When Waste Isn’t Wasted: Gambia’s Young Entrepreneurs Put Trash to Good Use
Often times we recklessly throw away anything we don’t need. Some of people even have the notorious habit of dumping their used shoes, plastic items, clothes etc anywhere. These used and abused items often find themselves on dumpsites – smelly and rotten.
To the people who throw them, these are just waste. But today, there’s an emergence of a movement that is putting this waste to good use, innovative young people keen to get their hands deep inside the dirt and turn it into treasure and opportunity. This is called upcycling, a new industry some refer to as the sexier, even greener version of recycling.
Rose Manga set up her business, RozAfriq in 2016 after realizing the market gap for fashion accessories of up-cycled products. She would soon start going after her old and throw-away shoes and handbags to wrap it with African wax print and give it life all over again. Soon, other people would start giving her their used and abandoned shoes and bags. She started making pen holders from scrap bamboo, hand fans from bamboo sticks and furniture from pallets.
As the business progresses, Rose set eyes on abandoned car tyres which she upcycled into furniture using African wax prints and other local African material.
In an effort to create more visibility for her business, Rose showcases her products and services at business events, including last year’s International Trade Fair. In all her work, she encourages people to bring their used materials for upcycling.
“We do a lot of marketing. We have our social media pages like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter where people send us messages, send us pictures of old items that they have and ask us if it can be reused.”
With tyres, she made chairs, center tables and sofas with a mission to get the environment clean and free from harms.
With the business now booming, Rose is transferring her innovation to the younger generation.
“What I do is training young people because I feel that no one taught me this talent. It’s from God, so I don’t want to keep it to myself. So I train young people and prepare them so they can do it on their own and take care of themselves.
Rose’s plan is to turn RozAfriq into training and manufacturing centers. But until then, she see the opportunities in upcycling are fascinating
Ndey Fatou Njie, another young Gambian woman, is inspiring a new wave of entrepreneurial innovation through upcycling. She founded TIGA in 2016 following a gap in the market for swimwear business in the country. “Gambia could only import those wears from either Europe or America,” she said.
She kicked off the business to test the market, and the test paid off.
Today TIGA is much more than just a swimwear company. It has progressed to accessories, leisure wear and other products using African fabric. One of the exciting latest ventures is upcycling – transforming car tyres into furniture with African fabric as cover and people buy them for their gardens. “Because it’s car tyre, it never gets ruined. It can rain on it and it still stays intact.”
TIGA also uses empty bottles and decorate them with African fabric into flower verses. “So the whole point for us is to see what we can do to help the environment because in Gambia even when you are driving, you see people throwing things outside with no regard or respect for the cleanliness of their environment. So those are the things that we are trying to advocate for,” says Ndey Fatou.
TIGA has won multiple awards including the Youth Entrepreneurship Project’s ‘Most Innovative Project’. And she attributes her successes to hard work and ambition. “If you’re ambitious and you know what you want, you have a drive. There is nothing that can stand on your way. I started TIGA with D500 and now it was worth more than that. I had D500 but I had my vision, I had my idea and I was determined to make sure that I would turn it to something.”
Ndey Fatou is working towards expanding her business into a company that specializes in recycling waste products into usable materials.