EgyptGlobal Female LeadersSocial entrepreneurship

Upcycle Egypt

This picture shows plastic waste one of the major challenges of humanity in the next century.

2 bold women & 1 vision

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 36 seconds.

Podcast Up-Fuse

Fail and get up, fail and get up, fail and get up, that’s a winner. A loser stays down. These are thoughts that come to my mind when I tune in to Yara who is the co-founder of Up-Fuse, an Egypt-based social business that creates objects made out of plastic.

I visited her in the workshop in Cairo where the products are built. Her goal is to build a well-known sustainable fashion brand in Egypt focusing on products purely made out of plastic. A retrospective on one of the most exciting founders in Egypt.

Yara, Co-founder of Up-Fuse in her workshop in Cairo. I am hiding behind the camera.

Transforming

From meeting Yara at her workshop, I could tell that she never was a person passively following life, chasing what everyone else is chasing. Also, she mentioned openly the ambiguity of extreme poverty and luxury which is not only an issue in Egypt but in many countries around the world. Avoiding the luxury trap she always strived to have a lasting impact and to build something meaningful.

Nothing was more fascinating to me than observing her working with her material. Plastic. So how does someone get to the idea of creating sustainable fashion from what most people call garbage?

Berlin is calling

Yara was always curious about design and crafting but her journey really begins when she was in Belin, Germany, for her studies. The first time she found herself in an environment where people cared about sustainability and how waste can be reduced.

I have to say from my own experience, currently living in Munich that Germans are absolutely terrible in recycling and still are considered one of the top countries in the world in terms of recycling percentage. We as world citizen have to do much better, everywhere.

Up-Fuse represents a new mindset about our fashion and our lives.

When reality hits you

Back at home in Egypt, Yara started exploring with materials and craftsmen that could work things out but the local mindset wasn’t ready for what she was planing. Can’t we create beautiful objects from plastic which is actually polluting our streets? Yes, we can but we would also be willing to pay the price for it. Back in 2015, Egypt wasn’t yet ready and she found herself in a situation where people were either laughing at her directly or demanding discount prices.

Going through months of self-doubt feeling inside that she truly believes in it but getting contrary signals from her environment it was time again to find the right environment to grow her ideas to the next level.

Everything starts inside

Back in Germany she created her own beautifully crafted objects and a girl approached her asking for her bag. Receiving a lot of attention and positive feedback, Yara sold the first bag that she made herself.

Taking that can-do attitude and her first experiences selling her goods back to Egypt wasn’t easy. Again the mindset back home was unforgiven but Yara and her business partner were relentless and started applying for grants and incubator programs in Egypt.

The first financial support was a mere $ 2,500 that was not even enough to pay for an apartment for an extended period of time. Yara, however, was not willing to give in an she made a bold move.

This picture I took when I visited Yara in her workshop in 2017.

Credit card mania

Without the ability to pay back directly Yara obtained a new credit card.  With that card she paid for the Up-Fuse launch event in Cairo where she invited a multitude of people from all over town. With the sales on the event she was then able to pay back the initial credit card debt. Reflecting on that Yara mentioned in the interview that it was a huge risk looking back but also the starting point for all the good that was soon to come.

Being brilliant is not enough

Indirectly she also touched the topic of business understanding. An entrepreneur in the fashion industry does not only have to be a brilliant designer but even more so a brilliant business person. Without business acumen a genius idea won’t transform into a successful business.

“You can’t be a successful designer if you don’t know anything about doing business.”

Yara, co-founder Up-Fuse

Especially for social businesses it is challenging. As a social entrepreneur you are working in a constant tension between social impact and profitability to sustain the social business in the long term.

Social impact

Early after receiving the first smaller grants and incubator attention, Yara got in touch with the NGO Spirit of the Youth Yarra and her co-founder started a success story that is second to none. Starting with 5 youngsters that would collect garbage on the streets if they would not be in the program, Up-Fuse trained them on how they can produce the plastic materials that are needed for production. They received the training for free. Not only paid Up Fuse them above-average wages but also invested in their education. Soon the ripple effect switched into full gear and more youngers wanted to join the program. From 5 they went all the way up to 24 employees.

Up-Fuse uses plastic we call garbage to create beautiful objects.

Scale Up

The first big thing happened when Up-Fuse won first place in an international competition out of 2,000 participants hosted by the World Bank in Marrakech, Maroco. With the $ 50,000 grant they were able to fund their first expansion plan hiring 2 full-time employees and really building a full-blown concept what Up-Fuse represents.

Expanding into Germany, the Gulf states, and the USA, Up Fuse is professionalizing itself with a fully sustainable business model and lasting social impact in the local community in Cairo.

Check out their beautiful website and treat yourself as I did with a fabulous upcycled item made with love. Also, have a look at my article about a recycling social business in Peru.

Yarra so sorry it took me an eternity to publish the article. Keep rockin’!

Munich, 24th May 2020

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