A HOLIDAY at the other side of the globe is what planted the seed for Be Mona, a Cork-based online business offering sustainable women’s active-wear – made from recycled plastic bottles.
Chilean woman Caro H, now living in Bweeng in North Cork, tells how her lightbulb moment came to her.
“I used to dive a lot in Chile. With my friends and my husband, we did a big trip to Easter Island. We were diving and we found trash from Europe. It made us wonder what is going on? How is it possible that something from the other side of the world is here in the Pacific Ocean? I said to my husband, ‘We need to do something about it’.”
That thought remained at the back of her mind for several years, but like many new businesses, the pandemic offered her the chance to act on it.
“We had a very long lockdown and I found myself all the time wearing active-wear, at home especially. And I thought, ‘I should create something with plastic’. I wanted to create something comfortable, functional and recreational,” she says.
Be Mona clothing consists of a sports bra and leggings set which currently comes in a choice of three colours: black, yellow and an orange-red.
Feeling soft and smooth, it’s mind-boggling to think each order is made from 36 recycled plastic bottles; 25 for the leggings and 11 for the bra-tops.
Opening the box is an experience in itself, with all packaging made from recycled materials and a personal note from Caro, welcoming the user to “the Irish active-wear revolution”.
Another card congratulates the recipient on recycling 36 plastic bottles as a result of the purchase and briefly explains the process.
“As a brand, I think it is very important to educate our customers,” says Caro.
While the final part of the business process is in Ireland, there are links around the world to get the product made. Be Mona is partnered with the biggest recycling company in Tiawan, which collects the raw materials and carries out the treatment and cleaning process to make the bottles safe for use. Then they are shredded into tiny pieces so they can be turned into a yarn which is knitted together to form a fabric.
Be Mona also works with a Danish company which manufactures the garments at its facility in Vietnam.
“It is a well- established company,” Caro assures me. “The most important thing is they follow the leading social accountability standards, which ensures that staff are paid a fair wage and work in a safe and healthy environment.”
This isn’t the first time that Caro has launched a business but she’s confident she has the right recipe for success this time.
“I had my own start-up from 2013 to 2015. It was a market place for new designers in Chile. It’s fantastic to work in fashion, especially with a small business. But the business model was not very good. It didn’t make any money,” she explains.
This was followed by a move to Spain for 18 months, where she did an MBA in Business Administration in Madrid, eager to increase her knowledge for her next foray into entrepreneurship. Her final project for her studies was on sustainable luxury handbags.
Now living here for over four years, Caro founded Be Mona in May, 2020, not only as an attempt to remove plastic from our oceans, but also to address the ‘fast fashion’ trend.
“Many garments are made from polyester, which comes from oil, and a lot of pollution is involved in the process. What is happening at the moment with fast fashion, is you buy and then you dispose. Some people give to charity but some just put it in the bin. What we do is a circular business model. This means you buy the active-wear from us, you use it and afterwards you can give it back and we can reuse the material to make a new garment. It’s different from the linear business model; the traditional one we all know.”
She is hopeful that attitudes are changing towards fast fashion.
“Greta Thunberg’s generation is very aware of what’s going on,” she says.
Although Be Mona is a new business, Caro is already forward planning, with hopes to tackle the problem of fishing nets in the ocean. Two years ago, Greenpeace produced a report outlining how more than 640,000 tonnes of nets, lines, pots and traps used in commercial fishing are discarded in the sea every year, the same weight as 55,000 double-decker buses. This form of pollution is deadly for marine wildlife.
Down the line, together with her partner company, they are hoping to use technology to create a new yarn from nylon fishing nets.
In the more immediate future, following customer feedback, she plans to add pockets to Be Mona leggings, add more colours to the range, and introduce different products such as t-shirts and hoodies.
“We want business growth but very sustainable. That is the core of our business, to have less impact on the planet. We’ve had a few orders from Canada, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany but we are focused in Ireland. We’re trying to keep it local; we are not trying to over-grow,” she says.
Considering Ireland is producing the highest volume of plastic waste per person in the EU, this might be the perfect gift for an eco-conscious woman this Christmas.
Be Mona claims to have already recycled over 18,300 plastic water bottles and avoided the creation of over 7,300 kilos of CO2.
After all this serious talk, it turns out the literal meaning of Be Mona is rather playful.
“It started with ‘Mona’. In Spanish, mona is like an expression: ‘You look so mona’, meaning you look so cute. In Irish it means ‘The noble one’ or ‘the little one’. In Persian it means ‘last forever’, so it was the perfect combination for us to put in the name of the brand.”
See bemona.co for more