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Bagasse Upcycle Inc.: The sweetest sustainable story

Bagasse Upcycle Inc.

8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 12. Responsible Consumption and Production 17. Partnerships for the Goals

Overview

With a strong passion and commitment to bring circularity to the apparel industry, Bagasse Upcycle Inc. was established in Okinawa, Japan to create beautiful Kariyushi wears from ethically sourced materials that are good for the environment. The company is built upon the foundation of environmental sustainability and social responsibility to create a long-lasting impact on the people and visitors of Okinawa.

Authors

Razielle Marie Alsola

Razielle Marie Alsola

Patricia Anahi Perez Falcon

Patricia Anahi Perez Falcon

School

TIAS School for Business and Society

TIAS School for Business and Society

Professor

Mirjam Minderman

Mirjam Minderman

Innovation

Every year, Okinawa is flocked with more than 10 million locals and tourists to witness the beauty of the island for a holiday getaway. This brings a massive surge to the production and consumption of traditional Okinawa shirts called “Kariyushi”, which are the most popular souvenirs worn by visitors during their stay. However, at the end of each visit, most of these shirts are readily discarded and incinerated, producing large amounts of greenhouse gasses. This short life cycle creates a huge impact on the environment as the entire value chain is not sustainable.

Hence, in 2019, Shinji Odo and Naota Yamamoto worked together and started Bagasse Upcycle Inc. The founders were dedicated to unraveling the sustainability problem and bringing circularity to the apparel business model. They did this by developing a patented technology that transforms bagasse into the fabric, and from fabric to clothing like Kariyushi. Bagasse is a by-product of sugarcane production, the largest grown crop in the Okinawa region. Bagasse by itself also creates environmental complications as it is often regarded as waste if not properly utilized. Hence, using this as the primary raw material expands the impact of sustainability on the local farmers as it lifts their burden by upcycling potential waste to create new valuable products. Furthermore, not only did the company manage to ethically source fabrics, but it also carbonized them so that the final products can be transformed into charcoal at the end of its life cycle. The charcoal can be then provided back to the farmers as soil nutrients for their crops. This process closes the loop - making the Kariyushi and clothing production circular.

To promote more awareness to the people, the company also introduced the Internet of Things (IoT) technology wherein customers can trace how the end products are produced and used. The system provides visualization of the entire value chain and engages customers to further participate in their environmental sustainability efforts – creating a unique and meaningful interaction with the community.

Bagasse Upcycle Inc.: The sweetest sustainable story

Photo of the interviewers with Mr. Shinji Odo of Bagasse Upcycle Inc.

Inspiration

“The Japanese people rarely feel the impact of climate change, but it doesn’t mean it is not there”, this is what Mr. Shinji heartfeltly answered when asked about his inspiration in pursuing the company. He added that because of the lack of dangerous situations brought by natural phenomena like floods to raise awareness, people have low knowledge about climate change and sustainability. Therefore, he and his company, together with their partners, are dedicated to continuing to change people’s lifestyles and encouraging them to eliminate the waste of clothes by using their products and services. Moreover, they aim to preserve the original scenery of sugarcane farmlands by transforming the bagasse waste, as well as using the Kariyushi charcoal as soil nourishment.

He also stressed that Bagasse Upcycle Inc. and its members have a strong commitment and integrity toward sustainability. They are partnering with private institutions like Rinnovation and Okicom and receiving grants from the Japanese government to expand their operations and grow their business. They intend to take the technology to nearby countries and hope to bring more people into their vision.


Overall impact

The biggest impact that the company is generating through upcycling bagasse is by applying this innovation to crops other than sugarcane. In other words, the company was able to use its patented technology to create fabrics with new crops such as wheat and adzuki beans.

This diversification is generating growth and is projecting future collaborations with other industries that nowadays look at the bagasse as a disposal material. As evidence of this impact, at the beginning of April 2022, Bagasse Upcycle Inc. launched a new product called “Malt and hops jeans” in collaboration with Sapporo Breweries Limited, the oldest brand of beer in Japan.

Collaborating with world-known brands opens the floor for more partnerships with businesses in other regions producing bagasse as a by-product - because Bagasse Upcycle Inc. can create a new revenue stream from what is now garbage.

Finally, the impact of the embedded technology in the wearing is notorious; the traceable chip can provide data about the sourcing and use of the clothing necessary for the measures of its impact, as well as collect valuable information that can benefit the hospitality and fashion industry. In addition, this connection to the community creates an identity for the Kariyushi, promotes sustainability, and strengthens Okinawan values on a different scale. As Mr. Shinji said: “The definition of a Kariyushi wear is vague, but it needs to be manufactured in Okinawa''. Tracking the lifecycle of the Kariyushi is creating an identity for this wear which is a great part of the region's cultural value.


Business benefit

Brand recognition and exposure is the result of the congruence between the sustainable business model and its factual focus on the 3 P's: People (connecting with Okinawan values), Planet (bagasse upcycle sharing wear service with a circular economy concept) and Profit. Every year, several events take place in Okinawa with sustainability as an umbrella topic, and Bagasse Upcycle Inc. has positioned itself as the official clothing of all these forums, The most recent one is the Earth Day Okinawa in April 2020, where the company has the opportunity to promote its products and communicate its impacts.

Another example of its successful business model and strong sustainable business foundations is that the company has been laureated with different awards like the “crQlr Awards”, a platform to showcase promising ideas in circular economy and regenerative design which give rise to new social, ecological, and economic opportunities for our future.

Business diversification is the stronger point for Bagasse Upcycle Inc. As the technology of upcycling bagasse can now be applied to different crops, the landscape to create responsibly source wearing becomes as big as the agri-food industry. Likewise, technology can also be a game-changer in the fashion industry. In collaboration with big players, business diversification is a sweet reality - not just limited to Kariyushi but to any clothing that can be sourced locally from bagasse waste. For instance, the company recently launched its new product “jeans”, which is made from malt and hops bagasse.

Social and environmental benefit

Beyond connecting users and suppliers in the value chain, Bagasse Upcycle Inc. gives identity to Okinawa's cultural values and revitalizes the sugarcane industry, which is the core crop of the region. By strengthening the pride in local products, the company is reducing the shortage of successors in this aging industry and is giving hope to continue agriculture for the next generation.

Another important element of the social impact is that Bagasse Upcycle Inc. is doing all through partnerships - they are the perfect example that sustainability is collaboration. They are not keeping the power or knowledge, but are distributing wealth and expertise through the entire value chain.

Environmentally, the company is bringing benefits to different actors. The tourism and fashion industries are reducing the negative effects of holiday purchases and establishing a sharing system that assures the circularity of Kariyushi. Moreover, the promotion of shared wearing in resorts alleviates the burden on the environment by reducing luggage and fuel cost used for its transportation.

Upcycling the bagasse gives a double benefit. It creates sustainable opportunities for the fashion industry to give a second life to a highly unused resource. Thus, this increases the utilization of natural resources and enhances the development of local rural industries.

Finally, in the aim to close the circular economy model, the company has chosen to give back to the farmers their own bagasse as a soil conditioner by carbonizing all waste. The methodology used to carbonize biomass without incineration or landfill reduces CO2 emissions by about 90%.


Interview

Shinji Odo, Managing Director Co-Founder / CEO

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Bagasse Upcycle Inc.

Bagasse Upcycle Inc.

Naha City, Okinawa, JP

Business Website: https://corporate.bagasse-upcycle.com/en

Year Founded: 2021

Number of Employees: 2 to 10

With a strong passion and commitment to bring circularity to the apparel industry, Bagasse Upcycle Inc. was established in Okinawa, Japan to create beautiful Kariyushi wears from ethically sourced materials that are good for the environment. The company is built upon the foundation of environmental sustainability and social responsibility to create a long-lasting impact on the people and visitors of Okinawa.