Considering wastage and how it affects a company’s bottom line is an important first step in creating a culture of sustainability—a culture that encourages consuming less, identifying more environmentally friendly options, and seeing “waste” in a new light. Companies such as Novetex are shifting their whole manufacturing culture to one that embraces “more mindful ways of producing,” as Chao says.

As an advocate for more environmentally conscious fashion production, Chao sees just how important her upcycling initiative is. For her, environmental consciousness and protection is a responsibility she’s keen to pass along to her children.

“I’ve been telling my children to stop buying ten white t-shirts, and instead buy something good,” she says.

She believes in creating durable, quality products, thus playing her part in addressing issues of sustainability and waste that are at the heart of today’s consumer-focused fashion industry.

Give the people what they want

In a supply and demand world economy, consumer needs and wants drive the actions of fashion manufacturers—and a growing environmentalist sentiment among society has seen initiatives like The Billie System find relevance.

For Chao, there is a clear logic for textile manufacturers to embrace new practices. She believes that sustainability is driven by consumers “who are basically telling the manufacturer and the retailer you don’t need to make so much.”

“I would be very successful if I put myself out of business, if there is no textile waste to upcycle,” she says.

This material should not be regarded as investment research or a J.P. Morgan investment research report.