• Monday, June 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

How Lagos entrepreneur turns plastic waste into sustainable buttons 

Joshua Attat

Joshua Attat is a man on a mission. Driven by a passion for environmental advocacy and a desire to create social impact, Attat isn’t just talking about sustainability but he is making it a reality through his company, Pneedles.

Attat, who is the CEO and Founder, sat with BusinessDay’s Anthony Udugba to speak on how he saw an opportunity to replace conventionally made buttons with sustainable alternative buttons crafted from recycled plastic waste which is abundant in the city of Lagos.

Pneedles wasn’t always about buttons.  Attat’s journey with sustainable innovation began in 2018 with Lyvin, a 2022 Circular Lagos Award-winning brand that created furniture, building, and construction materials from plastic waste. Lyvin’s success fueled Attat’s entrepreneurial spirit, and in 2022, he established Printy and Packer, a biotechnology company that manufactures sustainable packaging materials from agricultural waste.

Printy and Packer’s achievements were impressive, winning the 2022 Creative Business Cup and securing funding from the Kingdom of Netherlands via the Orange Corners Program.

 

However, Attat’s vision for Pneedles stemmed from a specific observation within the fashion industry.  “Plastic is one of the major raw materials used in making buttons,” Attat explains. “With my background in sustainability, I figured we could replace the buttons made from virgin plastics with sustainable buttons made from plastic waste – an abundant raw material in Lagos state.”

This realisation sparked extensive market research, where Attat confirmed a strong demand for sustainable materials within the fashion sector.  With a clear market need identified, Attat set about transforming his vision into reality.  Today, Pneedles supplies sustainable buttons to a growing list of fashion brands, including Mak Africa and Ria Kosher.

So, how exactly does Pneedles transform plastic waste into beautiful buttons? The process starts with collecting, sorting, and shredding the plastic waste.  After thorough cleaning, the plastic is ready for production.  Pneedles utilizes button moulds and a plastic injection machine to shape the molten plastic into the final product – a sustainable button, ready to add a touch of eco-friendly style to garments.

The impact of Pneedles’ innovation goes beyond aesthetics.  By reducing reliance on virgin plastic production, Pneedles diverts plastic waste from landfills and oceans.  This not only benefits the environment but also provides the fashion industry with a green alternative, promoting sustainable design, production, and consumption practices.  Attat emphasizes the alignment with Sustainable Development Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.

While the financial success of Pneedles is still under development,  Attat prioritises long-term impact over short-term profit.  “It’s too early to say,” Attat acknowledges when asked about profitability. “We’re still under six months in, and profitability takes time.”  Pneedles focuses on building a solid foundation, and financial transparency will come with established success.

Attat acknowledges challenges in the initial stages.  Sourcing specific plastic waste colours proved difficult.  However, Pneedles is actively expanding its collection network while exploring sustainable dyeing solutions to offer a wider colour palette to clients.

Versatility is a key feature of Pneedles’ buttons.  Available in various colours and sizes, they seamlessly integrate into different clothing styles.  Customisation options further enhance their appeal, allowing clients to request buttons in specific shapes to match their design vision.

Pneedles’ impact extends beyond the buttons themselves.  The company sources its raw materials from local waste pickers, creating decent jobs and empowering the community.  Currently, Pneedles estimates it generates over 5 direct jobs and supports over 500 indirect jobs through its waste collection network.

Looking towards the future, Attat envisions Pneedles as a catalyst for a more sustainable fashion industry.  “Our goal is to enable the fashion industry to become more sustainable by creating sustainable materials,” he explains.  The company plans to expand its product line beyond buttons, potentially venturing into sustainable beads for jewellery and other fashion accessories.

Attat offers valuable advice for other creatives seeking to incorporate sustainability into their work: “Start with a clear understanding of the environmental impact of your materials and processes and then begin to make small changes that’ll enable your brand to become sustainable.”

He suggests using sustainable buttons as a starting point,  along with switching to eco-friendly packaging.  Sustainability, Attat emphasises, is a gradual process best approached one step at a time.

In Attat’s view, the fashion industry can become more responsible by prioritising circularity and resource efficiency throughout its supply chain.  “This includes rethinking traditional business models, investing in sustainable materials and technologies, and fostering a culture of transparency and accountability,” he said.

Attat believes the fashion industry can be a powerful force for positive change by recognising its influence on social and environmental change.