Ready For Launch: Entrepreneur Sissi Chao Unveils Reusable Mask Line With A Social Mission
The Ready For Launch series asks questions of entrepreneurs to get the inside story behind a new startup or product launch.
Environmentalist and entrepreneur Sissi Chao's startup REmakeHub uses hi-tech recycled materials and creative upcycling to reduce textile waste in the fashion industry. Her production lines in China can transform used coffee grounds into watches, turn discarded fishing nets into sunglasses, and even make shirt buttons out of expired milk.
In response to the coronavirus crisis, and the millions of disposal face masks that are thrown away daily, the R.A.W. Prize winner has taken action, launching a new line of reusable masks called All Together.
Here, we talk to Chao to learn the story behind the new brand.
Can you introduce All Together in one sentence?
In one sentence? I haven't thought about that yet! It's a reusable mask to bring happiness and smiles to the world.
Who is the target consumer and what’s the value proposition?
It’s an initiative under REmakeHub; not a new startup. We are selling B2B, to corporates who want to buy reusable masks in bulk for their staff or customers. We cover our costs only; we’re not making a profit on these.
Lots of factories are closing [in China] because of Covid-19 and people are losing their jobs. We wanted to create jobs in the local community, to empower those ladies and provide them with an income.
Also, for every five masks we sell B2B, we donate one to Africa, mostly to Kenya. The pandemic response is relatively under control in Asia, but Africa is struggling. Plus, Ebola is now back in the region too. These are the most vulnerable people, so that’s where we wanted to direct the donations.
How long did it take you to get from idea to launch?
Fifty-two hours. From the initial idea to what you can see on the website.
That’s incredible. How did you do that?
The power of passion in our team! The design, the samples, the photo shoots and being ready to manufacture, we did it in 52 hours.
Tell us about the process of coming up with the idea.
I saw a piece on the news about a man collecting washed-up disposable face masks on a Hong Kong beach. I saw the news a while after it was first published, but when I saw it I was really shocked.
After that I started calculating. Because in China the economy is getting back to normal and people are going back to work, we realised how many masks people will use and throw away every day. If you’re working Monday to Friday and wearing a mask the whole time, that’s a lot of masks as you need to change them every four hours, and you can’t wash them as it destroys the structure and the material. That’s when I decided to come up with a sustainable alternative.
See also: R.A.W. Prize Winner Sissi Chao's Vision For Global Sustainability
Did the product go through many iterations before arriving at the final concept, or is the final product fairly similar to the original idea?
We did six different prototypes. The final version uses organic cotton, with an SMS and SS filter sewn between the layers of cotton. Because it’s cotton you can wash it as many times as you like, like a t-shirt. The filter can also be washed up to 60 times. So if you look after the mask properly it can last you a few months at least, rather than four hours.
What is the biggest obstacle you faced in getting All Together to market?
Sales and promotion. We have a manufacturing background: we know how to create the concept and build it. But we need assistance elsewhere. We are currently looking for a sales team to help us promote.
How did you arrive at the final branding and name?
It was inspired by a friend. I asked him, “In the time of Covid-19, what one thing do you want to say to the world?” He said I wish everyone could be all together and help each other. So from that I came up with the name, All Together.
And how about the logo?
I want everyone to smile! When you wear a mask, people can’t see you smile—you’re missing the most beautiful part of the face. I wanted people to be happy even though their face is covered by a mask. And that’s really difficult to do right now with so many people quarantined at home and mental health problems on the rise.
What are your goals for the next few months?
We want to sell 500,000 masks. That’s our target order. By selling that many we’ll be able to help a lot of people. We believe that’s an attainable number, based on the scale of the corporate clients we’ve been speaking to so far.