By betting on garments made from recycled PET bottles, UNIREC finds opportunity in sustainable clothing
The year was 2019. Kapil Bhatia was participating in exhibitions to expand his apparel business – one that he has been a part of for 20 years. What seemed like a regular business activity became his turning point when one of the customers approached Kapil with a request to manufacture clothes made of recycled fabrics.
This led to the birth of. The Mumbai-based company, founded in 2021, makes shirts, blazers and trousers from recycled polyester.
Kapil tells SMBStory how a regular business query led to a new opportunity.
“There was nothing unusual about his request because I had heard of t-shirts being made out of recycled materials,” he says, adding, “However, he wanted me to make shirts, blazers, trousers which made the task daunting.”
Kapil says that after running a family business for several years, he wanted to explore the larger apparel industry. About five years ago, this idea led him to establish a separate company, Brandstore India.
Brandstore India makes uniforms for about 150 corporates including Vodafone, McDonald’s and more.
His plunge into the sustainable clothing space, Kapil says, came after years of market research.
Each garment made by UNIREC recycles around 12 PET, short for polyethylene terephthalate, the chemical name for polyester, bottles (of 1 litre), says Kapil. It also reduces carbon emissions by two kilograms. The company also has a Global Recyclable Standard (GRS) certification – an international, voluntary, full-product standard that tracks and verifies the content of recycled materials in a final product.
Although UNIREC is still work-in-progress, Kapil has set goals in the long-term and the short term. “We want to reduce carbon emissions worth 1 million tonnes and 10 million tonnes. So if I have to give you a reverse calculation, we aim to sell 500,000 garments this year and 5 million garments in the next three years.”
According to a report, the global recycled fabrics market was pegged at $8.8 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $9.8 billion by the end of 2026 at a CAGR of 5.8 percent.
In India, top players in the segment include Rughani Brothers, Bombay Rayon, and Sarvoday Textiles.
Although only a few months old, it has been able to sell more than 800 pieces through its D2C (direct-to-consumer) website. In the next few weeks, UNIREC, plans to get listed on ecommerce platforms such as Amazon and Flipkart.
For its B2B vertical, the brand has bagged orders from the likes of IDBI Bank and a pharmaceutical company Kapil did not wish to name.
Operating amid the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic could have proven to be a difficult time for UNIREC but Kapil decided to see opportunity in this adversity. “The biggest takeaway was that we got to speak to the distributors. Because everyone was sitting at home, they had the time to listen to us and understand the innovation happening in this sector,” the entrepreneur says.
Kapil also notes that the company had to overcome other challenges as well such as determining the right minimum order quantity, coming up with sustainable packaging using paper and more.
Corporate orders have generated revenues worth Rs 15-18 lakh, the founder claims. UNIREC is in talks with the likes of McDonald’s. He is also launching a few products in the women's category in the next 60 days.
On the global front, Kapil plans to venture into the Middle East markets soon. “We found out that there is a possibility of plastic packaging being compostable. So we are exploring that also in the long term because at the end of the day you have to protect the garment as well,” he concludes.