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Business with Purpose


Feb 26, 2020

By the year 2050, it’s estimated that there will be as much plastic in the ocean as there are fish. The industrial fishing industry actually generates a staggering 10% of this waste in the form of abandoned fish nets and fishing gear, approximately 640,000 tons each year. It’s estimated that 46% of the plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch comes from fishing gear alone. Luckily, I’m talking to someone today who is tackling the problem of ocean plastic in a really unique way. Hannah Tomita is the founder and designer of Kaira Active. Kaira Active makes all of their products out of recycled fishnets and fishing gear! Hannah grew up in Hawaii and moved to California for college. After stumbling into her passion for fashion while a senior, she decided to sew her own swimwear to avoid spending hundreds of dollars on a swimsuit from a store. She taught herself how to make her own swimsuits by watching YouTube videos and reading articles online. After building a portfolio of her work, Hannah landed a job as an assistant designer at a swimwear consultancy where she worked with several high-profile international brands. I love hearing people who use their unique passions to solve problems in really unique ways, and I can’t wait for you to hear how Hannah is making a difference for the environment with her business.

5:20 - The Hannah 101

  • Growing up in Hawaii, Hannah visited the ocean at least a couple times a week. Experiences in nature were very accessible, and she spent her childhood exploring the island of Oahu.
  • Hannah studied industrial design in college at Arizona State University. Hannah started sewing swimsuits and learned how to make designs from patterns and online tutorials.
  • It was sharing her designs online that ultimately led Hannah to her first job as an assistant fashion designer at a consultancy. She worked with big clients like Urban Outfitters, Tommy Bahama, True Religion and more.
  • Hannah immersed herself in fashion and while she loved it, she quickly realized that the industry was riddled with fast fashion and little to no concern for sustainability. No one was diving deep into thinking through designs and materials used.
  • A few years after working in the fashion industry, Hannah realized the need for companies that thought through how their practices would affect the world. That’s when she started Kaira Active.
  • When she was a student, Hannah loved designer swimwear, but couldn’t afford designer swimsuits on a college student budget. Missing the beach while studying in Arizona and not being able to afford the swimsuits she liked led her to start playing around with sewing her own swimwear.

8:40 – Kaira Active

  • What began as a curiosity and hobby turned into a unique fashion brand that recycles industrial fishing nets and turns them into functional, beautiful active wear.
  • Sadly, there are a lot of ways these nets end up polluting the ocean. Sometimes fisherman will illegally dump their nets to avoid getting caught. In other situations, nets are lost due to bad weather or getting snagged. There’s currently no good system in place to regulate the situation.
  • When Hannah first started working at the swimwear consultancy, a vendor came in from Italy selling fabric made out of recycled fish nets. At the time, sustainability wasn’t being paid attention to very much, but seeing the fabric made Hannah excited about merging her love of nature and her very active lifestyle.
  • Hannah was also looking for a way to get the most out of her activewear. Her fitness and outdoor hobbies are eclectic, and she wanted a way to use one outfit for both the yoga studio and surfing.

16:26 – Fishing Nets to Fabrics to Clothing

  • Kaira Active partners with a nonprofit organization called Healthy Seas that sends divers to pull nets out of the ocean. Since industrial fishing nets are made of Nylon, the nets are taken to a facility and chemically regenerated back into their pure form of Nylon and made into ECONYL.
  • ECONYL is the technology that forms the Nylon into a thread which is then sewn in with Spandex to make fabric for Kaira Active clothing. You can learn more about the stages of the process here: https://kairaactive.com/pages/protecting-the-ocean
  • The majority of the fishing nets are collected from the North Sea, Adriatic Sea, and Mediterranean Sea where there are many shipwrecks. 
  • Fun fact: Since 2013, the Healthy Seas initiative has recovered 453 tons of fishing nets from the ocean – that’s the weight of 3 blue whales!
  • Kaira Active is also committed to reducing their waste, energy, emission, and water consumption. They partner only with manufactures that focus on sustainability, their electricity is derived from renewable sources, and they have adopted a water system aimed at reducing polluting agents before it is sent to the municipal water treatment plant. There’s more and you can learn about their reduction of harm HERE.
  • Kaira’s dad believed in her vision and encouraged her to go for it. He invested 2 bitcoins right before bitcoin took off. Hannah’s bitcoin appreciated and allowed Hannah to get her idea off the ground with development, design, and a Kickstarter campaign video.

24:00 – Multifunctional and Sustainable Simplicity 

  • Kaira Active’s mission going forward is to reduce the amount of clothing in the world while giving customers a multifunctional piece that they can use for multiple activities.
  • All of Kaira Active’s tops are reversible, so you get multiple looks from one garment!
  • Instead of buying active wear from a big box store with lower quality materials, consumers can invest in a higher quality item that will last longer while reducing waste!
  • In additional to the sustainable qualities of Kaira Active’s garments as well as their good business practices, a portion of their profits go back to the Healthy Seas organization.
  • Kaira Active ships responsibly by reducing plastic and packaging materials. They use 100% recycled paper and reusable 100% recycled poly mailers.

26:43 - Getting To Know Our Guest

  • Learn about Hannah’s guilty pleasure, who she’d most like to sit next to on a 10-hour flight, what she’s reading right now, and of course, what it means to her to run a business with purpose!

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