Benin project turns waste fabric into recycled ‘gold’

OUIDAH, BENIN (AFP) – Every morning, Amake Yessoufou makes the rounds of the sewing workshops of Ouidah, a small coastal town in the south of Benin, and collects scraps of fabric used by tailors to make clothes.

In the past, waste fabric clogged up the gutters of Ouidah, but Yessoufou is part of one effort to change that culture and make the most of recycling materials.

When Yessoufou ends her tour, the 28-year-old, who is deaf and mute, joins the ‘Colour Indigo’ workshop, a project transforming waste fabric into decorative objects.

Employing around 30 people, including 10 living with a disability, the project has found a loyal following and even ships some objects overseas.

“I had never imagined that scraps of fabric could be useful. At first, I was amazed and astonished but afterwards, I understood that textile waste is worth its weight in gold if it is recycled,” said local seamstress Lucrece Sossou.

In the workshop, Anne-Marie Afoutoutou leaves her wheelchair at the foot of a pile of scraps of fabric. On a small wooden chair, she braids pieces of laundry sorted by colour.

Over the course of the day, the piles of fabric disappear and all manner of objects take shape, from placemats and rugs to earrings, sold between EUR7 and EUR40 a piece.

ABOVE & BELOW: Ambassador of the Netherlands in Benin Tjoelker-Kleve holding decorative objects made at the Colour Indigo workshop in Ouidah; braided fabric on display; and head of several hotels in Ouidah Marcel Adjanohoun showing items braided by workshop employees

One ‘Colour Indigo’ client is Marcel Adjanohoun, head of several hotels in Ouidah – a tourist destination 25 miles along the coast from Cotonou, the economic capital.

“These are objects that speak to me a lot, so I use them to decorate my hotel,” explained the entrepreneur.

Braiding the pieces of fabric to make objects has significantly changed the lives of the workers, most of whom use crutches or wheelchairs.

Contrary to what some argued, working with people living with a disability does not affect the productivity of the company in any way, said Business Manager Nadia Adanle.

Thanks to her work, Afoutoutou can “finally provide for her needs”, whereas before, she said, she could “not put anything aside”.

“The way society looks at me has changed a lot since I leave the house every morning to go to work,” she said, her eyes rivetted on the thin braids. “Today, I feel valued.”