Twelve million tons of textiles end up in the garbage in Germany every year. Unbearable – thought Hanna Charlotte Erhorn (42) and Constanze Klotz (40) over five years ago, and developed a business model that should save at least a few kilos a year: in the studio of their start-up Bridge & Tunnel, old jeans end up on the sewing table on the dump. Are processed into bags, blankets, hipbags, pillowcases and blousons.
This principle is called upcycling. “When we started, many predicted a niche existence for us. Today we are totally up to date, ”says Klotz. Because the topic has even arrived on the catwalks from Milan to Paris.
For Hamburg companies, experience counts instead of certificates
When Bridge & Tunnel was founded (because you can only get to Wilhelmsburg via bridges or tunnels), the focus was on another thought: The founders wanted to give people a chance to get back into the job market. “Some of our employees have years of professional experience. But because they learned to sew in the family business or from their mother, they cannot provide any certificates, ”says Constanze Klotz, who, with a PhD in cultural studies, worked in urban planning for many years. “We don’t care about certificates, all that counts is the craftsmanship on the machine.”
Podcast: Listen to AboutYou founder Tarek Müller here in conversation with the “Bridge & Tunnel” founders:
Seven permanent seamstresses from six nations are currently working for the start-up: people with a refugee history, long-term unemployed and a deaf woman. On every finished part you can read who made it. “Textile workers are often not valued in the fashion industry. We want to change that, ”says Erhorn, who studied textile design.
Wilhelmsburg: Broken jeans become something new again
“Hamburg was good to us,” they both agree. “The people keep their word.” The spontaneous idea of the two was followed by a grant from the Social Impact start-up support, and a quarter of a million euros of start-up aid from a private investor from Hamburg and through start-up competitions followed on the business plan.
In Wilhelmsburg, broken jeans are processed by private individuals as well as by leftovers from large companies such as Otto and unusable textiles from clothing stores. You can also send in your old favorite jeans and have them remodeled into a new bag.
Hamburg women recycle leftover goods
Bridge & Tunnel generates a large part of its sales with B2B, i.e. with partnerships with companies such as Sea Shepherd or Tchibo. “We want to get companies to think about their leftover goods,” said Klotz. “Whether old tents or safety vests: textiles are only rubbish if you consider them as such.” And anyone who just wanted to throw away black or gray jeans: they are desperately needed in Wilhelmsburg.