[INTERVIEW] Eco-friendly fashion brand Pleats Mama hopes to win over consumers with ‘story and design’

[Photograph by Yoo Dae-gil]

SEOUL — As a pioneer in South Korea’s eco-friendly fashionPleats Mama uses eco-friendly materials and modern knitting methods to create bags and accessories made with recycled polyester fabric. The company’s initial rapid growth was fueled by positive consumer responses to climate change and plastic pollution. However, high prices and greenwashing are seen in the future as potential obstacles.

Wang Jongmi, founder of Pleats Mama and CEO, gave positive connotations to her company by saying that her company has helped expand the scope for recycling marine waste. Pleats Mama was started in 2007 and has consumed 1.85million waste polyethylene terephthalate bottles (PET).

Wang was able initially to attract customers with a stylish and practical wrinkle bag brand called “Knit Pleats”It is easy to fold and carry. Each bag requires 16 500-milliliter PET containers. Knit Pleats bags are not made from woven fabrics in large batches. Instead, they are individually molded and cut into desired shapes.

“It depends on technology to see if wrinkles are completely straightened when folded and unfolded. Our technology team has worked on thread mixing technology for a year to realize excellent wrinkle resiliency,”Wang added that she has adopted “pretty”Design to survive in highly competitive markets fashion industry. “Pleats Mama is a fashion brand after all. I put all my energy into preferred design.”

Wang has used her experience as an OEM sweater manufacturer’s designer to design and create the slogan. “A pet bottle I threw away is born into a bag.”The company does more than recycle and upcycling. It communicates with customers by offering a virtuous cycle that values consumption with “Me-cycling”. Upcycling, also known creative reuse, refers to the process of making by-products, unwanted, or useless products into new materials, or products that are perceived to be higher quality.

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The eco-friendly clothing market is still in its infancy in South Korea. However, it has established a strong position in certain foreign countries, Wang stated, pointing out H&M, a clothing retailer based in Sweden, and Nike, the U.S. sportswear manufacturer. “Although related markets are growing in South Korea, there are only a few brands like Pleats Mama, which are trying to achieve an eco-friendly process from production to distribution.”

Wang thinks that the wider introduction of environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG), a trendy corporate operation method that focuses on the use of green energy and environmentally-friendly management, will act as a boon to her business as ESG creates the trend of value consumption, with more countries and companies concentrating their capital on establishing a resource circulation system.

Wang is determined to achieve double-digit annual growth this year, based on a friendly work environment. She would introduce premium products in September to maintain the momentum and then take steps in March to make Wang a lifestyle brand. “one-mile wear”Leggings, for example. One-mile wear is a concept that revolves around comfortable clothing that can be worn within a 1-mile radius of your home.

Pleats Mama is not immune to a general business slump fashion industry. Wang remained firm in her belief that her company would prosper with customers. “The fashion industry is faster in becoming a red ocean than any other industry.”It quickly becomes a red sea because of the illusion that entry barriers appear low. Sincerity is key in the fashionOnly brands that are able to grow up and communicate with customers will survive in the industry.”

Wang emphasized the systematic protection of eco-friendly products, voicing concern about “green sheen”, which is a form of marketing spin in which green PR and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organization’s products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly. “It is regrettable to see greenwashing cases. It is difficult to tell the difference between genuine and fake ecofriendly products for common people. We must protect consumers and strengthen eco-friendly certifications systematically.”

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Wang sees high costs as another task to overcome because eco-friendly products inevitably cost more due to recycling. “Many consumers wonder why recycled products are so costly.” she said, vowing to win over consumers with “Story and design.

Wang’s business was founded in 2007 by Hyosung TNC. They used Regen, a polyester fiber made from recycled PET bottles, to produce clothes, bags, and shoes. Hyosung TNC is collaborating with a provincial government to make a nylon fiber from waste fishing nets. It also participated in a pilot project that was launched by Busan, a southern port city, in May to recycle fishing nets into high quality materials that can be used to produce sustainable eco-friendly fabrics.

South Korea generates 44,000 tons of waste fish nets each year. The government launched a campaign to encourage the use of biodegradable nets for fishing and to prevent ghost fishing from causing damage to fish stocks. Sometimes divers are caught in ghost nets and end up losing their lives. Ghost nets can damage underwater habitats, such as coral reefs and benthic species, which are popular spawning grounds of marine animals.

South Korea’s ocean waste is made up of about half of its fishnets and plastic buoys. Tongyeong will have a recycling facility to convert plastic ocean waste (including plastic fishnets and Styrofoam bolls) into fuel oil through a pyrolysis process. 

(This story is based in part on an interview conducted for Aju Business Daily by Lee Bomi


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