Title of the video: A Global Force in Sustainability
Head of the Philanthropy Centre, Asia
J.P. Morgan Private Bank
Jean: What gave you the idea of developing the Billy, and what is it supposed to do?
Ronna: Very interestingly the Billie System is a textile upcycling system that we jointly developed with Hong Kong RITA, Hong Kong Research Institute of Textile and Apparel.
The original idea behind the Billy is very inward focusing.
We have a conventional yarn spinning business and we used to have a very large sweater knitting business as well.
And in those two businesses – as you can imagine – we produce a lot of waste, textile waste in the form of unused inventory, seconds that are made, maybe mis-dyed yarns.
So we looked internally at that problem – what we call waste is actually very valuable.
So imagine if I’m making 100% cashmere or even more expensive yarns like Alpaca,
what we call waste, what isn’t being used, what isn’t sold, what the customer doesn’t want is still 100% cashmere, 100% Alpaca.
Jean: I see
Ronna: So when we recycle textile, the fibres are shorter. And when the fibres are shorter, it’s harder to spin into smoother yarn, right.
So in most cases people will add some virgin material.
How does it promote using less?
Very simply, like I said, you’re recapturing the value of something that is considered waste.
You’re making less. I’m using less virgin material to make a new yarn.
So that in itself is the first step.
Secondly, if you use upcycled yarn or recycled yarn to make garments or make products,
you are supporting that whole system of using less.
And then the consumer who buys a recycled garment or a garment that is made with some portion of recycled or upcycled yarn is also supporting that whole process of using less.
Jean: From what I can understand about it. You can do this without water?
Ronna: No water.
Ronna: So we don’t use any water because we don’t have to use traditional methods of washing and sanitisation.
We use ozone and then there are two steps of UV sanitisation during the process so you don’t have to wash.
We also don’t need to mix the colours together
because there is a colour sorting process, and that is dry. No water is necessary.
We do use chemicals.
Ozone is a chemical but it is contained in the tank
and what we are very proud of about the Billy system is we don’t remit any hazardous chemicals or a discharge during the entire process.
So those are the pluses about the Billy.
Jean: Certainly brands have the intelligence now of should I be producing 10,000 of one shirt or should I be producing less.
Jean: What would be drivers?
Ronna: I think the biggest driver still is consumer behaviour.
So if the end user, the person who, the people who are spending the dollars to buy things buy less,
they are basically telling the manufacturer and the retailer the brands whoever you don’t need to make so much.
That’s one very large driving force.
At the front end where the manufacturers are, so instead of predicting how many pieces of this I should make based on what I sold three seasons ago, the data that is collected now first of all is more accurate data,
it’s more timely data and much more data.
So with AI the prediction or the calculations for how much you know, basically you’re analysing consumer behaviour.
Ronna: So it will feed back to you know, this blue just didn’t sell or this shape didn’t sell or this shirt really, really sold.
I’m making it very simple of course.
Hopefully there will be a shift to quality and durability, right. So I’ll give you an example.
My Grandmother, my mother’s mother, my maternal Grandmother was a master knitter. Amazing.
No patterns needed and you know,
she would make a coat, knit a coat and the buttons would be matching, the yarn colour and there would be a silk lining inside.
I still have those sweaters; I wore them when I was 5, 6, 7 years old.
My children wore them, and I still have them in pristine condition
and hopefully my grandchildren will wear them.
This is something that I think probably will not be the entire wardrobe of anybody but if we can shift more of our focus to quality and durability,
and it’s Ok I’ve been telling my children stop buying, you know, 10 white t-shirts,
buy something good, of high quality that you can wear for the next 20 years and maybe you can give to your children.
Jean: We all have a responsibility to our environment to our home.
And you’re a great mother, I know your three children love you
so thank you very much for sharing your insight.
Ronna: Thank you, thank you Jean. Wonderful opportunity to speak about it.
Jean: Thank you.
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.