It all started with baby clothes. When Rosario Hevia became pregnant with her second child, she began to notice how much children’s clothes were wasted. The gendered onesies she bought for her firstborn, a girl, were in perfect condition, but they wouldn’t fit her new baby boy. She started to focus on textile waste in her home country, Chile. Hevia’s engineering background means it constantly adds numbers, finds solutions and improves systems. Chile is the main consumer of fast fashion in Latin America, so the issue was pressing on a societal level, not just a personal one.

Rosario Hevia, founder of Ecocitex.Photographed by Paz Olivares-Droguett

While holding her one-day-old baby boy at the clinic in 2018, she decided to start Travieso, a used baby clothes marketplace and recycling business. A few months later, she decided to leave her position as Deputy Director of Financial Planning at Latam Airlines Group to develop her business.

As Travieso grew in popularity in Santiago, Hevia quickly accumulated old, damaged fabrics. She was receiving 400 kilograms of textile waste every month at the end of 2019. Hevia started looking for alternatives for clothes that couldn’t be recycled or resold, which made up around 20% of the donations she received at the time. . “We went to see the Ministry of the Environment, the municipalities, the department stores that claimed to recycle sustainably. Everyone just said, ‘We donate it.’ And she insisted, “But I’m talking about the shabby clothes, and they said, ‘Oh, no, they’re thrown away.’ ” She could not. I found no viable solution in Chile at the time.

The courtyard of the Ecocitex headquarters in Santiago, Chile. People can drop off textile waste to be recycled for a small fee.Photographed by Paz Olivares-Droguett

“It’s getting harder and harder to donate clothes because they’re not needed,” says Hevia. “There are so many coins circulating already.”Photographed by Paz Olivares-Droguett

According to AFP, Chile is the main consumer of fast fashion in Latin America.Photographed by Paz Olivares-Droguett

But Hevia kept looking. At the end of 2019, she heard about an old yarn factory for sale. That was it. She would create yarn from textile waste for her new business called Ecocitex, a portmanteau of Economía Circular Textil (Textile Circular Economy).

Hevia’s understanding of Chilean textile waste came from statistics published by the journal Financial newspaper in 2018 revealing that Chile produced 550 tonnes of textile waste each year. She felt hopeful with her yarn factory. “I [have the capacity to] processes 20 tonnes per month, so 240 per year,” she says. But in November 2021, shocking images of the Atacama Desert emerged from Chile, revealing 39,000 tons of discarded clothing abandoned in makeshift landfills. It was worse than Hevia thought. The photos have gone viral around the world, with international outlets like Al Jazeera and the BBC covering the heaps. “What saddened me most about this news is that the problem has gone viral around the world, but the solutions haven’t,” Hevia said. It only gave him an extra drive to run Ecocitex.

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