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When BIS HCMC Students met Mekong N’to: A Discussion on Sustainability

Sustainability is increasingly becoming more of a priority worldwide. The vision of a greener future has become the source of inspiration for individuals and organisations all across the globe in response to the noticeable effects of global warming. For the fashion industry, it’s estimated that it accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions and brings to light the need for sustainable attire.

Secondary Uniform Upcycling team - 1

Mekong N’to is a company specialising in sustainable attire and is the producer of our very own BIS House T-shirts and was co-founded by Mr. Guim Valls Teruel and Sebastian Balcells. The company has produced around 15,000 different products, many of which are created through the reusing of plastic waste and decorated using water-based inks to ensure the sustainability and eco-friendliness of all merchandise while still providing the option to customise.

Recently, the Secondary Uniform Upcycling team reached out to Mr Teruel from Mekong N’to to discuss the background, production process, and future plans for the company in depth.
 

How was Mekong N’to founded? What inspired you to go for a sustainable approach  especially through clothing?

It all began with an around-the-world biking expedition that took place between 2009 to 2012. The goal in mind? Make an environmental impact through the showcasing of e-bikes powered by solar energy. While this promotion piqued the interest of people along the way, the world’s enthusiasm did not do much for their eagerness to act on globalising the eco-friendly invention. This later proved to be impermanent. 

In the meantime, the realisation that the garment industry shared the same issues as energy and transport surfaced, thus inspiring the creation of Mekong N’to. Even though the e-bike isn’t directly related to sustainable apparel, during our interview, Mr Teruel often referred back to the lesson his journey taught him about persistence and how crucial it was in the development of Mekong N’to

How did Mekong N’to come in contact with BIS HCMC?

Around 10 years ago, Mekong N’to began making garments. It didn’t take much time for BIS HCMC and Mekong N’to to become aware of one another after word got out and a partnership was built. Mekong N’to has been making our PE T-shirts ever since.

Thao Dien Clean Up - Mekong N'to Article
What made you aware of the issue of plastic waste?

Mr Teruel discussed how his world e-bike tour opened his eyes to the ever-growing issue of plastic waste. He observed that in Vietnam, it was typical that people disposed of plastic waste by burning them, leaving  lingering toxic chemicals. It made him wonder about alternative methods in which you could reuse plastic rather than destroying them in hazardous ways.

How do you make uniforms out of recycled plastic? (aka. How do you make “Eco-garments”?)

Recycled plastic is used to make yarn which is then used to produce fabric in the same way as other textiles.  This is done for Mekong N’to by an external manufacturer. Each t-shirt would be approximately equivalent to 8-10 plastic bottles.

ECOGraphic-Text_EN
What are your concerns when searching for local suppliers and partner businesses with this goal in mind?

It is the reality of life that often, the reason for important product decisions lies with the cost of production and profit generation. It is this Supply and Demand economics which helps to dictate the direction sustainable production is heading in. Due to the new technology required, creating and sourcing recycled materials is still relatively expensive currently. For the most part though, Mr Teruel believes that the current situation is improving and mainly due to the fact that the idea has quickly begun to gain awareness. With time, things may become easier for local suppliers as a result of future changes in demand.

JIT (Just-in-Time production) strategy used when producing your clothing. Why do you use this method of production?

We use this method to decrease unit costs as much as possible and make sure nothing is overproduced. Upon expansion on the advantages of this method, Mr Teruel spoke on how the lower stock led to lower financial risks and fewer environmental issues. Curiously, Mekong N’to looks to reduce the number of products being sold, making it a wonderful example of a company that truly prioritises the wellbeing of the environment.

How can your products be expanded to other areas of clothing and not only t-shirts?

Expansion in areas of clothing has already begun at Mekong N'to and they produce a variety of clothing. Namely, sport kits, swimming suits, masks and jackets. Many of these are customised and branded by the customer. Historically, Mekong N’to has created 15,000 different items of clothing. Examples of which appear on this website.

Mekong N'to Article - 4

Why is it important to use ink that is environmentally safe? What is the difference between the ink you use and commercially produced clothing ink?

The typical ink used on regular clothes can often contain harmful substances. Research shows that often, fabric ink is basically just “liquid plastic” which is toxic. In the case that it somehow gets exposed to the environment, it could cause problems for the customer and even animals that end up coming across these inks. This is why it’s important to also consider the environmental consequences of the inks used when producing clothes. As a result, Mekong N’to uses only water-based inks to make sure they’re harmless.

You’ve made connections between the UN Global Goals and this project, could you explain how your company meets these goals?

When looking into connections between the Global Goals and Mekong N’to, Mr Teruel explained how they essentially viewed the SDGs as news to share. It encouraged Mekong N’to to share which goals reflected the methods they used to preserve the environment which, upon looking further into the topic, have been featured on its own separate page on their website. It's apparent that the company cares about sustainable and responsible production but also on creating the optimal working environment for employees.

Has the plan to stay sustainable interfered with any other projects or ideas you have in mind?

There is an unfortunate lack of versatility within the sustainable production industry due to the limited number of supply chains, brands, and companies that are focused on being sustainable.  While this is changing over time, it has pushed Mekong N’to towards developing a clear understanding of their own capabilities and the aims of their partners. With this positive attitude, limitations that come with sustainability can still be managed, albeit rather slowly. 

Mekong N'to Article - 3
You have spoken a lot about awareness and attitude.  Eg. recycled fabrics and JIT philosophy. Do you find that awareness is growing over time?  

Changes are being made that prove that the world is slowly becoming more aware over time. When reflecting on where this all began, Mr Teruel’s cycling journey also taught him how important the little things are. When combined, all these little things cause a larger image to arise which may ultimately lead to a massive change in awareness. If you zoom out and see that more people across the world are consciously putting in effort to make a positive change in attitude, then the difference made overall could really be astounding. The most effective way to spread awareness is to hear directly from your friends, families, and other schools.

Tell us a little more about your future plans.

What’s important to know at the moment is that education is so important in affecting how things play out. This was the point Mr Teruel continued to return to when discussing this topic. The promotion of sustainability to younger generations helps ensure that we constantly see positive development involving sustainability as time goes on. In economic terms, as long as more people get involved, demand will continue to increase and create a shift in the market towards sustainability. With this, obstacles can be overcome.

Mekong N'to Article - 5

Overall, our interview with Mr Teruel allowed the extensive coverage of a variety of subject matters within the topic of sustainable production in the current market, specifically here in Vietnam. Additionally, it was eye-opening to be provided an opportunity to explore the origin of our House T-Shirts.
 
The future is bright. And just like in a bicycle ride, you can only pedal forward. Never backwards.
 
Written by Michelle Vo (Year 11) and Minh Vy Nguyen (Year 13)
on behalf of the Uniform Upcycling Club interview team.
  • Mekong N'to Article - 6
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  • Secondary Uniform Upcycling team - 2
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