Team Name: Cartik
Concept: Cartik is a socially responsible business with the goal of repurposing plastic waste in Africa into sustainable textiles for the global market.
Challenge: In July of 2021, Science Dev Net highlighted the story of Abubakar Sani, 39, a plastic bottle picker in Lagos, Nigeria, who spends mornings risking his health in toxic waste dumps to earn a living. Stories like Abubakar’s are not uncommon across Africa as they illustrate the toll of the mountains of mismanaged hazardous plastic waste. In 2015, the American Association for the Advancement of Science reported that five African countries (Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria and Morocco) are among the top 20 nations with the highest mismanagement of plastic waste. Together, they produce 0.31 and 0.97 million tonnes of plastic annually. According to the Afri-Plastics Challenge, only 12% of plastic waste is recycled in Sub-Saharan Africa – with the majority either burned or dumped – huge quantities enter rivers, streams, lakes and eventually the ocean.
The fashion industry heavily depends on cotton production, yet it’s a problematic crop. According to the World Wildlife Fund, it takes up 2.4% of arable land globally while requiring 24% of all pesticides and 11% of all agriculture water usage. Circular economy organizations like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation are now demanding the fashion industry become socially responsible in its use of cotton by pursuing alternatives such as plastic. Public and private sectors are actively searching for innovative ways to tackle this crisis. Notably, the most popular African textile, wax print, is made from cotton and it is not yet manufactured using recycled plastics. Cartik has a combined solution addressing these three opportunities.
Solution: Launched from a study-abroad dorm room in 2013, the fashion brand Cartik began as a wax print handbags and accessories business. Wax prints are colorful, vibrant textiles that are made from cotton plants which were introduced to Africa in the 19th century. Our student founder worked with local artisans in Ghana and Togo to produce goods marketed and sold in the U.S. As demand for Cartik’s products grew, while becoming aware of the impact the fashion industry had on the environment, the team began researching innovative ways to become a sustainable, green, ethical brand.
We reimagined the production of wax prints that not only addresses the plastic pollution crisis but reduces industry dependence on non-organic cotton – which relies upon insecticides and pesticides – and other green benefits. Our solution is developing eco-friendly wax prints using polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic to repurpose and reduce dump waste as textiles for quality sustainable backpacks, handbags, and accessories. The production of recycled polyester (rPET) requires less energy than fibers such as nylon and it generates fewer CO2 emissions. As a bonus, Cartik’s green wax prints will also tell Africa’s story through new designs, patterns, and symbols that reflect the continent’s rich culture and diversity. Wax print textiles hold significant value in Africa and are an integral part of African culture and society.
Market: The global eco fiber market size was valued at USD 40.58 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.6% from 2020 to 2027. Eco fibers are gaining popularity in designer apparel and garments. Annual sales volume for wax print textiles are 2.1 billion yards with an average production cost of $2.6 billion and retail value of $4 billion. Durable textiles with properties such as high resistance against acids and alkalis at high temperatures and minimum moisture retention have increased the demand for synthetics made from polyethylene.
Moreover, the use of polypropylene in the textile industry is adding positive growth to the market. Increasing demand for sustainable apparel from the fashion industry coupled with the growth of e-commerce platforms is expected to drive the market through 2028. Accordingly, analysts expect these trends will propel the growth of the technical application segment in the market for textiles. Cartik’s go to market strategy begins with B2B sales to mega brands and corporations that manufacture lifestyle and goods such as apparel, furniture, accessories, and outdoor gear, such as Nike, Adidas, Patagonia, The North Face, Ashley Home stores and Williams Sonoma.
Competition: Cartik’s competition falls into two categories. The first group is wax print manufacturers, the leading wax print producer for Africa is Vlisco Group that produces 70 million yards of the textile each year. They’ve been producing wax prints for the African market since 1846; and Chinese textile manufacturers who specialize in producing cheap imitations of wax prints created by Vlisco Group. In China, the leading manufacturer of wax prints is Qingdao Phoenix Hitarget. They distribute across sub-saharan Africa, the U.S. and Europe. The second group comprises brands that make accessories from wax prints. These are brands that can be found on e-commerce sites such as Etsy or Amazon. Unlike Cartik, all of our competitors currently use or source cotton in their textile production or goods manufacturing. According to the World Wildlife Fund, growing cotton also requires significant amounts of resource-intensive water and dangerous pesticides.
Value Creation: Cartik creates value in four key areas: environmental, economic, social, and public health. On the global stage, developing eco-friendly wax print textiles meets the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 13 regarding sustainable development goal of climate action. Converting plastic waste into recycled polyester can be one aspect of fighting precarious environmental issues such as plastic waste pollution in Africa. The business would affect positive outcomes such as: Environmental: reducing plastic waste dumping in landfills; Economic: add revenue to the local and national economies through two revenue streams. Our first revenue model allows us to sell our sustainable wax print textiles to mega brands whose Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) priorities align with our ethical and sustainable mission. The second revenue model gives us an opportunity to return to our roots of selling wax print handbags, accessories and backpacks. However, this time, with our eco-friendly approach. Social: added job creation on the African continent at various levels for those with formal education to individuals like Abubakar Sani; and lastly, Public Health: vastly reducing the number of plastic bottle picking people exposed to toxic pollution. Additionally, we create value by offering to recycle any Cartik backpack or accessory by allowing customers to return the unwanted items back to us for repurpose so they do not end up in a landfill.
Carmen Attikossie – Founder & CEO
Carmen founded Cartik during a study abroad trip to West Africa in 2013. She is currently the Sr. Small Business Development Manager at Local First Arizona. Prior to LFA, she spent 2 years working in entrepreneurial education for the African Leadership University in Rwanda. It was during her time in Africa that she was exposed to the plastic waste problem on the African continent and felt compelled to find a creative solution.
Ara Nashera – Chief Operating Officer
Ara is passionate about social businesses, technology and learning how people are evolving as they rely on smarter innovations that impact their day to day lives in arts & culture, business, health and education. From working in a tech focused startup that built a USSD based crowdfunding platform for feature phone users. He went on to co-found Impact Hub, the first community owned co-working space that focused on impacting young people running social enterprises in Kigali, Rwanda.
Dr. Ericka Ford – Chief Research Officer
Textile engineer and an assistant professor at the Wilson college of textiles, the leading textile engineering school in the USA. Erica is an expert in the fields of polymer and fiber science with more than 5 years of experience working on textile processing.
ADVISOR – Crystal Houston
Startup business coach, social impact entrepreneur and scholar focused on innovation and disruptive technologies in media. Co-founder of Citefull app, a 2020 SXSW Pitch finalist promoting trusted news using blockchain and AI. Co-founder of enterprise B2B2C SaaS influencer app, get get.