Egyptian Women transform upcycled waste into fashionable products


Founders of Up-Fuse
Yara Yassin (left) and Lama El-Khawanky (right) the founders of Up-fuse. Photo: Courtesy of Up-fuse

Caring about the environment encouraged two Egyptian women, who were very much into fashion, to take action and transform piles of waste into fashionable products through creating their own brand “Up-fuse”. Yara Yassin and Lama El-Khawanky founded Up-fuse in 2013 with a vision that focuses on making a difference in the community through recycling, revolutionizing handicrafts and bringing the community together around one goal that would contribute to having a sustainable planet.

As a women-led business in the field of upcycling, challenges encountered the founders of Up-fuse as they first started their business. Amongst the main challenges was dealing with the waste sector, which is male-dominated and very competitive. Through establishing professional business relations within this sector, the founders succeeded in gaining the trust and establishing fruitful collaboration with the key actors in this sector, confirming that gender differences should not be a reason for underestimating women’s capacities.

The need to raise the public’s awareness about the value of the brand and how it represents an environmentally friendly and fashionable solution to waste management was another challenge that the founders faced. The concept of wearing products made of recycled materials such as plastic bags, bottles and even tires was not familiar to the vast majority of their targeted audience, so Up-fuse had to put efforts into changing perceptions around recycled products at large. Through disseminating awareness messages via their brand blog as well as partnering with several influencers and public figures, Up-fuse products became very popular, especially among youth, not only for their unique designs but also for the company’s commitment towards environmental sustainability.

In 2018, Up-fuse was approached by UN Women within the framework of its flagship Programme “Stimulating Equal Opportunities for Women Entrepreneurs” in Egypt, which is considered a transition in Up-Fuse growing journey. This programme is a result of a strong global partnership between UN Women and Procter & Gamble (P&G), which aims to equip women entrepreneurs with the skills and support their need to access P&G’s opportunities as potential suppliers and distributors. Joining this programme opened the door to list Up-fuse in the suppliers’ database of notable organizations and positioned Up-Fuse as a go-to site for many international corporations, including P&G.

Up-fuse is equally committed to advancing women’s empowerment. The brand provides over fifty jobs, mainly for women and girls from the local community, and supports more than 3 Non-Governmental Organizations–employing talented Egyptian handicraft artisans who previously struggled to find decent work. Up-fuse has long been maintaining its commitment to offering opportunities in disadvantaged areas to enhance the livelihood of women and girls.

“About the social impact we are creating, all of our products are made by women and women refugees from different parts of the Middle East. And that’s why you will find on every item that we make “made by women from the Middle East. It is honoring [the idea] that women from the Middle East have worked together to create this one-of-a-kind piece,” said Yara Yassin. “Having design studios and brands like Up-fuse is going to create momentum and a big voice “Let’s take an action, let’s save our region”. We cannot as a region afford the climate change effects and at the same time we have to celebrate and salute our nature” adds Yassin.

Throughout its various fashion lines, Up-fuse has managed to transform more than 800K plastic

bags, 600k plastic bottles and 400 tires into fashionable and trendy products. It has also been awarded for its long-lasting impact by entities such as Injaz Egypt, Nahdet El Mahrousa, and WeMENA. Up-fuse has also made its debut internationally, with its brand now available on one of the most prominent European e-commerce websites: Avocado store; a portal that provides eco-fashion and green lifestyle products which cater to large number of customers across Europe. Up-fuse also had a pop-up in Austin, Texas, which was supported by the American Embassy in Cairo. Following the brand’s success in the pop-up, it was offered a permanent space in Macy’s store in the United States. The brand is also available in Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

As climate change threatens our planet, and as Up-fuse has shown, it is more crucial than ever for businesses to adopt strategies to embrace sustainable business practices that also put women and girls at the center of its solutions. 

In addition to Up-fuse, through the UN Women/P&G flagship programme, 56 women owned businesses (WOBs) in diversified fields (transportation, facility management, catering, advertising, field and electric supplies, pipes and tanks maintenance, branding and corporate gifts, detergents, events management, and housekeeping services) are better equipped with information on the market needs, accessed marketing training opportunities, and succeeded in establishing their network as suppliers with international companies resulting in additional nine WOBs registered as vendors in P&G’s supply chain.

Read in Arabic.