A Family Breaking Barriers: TeamUpcylers Revolutionizing the Textile IndustryDecember 12, 2023
By Ariana Piscoya Nuñez, 2023 Future Blue Youth Council member
“If there is one thing I could do over and over without getting tired, that would be safeguarding our environment for future generations.” –Grace Obiorah
Earlier this year, we met the incredible TeamUpcyclers team, a Nigerian family who is revolutionizing the textile industry by creating reusable sanitary pads out of clothing waste, and educating women from rural areas about the impact of this waste on the environment.
Most sanitary pads are made of over 90% plastic, and each one is equivalent to four plastic bags, which take about 20 years to decompose. Grace, Jennifer, Magdaline, Denelson and Charles Obiorah, along with Victor Ekemezie, have been working very hard to make a positive impact in their country and especially in their beloved community of Enugwu Agidi.
Since they were accepted as Bow Seat Fellowship grantees, they have carried out seven sessions about the effect of non-reusable menstrual products on the environment, reaching over 5,000 students.
To make an even bigger impact,they have been applying to other grants and competitions, which has allowed them to carry out new projects and get closer to their goal of leaving their mark worldwide.
Some of their recent achievements include participation in the African Climate Summit Kenya under full sponsorship of the African Union and GIZ, first place in the 7th African World Heritage Youth Forum, and second place in the SMEDAN Talent Hunt In Waste Recycling (Waste to Wealth).
Impressive, right? Well, there is more!
Through “TeamUpcyclers Empowerment Scheme 2023,” which they carried out at Karonmajiji IDP Camp Abuja in Municipal Area Council, southwest of Abuja, they trained 25 women on how to gain financial freedom and independence through sustainable practices, such as converting textile waste into reusable sanitary pads, footwear, and bags. They also taught them how to transform plastic into flower pots and food waste into organic fertilizers to make their own mini gardens.
Their project, “TeamUpcylers’ Sustainable Energy Session,” which educated children about eco-friendly energy sources, won the IRENA COP28 Teaching For Net Zero Award. As a result, they received a fully funded trip to Dubai to speak at the IRENA pavilion. Also, as a top 10 finalist at the Goshen Impact Fund, they launched their new product line of body wear, accessories, footwear, and bags from textile waste.
Another project they created, “TeamUpcylers Ocean Restoration Challenge,” was chosen as one of three global winners at the Youth Innovation Challenge 2023, receiving a grant of $1,000. Through this project, which will take place between December 2023 and January 2024, TeamUpcylers will teach primary and secondary school students about marine debris. They will organize an inter-school ocean challenge where students will display their skills in reducing and recycling ocean debris.
TeamUpcylers believes in art as a way to successfully advocate for the environment. They visited Divine Mercy College, Adazi Enu, and worked with students to create teddy bears from textile waste. They rewarded two talented students with 33% of their tuition fee.
TeamUpcyclers have achieved all these successes in less than a year! Grace and her team have been receiving mentoring from four Future Blue Youth Council members (Ariana, Dhruv, Emily, and Yuzuna), who have been meeting often with Grace to assist with challenges her team has faced, and to provide them with new ideas to add to and improve the project. Grace says: “I’m happy that I get to speak with mentors from diverse countries. The meetings help us to be on our toes and to go the extra mile.”
The grantees’ new goals include revisiting all the schools to do a competition among them, where the prizes will be laptops, solar lamps, and a power bank; and visiting IDP camps to educate people about how to make domestic household essentials such as liquid soap, reusable sanitary pads, and artwork made of clothing waste.
A message from Grace to the world is: “Give us five years, and you all will be amazed at our achievements. We plan to get technologies that can recycle textile waste, create jobs, and become one of the most important organizations in the clothing waste upcycling industry. We started small, we are growing, and we will definitely get to the top.”
Mentoring this team has been a unique opportunity for me. I have learned about the importance of working together, no matter the age differences, and supporting each other. In every meeting, they had a new achievement to share and new goals to work towards to benefit as many people in their community as possible.