A woman wearing an apron
Image via MEEMA

At Darling, we love to spotlight amazing fair trade companies that are addressing cultural, environmental and social issues. MEEMA is exactly that! A family-owned home goods brand, MEEMA uses leftover denim and cotton from yarn mills and jean manufacturers to create upcycled products like kitchen towels, aprons, placemats, napkins and tablecloths. In doing so, the brand helps save millions of gallons of water!

Why is this important? Let’s look at the facts: 20,000 liters of water are required to produce a single kilogram of cotton. Of the 2.7 billion meters of denim fabric produced every year, more than 250 million pairs of jeans are thrown out. For every kilogram of upcycled material we use, we save 20,000 liters of water!

For every kilogram of upcycled material we use, we save 20,000 liters of water!

MEEMA uses discarded fibers from jeans manufacturers and yarn mills to create fabric. By converting them into new yarns, then new fabrics and finally new products, these discarded fabrics are given a second life. In turn, the company’s own waste is used by coffee growers as a natural compost, returning to the earth and continuing the cycle.

A table setting with a matching tablecloth and napkins
Image via MEEMA

We love MEEMA’s kitchen towels and aprons. So much so that we are offering it on Darling‘s shop! We think you’ll love this set too! This farmhouse kitchen towels (which comes in a set of four) and dish cloth are both made from 100% cotton (80% of which is upcycled), and they are made with a special weave pattern for super absorbency and durability. The MEEMA kitchen towel set is made in a natural and blue denim color and has a corner loop for easy hanging. The kitchen half apron has a clean and functional design with three large pockets for women and men, one small pocket and a utility loop to hang items.

We got to chat with Alejandro Torun, the Co-Founder of MEEMA about their upcycling process and the benefits of their work for the environment and the global job market!

What was the passion that sparked the idea behind MEEMA?

MEEMA was born out of a combination of two enormous problems: first, the vast amount of waste and contamination generated by the textile industry, and second, the widely present consumer habits of using single-use plastic and paper products on a daily basis. We created a line of sustainable, durable and great looking everyday goods to substitute single-use items. 

Meema is also what we called my grandmother. Anyone who knew her will definitely remember her cooking in the kitchen, setting a table or feeding someone in some way or another, along with her incredible optimism and laughter. So MEEMA, as a line of kitchen and table textiles, is a way to honor and remember her.

MEEMA, as a line of kitchen and table textiles, is a way to honor and remember [my grandmother].

Denim scraps
Image via The Denim Project

How does MEEMA uniquely address the issue of consumer waste and discarded textiles?

Our manufacturer and sister company, The New Denim Project, has been experimenting with textile material recycling for more than 10 years. MEEMA products are made from post-industrial textile waste that we purchase from jeans manufacturers and yarn mills. We have reutilized tens of thousands of kilograms of these valuable materials, which would otherwise have gone to the landfill or to incinerators, or at best would have been downcycled for use in low quality products. 

What is MEEMA’s process for upcycling materials?

The upcycled denim is bought as fabric scraps from the cut and sew tables where jeans are made. These are small pieces of fabric, which are first broken down into new fibers. Then, they’re blended with virgin cotton to increase the fiber length. (We use up to 80% recycled fiber.) Finally, this blend is spun into new yarns and woven into new fabrics. Since the denim fibers already have the indigo dye, we never add any dyes or bleaches to our products. 

The natural cotton yarns that we use in our products are made in a similar way, in which we purchase cotton waste from yarn mills. Then, we blend it with 20% virgin cotton and the same process is followed.

Our own industrial waste is used as natural, plant-based compost by coffee farms in Guatemala, returning to the earth and closing the loop.

Yarn spinning in a factory
Image via The New Denim Project

What are the benefits of your sustainable goods (i.e. kitchen towels, aprons, placemats and napkins) versus competitors on the market that are not made from upcycled materials?

All our products are intended to be highly functional and long lasting, as well as having a timeless design that looks beautiful in any home style. We want people to choose MEEMA products because of how they look and how they perform. The sustainability aspect should only add to the experience and not be the only reason to use them. We hope our products are as good, if not better, than others in the market, and that our closed loop manufacturing process inspires more companies to migrate to sustainable practices. We wish in the future to only see sustainable textiles in the market.

We want people to choose MEEMA products because of how they look and how they perform. The sustainability aspect should only add to the experience.

MEEMA is a family-owned operation. Tell me about the team dynamic behind-the-scenes.

Even though MEEMA and The New Denim Project are independent companies, we work closely together. The New Denim Project, or IRIS textiles, was founded by my grandfather in 1956. I spent many of my summer vacations when I was in school working there and learning from him and my uncle, who now runs the company. I did all sorts of odd jobs that my grandfather gave me, like painting a 200 meter long wall, cleaning the steam boiler or helping repair old motors at the electronic workshop, which I probably broke more than I repaired. 

MEEMA is actually a client of The New Denim Project, who make amazing products for many incredible brands. We work closely together with my uncle Jaime and my cousins Arianne and Joanna. Their passion and determination to transform how the textile industry operates and to innovate with sustainable yarns and materials is a great inspiration for us at MEEMA.

We’re constantly looking for new trends and needs in the market. Both teams work together to create new products that will be durable, functional and that will look great. MEEMA then exports these products, and we distribute them online and with wonderful shops throughout the U.S.

Both teams work together to create new products that will be durable, functional and that will look great.

Yarn being woven by a machine in a factory
Image via The New Denim Project

How does the work that MEEMA does with The New Denim Project create jobs in the textile industry?

MEEMA has grown steadily as a brand in the past three years. The New Denim Project has also been growing, so while other textile companies in Guatemala unfortunately have been making layoffs, The New Denim Project has increased their team in the past year. This shows that sustainability is not only good for our planet, but also for generating economic opportunity.

Is there anything exciting coming up that customers can look forward to in 2021?

We’re working on growing our kitchen towel and dish cloth collection and a new collection of tote bags. We also hope to expand to Canada and Europe this year.

If you had three words to describe the work that MEEMA is doing, what would they be?

Conscious, optimistic, beautiful.

Sets of table cloths and napkins
Image via MEEMA

Is there a fair trade organization that is doing important work? Leave a comment below to let us know who to feature next!

Lead Image via MEEMA

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