Interview in RetailTrends about NoWa's sustainable jewellery

Interview in RetailTrends about NoWa's sustainable jewellery

Interview in RetailTrends over NoWa's duurzame sieraden

Changemakers: NoWa

Turn waste into a piece of jewelery and also earn money from it? For Josette de Vroeg, dust-gathering telephones are an excellent starting point for necklaces and bracelets made of precious metals. Get to know NoWa. “Everyone talks about circularity, but so little is happening. I want to show what beautiful things you can make from waste.”

“Virtually everyone on earth has a mobile phone. That's not crazy either; it is a wonderful product. There is only one big problem: of the old telephones that are no longer used, 70 percent end up in developing countries in Africa and Asia. Very occasionally they are still used there, but the vast majority end up on the electronic waste mountain. People often set them on fire to extract a small amount of copper. That is very bad for the environment and, if possible, even worse for the people themselves. And a real shame, because old smartphones contain more than forty raw materials, from newly mined gold to cobalt.

All those raw materials are almost never reused. 50 million tons of electronic waste is produced, of which only 20 percent is recycled. This recycling is mainly considered too labor and cost intensive.
There is therefore a huge amount of untapped potential in this market. I wanted to make that tangible with NoWa, which stands for 'No Waste'. I want to show people the value of waste by making jewelry from the gold and silver from telephones that mainly collect dust in drawers. That makes NoWa unique: in addition to being the only one to use the raw materials from smartphones, we are also the only fully transparent party in a sector that is anything but.

It took about three years to get it all done. I did this together with a company that collects telephones in Africa and has them recycled here – because that is not possible there. It took a while to find a factory that could efficiently recycle smaller quantities. When that was done, I sent my business plan to the Amsterdam branch of TEDx to find out whether people are really waiting for such a product. That's where words of praise came from, after which I raised the first funding through crowdfunding in 2019.

After the launch of my first collection I realized that I only appealed to people with a lot of money with my jewelry. Prices started from 150 euros. I wanted to do this differently, because I want to reach everyone with my story. That is why I have expanded the range with bracelets, necklaces and earrings, in a price range between 19 and 795 euros. Everything is made here in the Netherlands.

My goal is that as many people as possible get their used phone out of the drawer and hand it in for a new life. To achieve that goal, I have tried everything to motivate people. For example, I started giving discounts when customers wanted to send in their phones, taking care of the shipping costs. I soon realized that this wouldn't work if I didn't want to go bankrupt. Then I started with the current model. People can send in their old telephone for 3 euros. This is how we divide the shipping costs for the phones. I have noticed that the Dutch find this a sympathetic and sustainable idea, which they want to contribute to. They do that without expecting a discount in return.

Apart from the fact that people keep sending us telephones, we collect most of it through companies. That is part of our B2B side. We have launched a communication campaign at organizations such as APG and VodafoneZiggo, called: 'You are worth gold (and your phone too)', in which employees with collection bins are motivated to hand in their phones.
To process all those telephones, we have now set up a partnership with the social enterprise ICT from Tomorrow, which helps young people with a distance to the labor market to make a new start in society. These young people learn to fix a telephone if this is possible and otherwise it goes to the recycling factory. By helping them find work, we make an impact in two areas.

We have grown very fast in recent years. A little too loud. That meant that I often worked reactively. In many cases, success came naturally to me, without climbing on the phone myself or actively looking for partnerships.
The sale of the jewelery is currently mainly via the webshop. Strategically that is much smarter – because your margins are higher – but I also know that stores are extremely important for the visibility of the brand. That is even more important for us, because at these locations we can provoke activations and entice people to hand in their phones. There are still opportunities there, because I am only in the shops that have approached me. I would like to scale up, but that is a very time-consuming job. To take us to the next level, I need someone to look into this, in the form of a co-founder. That will be the next focus point internally. With this – and with the arrival of a new investor – we can take steps towards professionalisation.
Next year I also want to expand abroad. Soon after the launch in 2019, I saw that the concept also caused a stir abroad. I received requests from all kinds of European countries and requests from, for example, the Smithsonian Museum in New York. So at the moment we are doing some small things abroad, but hopefully this will soon become more with a renewed focus.

Mud Jeans
If I had to point out one fashion brand to be an inspiration, it would be Mud Jeans. I think this is a really great company that does important things and stands alone in an industry. Even more important is the attitude of the founder. Some entrepreneurs brag about how they want to make the world a better place. He doesn't at all. He simply wants to change something. I recognize that in myself: showing with a product that the world can be improved with simple steps. It doesn't have to be all that difficult.

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