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SOYA C(O)U(L)TURE – From Waste to Fashion

In this blog post we are honoured to have a chat with Ratna Djuwita from XXLab. In her ambitious research program, XXLAB use bacteria and tissue culture to generate bio fuel, food and leather like fabrics from soya liquid waste.

XXLab
Ratna Djuwita

If you have been an avid reader of our Mereka blog, you should know that Malaysia has been depicted as an ugly culture of food waste.  According to Solid Waste Corporation Management (SWCorp), Malaysians generate 16,687.5 tonnes of food waste daily.  The News Straits Time revealed that if all this goes into landfills, it can fill the 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers to the brim in just a month or two. 

Soya Bean Waste Management 

Once dismissed as food waste doomed for the landfills, soya bean residue has now been harnessed by local researchers and turned into a raw material to create fashion wear. 

Instead of tackling food waste as a whole, Ratna Djuwita and her team from XXLab embarked on a journey to combat water pollution and poverty in Indonesia by taking advantage of an innovative process, which takes the toxic residues and polluted water that are byproducts of Indonesia’s intensive soy production and utilizes them as inputs for manufacturing edible cellulose as well as bio-fuel and biologically tanned leather.

What is XXLab?

“XXLab is an open collective to empower women and transgender on art, science and free technologies while tackling environmental issues.” She explained.

Your ambitious goal is to combat water pollution and poverty in Indonesia. Why did you choose soya in your research?

“Indonesia has the highest soya consumption and it has become our staple food. It is also cheap for consumption compared to other food staples. However, the wastewater from tofu and tempeh production becomes problematic as it emits pungent odour which could be hazardous to our health.

As a result, we decided to take a leap of faith and choose soya in our research.” She proudly exclaimed.

What are the products that you have successfully made from soya waste?

With a strong background from the fashion industry, we utilise these soya waste materials to transform them into fashionable apparels, clothing, bags, belts and etc. 

As our business is expanding, we would like to venture into interior design or architecture.

How did you effectively transform soya waste to clothing wear? Is the same process being used for your interior design as well?

“We derived the process similar to Nata De’ Coco Process. That’s the basic idea. After several trials and errors, we found that we could upcycle clothing wear using Nata De’ Coco’s process; using soya waste liquid instead. We do this by first drying the liquid and from there on we make our wonders such as our soya leather.”

Are food waste and soy waste your primary focus now?

“Yes. We are not primarily focusing on creating new product i.e. green products. Instead, we focus on producing new materials.” She advocated.

How do the people in the CE community contribute and how is it CE-centered?

“We essentially want to produce new materials of our own. After that, we approach various tofu production that could support in our area, Yogyakarta. These days, home production based tofu or tofu fabric are becoming increasingly popular in our home area. Distributions are carried out from home-to-home; soy waste is inevitable as a result. 

With that in mind, we approach these women and educate them about the benefits of soya waste.”

Surprisingly, Circular Economy is a well-known concept in Djuwita’s community

What were the challenges that you faced when approaching/educating these women about CE and your business proposal?

Everyone stumbles upon challenges when they first starting out their business. 

“What’s the major profit that I could gain from this project?” Monetary benefits has always been a primary concern. Instead of focusing on profits, Djuwita educates the people about their business, the impact of soya waste in the environment and how it can be transformed to attractive fashion wear. 

“We don’t focus primarily on solving money issues. We advocate on improving their skills and knowledge. Once that, then we will educate them on Circular Economy.” Djuwita urged. 

Even though these women thrive in community, Djuwita recalled her biggest challenge was (ironically), educating them the importance of teamwork. 

It seems that you have undertaken a rather interpersonal approach that gradually develops into learning process. 

“Yes. We try to explain the damage that soya waste liquid have in our environment. Alas, people can be quite ignorant at times: Maximising their child’s welfare needs are their priority. 

We then devised a new strategy: We approached them personally in their village and had a heartfelt talk to these women. We even had a demo on soya waste liquid in their kitchen. The term “sustainability” gradually becomes their new noun. Thanks to them, I was able to improve my communication skills.” She said humbly. 

Have you ever held a talk in a school community?

“The school was actually the ones who approached us.” She admitted.

“Soya waste liquid is an issue that can be effectively explained with theoretical backups instead of showing them the research directly. In a way, we are actually able to develop and share our knowledge with one another.” She continued.

Are all of the information about your projects open source? Why?

Yes. Our information are essentially obtained from others. I strongly believe that we should be constantly learning and obtaining knowledge from each other.

When conducting experiments, who are your target market?

For now, we would want to focus on making our experiments more discernible to people, familiarise themselves with our experiments, since this is still foreign to many people. 

What are your future plans for this project?

For now, our goal is to make products that are essentially useful and sustainable for our lifestyle. 

Besides, there has also been an alarming soya waste liquid issue in East Java and we hope that with the support from the government, this issue can be tackled. 

Do you see XXLab using other materials besides soya waste?

“Possibly yes. However, this is the only material that we have for now and there is still a lot to experiment with. Regardless, we are hopeful that more products will be developed in future.” She said with high hopes.  

If you would like to know more about soya waste, do come join OSCE Days Festival happening on the 20-21st July! In fact, Ratna Djuwita is one of our Bicara Panelist! We have 4 Bicara sessions, 20 workshops and diverse vendors! You wouldn’t want to miss!