Uyen Tran: Sustainable textiles that could change the future of the fashion industry
Ladder works is a publishing platform for various picture books and online programs whose mission is to empower more than one million children to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features our interplanetary journalist Spiffy’s interviews with inspiring social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystem builders advancing the UN SDGs.
Owl here! I’m back with the inside scoop on planet earth’s business leaders. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I am thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Uyen Tran, the founder and CEO of TômTex Inc. Let’s see what he is doing to make a positive impact in the world.
Nice : Welcome Uyen! Let’s go. What challenge do you take up with TômTex Inc?
Uyen: Thanks for inviting me, Spiffy! TômTex is a revolutionary biobased material, created from two key ingredients: shell waste and fungi. The company’s vision is a cruelty-free and eco-friendly alternative to synthetic and animal leathers. It is made from 100% bio-based ingredients and natural colors with no tanning process or backing fabric. At the end of their life, TômTex products can be disassembled and reinjected into TômTex production or fully biodegradable in the natural environment. Not only do we use various waste materials as raw materials, but the production of TômTex also consumes significantly less water, energy and land use compared to the standard production of synthetic or animal leather.
Nice : It looks fantastic! What motivated you to do it?
Uyen: I grew up in Da Nang, Vietnam. It is the epicenter of the waste textile dump. I remember growing up wearing second-hand clothes, which were thrown away in western countries. It is devastating to see my hometown contaminated by textile pollution and leather manufacturing. I was a fashion designer for luxury fashion brands in New York and worked with many different types of leather and synthetic fabric. However, it always reminded me of home but also of those toxins. For this reason, I reoriented my career towards sustainable textiles and founded TômTex Inc.
Nice : How do you work for a more equitable world, would you say?
Uyen: TômTex relies on renewable resources and natural “waste” to realize its vision. We envision a world where people surround themselves with high-performance materials that come straight from waste, not fossil resources. We are working with biomaterials scientists in the United States and Vietnam to deploy technology that can be adapted and scaled to fit different regions and communities around the world. Using local resources and employing local labor, we will build a closed-loop production system to boost the local economy while maintaining and improving the quality of life and a sustainable environment at the to come up.
Nice : Tell me about a recent step/initiative by you or your organization. What impact does it have?
Uyen: With the rewards and support of the biotech community, building a strong team is my greatest achievement to date. Recently, we were thrilled to welcome a new co-founder and Chief Security Officer – Ross McBee from Columbia University. With a dedicated team of designers, scientists and business people, we work across industry boundaries to bring this sustainable material to everyone and to help protect the earth. At TômTex, I want to build a culture where everyone feels accepted, valued and has a sense of belonging. We create an environment that promotes transparency, trust, empowerment and empathy.
Nice : It looks terrific. Please share an experience where you faced failure and didn’t give up. What did you learn from this?
Uyen: Early in my career, I learned a valuable lesson when the material I chose for one of my designs was not a natural fabric, but a polyester fabric. In the end, the style was produced in 1,000 pieces, which contributed to textile pollution since the polyester fabric is not biodegradable for years. When I realized what I had done wrong, I immediately took responsibility. From this error, I always choose natural and sustainable fabrics rather than synthetics. After realizing the impact that materials have on us, I redirected my career to textile design with the vision of creating more sustainable materials.
Nice : What have you unexpectedly learned from someone recently?
Uyen: My nephew taught me that there is no one right way to do things. The fact that children learn to do things on their own often leads them to find better ways to accomplish their tasks. This is a simple yet comprehensive lesson that can be applied to the startup world, where I’ve had to adapt by adopting growth mindsets, learning new skills, and embracing flexibility. I believe the world would be a much more refreshing place if we all had more childlike mindsets.
Nice : Wise words, Uyen. Thank you for speaking with me today, it was an honor!
Uyen Tran is a textile materials researcher and designer originally from Viet Nam and now based in New York, who aims to establish a viable and comprehensive system of products made of biodegradable materials. Its goal is to create a sustainable and environmentally friendly business model based on zero waste and zero pollution. Uyen is passionate about technology and innovative concepts through revolutionary material revolution. (Nominated by Julie Wolf at IndieBio. First published on the Ladderworks website on January 14, 2022.)
© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Artwork of Spiffy by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks Digital Curriculum to help children in K-3 advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy’s Corner here.
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