Wastes not wasted

Vania Santoso: Innovating green fashion
Vania Santoso

Before Greta Thurnberg, there was Vania Santoso.

Vania has been an environmental advocate since she was 12. 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. Surabaya, the second biggest city in the country where she lived, was swept by rising waters in 2005. The disaster was Vania's wake-up call to do something to mitigate calamities in her community. Along with her sister, Vania, who was not even her teens then, initiated a social movement called AV Peduli. There, she helped organized educative workshops on environment issues for the youth.

Environmental awareness and disaster risk management are serious business, so as young as Vania was, she knew that the style to pique her fellow youth’s interest in the topics was to be creative and fun. This imaginative approach is what she carries till now.

Give 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. Her organization’s grant applications were frequently rejected. Yet they overcome this hurdle by finding 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, and they secured USD 10,000 grant. This seed funding sustained the organization, and in 2014, Vania founded heySTARTIC. 

Sociopreneurship: A celebration of empowerment

heySTARTIC is a social enterprise based in Surabaya that employs upcycling - it transforms cement bag wastes 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 increased volume of waste. Vania seized the opportunity to turn trash into gold, benefiting the environment and ultimately,  the people.  

Working with local communities to collect cement bags 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 is operating in Surabaya, Sidoarjo, and Gresik, and employs a total of 11 staff. It has one showroom in Surabaya, six consignment shops, and an e-commerce website. It has received several awards on creative entrepreneurship. 

Woman and proud

Recognized as a W-O-M-E-N Champion in 2009 by an Indonesian marketing firm, Vania embodies concern about people’s Well-being, 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 would hear sexist comments like: You’re a woman. 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 make.”

What moves her forward is the pride that she feels whenever she sees heySTARTIC’s goods displayed. But this honor 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 surely cleans up well.