Wastes not wasted

Vania Santoso: Innovating green fashion
Vania Santoso

Long before Greta Thunberg started Fridays for Future, there was Vania Santoso.

Vania has been an environmental advocate since she was 12. Today 16 years later, she has come a long way from simply being an excitable kid to becoming an influential female eco-warrior promoting a green lifestyle, environmental sustainability and community empowerment in Indonesia.

Her passion for environmental issues started when she experienced a devastating flood. In 2005, her home town and the second biggest city in the country, Surabaya, was swept by rising waters. The disaster was Vania's wake-up call to do something to mitigate calamities and prevent such devastation in her community. Vania, who was not even in her teens at this point, initiated a social movement called AV Peduli along with her sister. There, they started to help organize educative workshops on environment issues for the youth.

Environmental awareness and disaster risk management are serious topics, but with her youthful approach full of creativity and fun, young Vania managed to interest other children. Until this day she still carries her imaginative approach with her wherever she goes.

Giving the environment a break

Environmental concerns were not a priority in the past, especially for a developing country such as Indonesia. Often, Vania faced challenges in conducting activities to promote environmental sustainability. Funding for projects was one of the crucial issues, with her organization’s grant applications frequently getting rejected. They only managed to overcome this hurdle by seeking for untraditional solutions in ingenious ways.

In 2007, Vania and her team joined an international environmental competition co-sponsored by the United Nations Environment Program. Their innovative home-waste management project was selected as the first prize winner, securing them a 10,000 USD grant. This initial grant sustained the organization until Vania founded heySTARTIC in 2014.

When it comes to the environment, even the smallest action counts

Vania Santoso

Sociopreneurship: A celebration of empowerment

heySTARTIC is a social enterprise based in Surabaya who’s business concept is upcycling – for example by transforming cement bag waste into valuable fashion items. With the tagline "Exotic Outside, Ethical Inside" heySTARTIC differentiates its business with its emphasis on upcycling as an art. It manufactures quality waterproof leather-lookalike products with social value.

Why cement bag waste? Surabaya is a big city with a lot of residential and commercial construction going on. The high demand for cement inevitably results in an increased volume of waste. Vania seized the opportunity to turn trash into treasure, benefiting the environment and ultimately the people.  

Working with local communities to collect cement bag waste and partnering with waste banks and contractors, heySTARTIC promotes sustainable fashion, art for education, and circular economy. “We want systemic change, not climate change,” says Vania.

Today, heySTARTIC operates in Surabaya, Sidoarjo, and Gresik, with a total of 11 employees. They own one showroom in Surabaya, six consignment shops and an e-commerce website, receiving several awards for creative entrepreneurship.

Female and proud

Recognized as a W-O-M-E-N Champion in 2009 by an Indonesian marketing firm, Vania embodies the concern about people’s Wellbeing and Optimism.  She is a Multi-tasker, an Entrepreneur and a Networker. These leadership traits, Vania points out, should also come with knowledge, empathy, and bravery. 

Being a female eco-warrior focusing on waste management, she often hears sexist comments like “you’re a woman” or “why would you play with dirty waste?” “Why not”, she would answer “in fact, we all have a responsibility to sort any kind of mess we cause.”

What drives her forward is the pride that she feels whenever she sees heySTARTIC’s goods displayed. But this honour does not compare to the joy of being able to uplift individual lives and communities through her products – the economic empowerment that she’s able to provide.

Vania not only cleans up the environment, but also with all stereotypes.

Follow hers and other stories in #FemaleForwardInternational.

Vania Santoso

Vania Santoso

In Indonesia, young women are often intimidated by nasty sexist comments, preventing them from pursuing their dreams. Sociopreneur Vania Santoso demonstrates that age and gender are hurdles that anyone can overcome – as long as they are determined and creative!

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Johann Ahlers
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