You are currently reading Issue 98: Changemaker, April 2018

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Can we fix it? Yes, we can. Why I decided to start implementing environmental solutions and preventing waste – Sophie Unwin, Director at Remade Network


Sophie Unwin is director at Remade Network, is the co-founder of the Remakery in Brixton and is founder of Edinburgh Remakery, a social enterprise teaching repair skills throughout Edinburgh and running workshops and selling quality refurbished goods at their community hub in Leith. Based on her experiences in Brixton and Edinburgh, Sophie is now working with communities to help set up other Remakeries and campaign for wider change in the way everyday goods are manufactured and designed. She has 60 active enquiries and has recently returned from a project in New York.

Sophie Unwin

“…We generate around 40 million tons of electronic waste every year, worldwide. That’s like throwing 800 laptops every second…”

Creating a solution

Before working on Remakery I previously did lots of jobs – mainly environmental campaigning and journalism. I think I felt it was time for me to stop critiquing and describing environmental problems and to try and create a solution which would be financially viable, as well as preventing waste in order to help the communities I’m part of.

I’m proud that the Edinburgh Remakery achieved this aim: we started with a group of volunteers and £60 and within seven years we have ten employees and a turnover of £230,000.

Remade in Edinburgh

Remade in Edinburgh is both a community centre and a campaign for goods to be built to last so consumers don’t need to take them back to the shops!

The community centre is all about repair education – rather than fixing things for you the technicians fix things WITH you! The Edinburgh Remakery offers computer repair, furniture repair and sewing and mending. Plus, it takes donations of unwanted broken IT equipment and furniture and refurbishes it for resale at affordable prices

The ugly truth

We generate around 40 million tons of electronic waste every year, worldwide. That’s like throwing 800 laptops every second. An average cellphone user replaces their unit once every 18 months. E-waste comprises 70% of our overall toxic waste.

We throw away 25% of our clothes! And that’s not counting the emissions from production – important as textile sales is growing so rapidly. The volume of clothes bought rose by nearly 200,000 tonnes to 1.13 million tonnes in 2016, causing 26 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from production to disposal and putting clothing fourth after housing, transport and food in terms of its impact on the environment, according to research by the Government’s waste advisory body, Wrap.

And Britons throw away 300,000 tonnes of reusable furniture each year.

So, there’s a lot of work to do!

Interestingly, repair creates at least ten times as many jobs as recycling, which means it’s not just a better bet for the environment, it’s a better bet for the economy too.

Encouraging more girls and women to learn more STEM / construction related skills

The Edinburgh Remakery runs furniture repair, computer repair and sewing and mending courses. Computer repair attracts more men – both as workshop participants and as volunteers, and sewing attracts majority women. There are a few exceptions!

So far, the Remakery employs three computer technicians (two staff and one apprentice) – all men. It would be great to have a woman in the future! Furniture is pretty diverse and attracts a 50:50 mix of staff, volunteers, freelancers and customers! 

We can encourage girls and women more by creating welcoming, inclusive environments and provide role models as educators and leaders to inspire them. I believe passionately that we need to do that at all levels of organisations – there’s still a lot of outdated attitudes in boardrooms as well as classrooms!

Ideas from other parts of the world

On the one hand, we can look to Flanders in Belgium, which has achieved a fantastic 70% recycling rate – and has some pretty innovative schemes such as offering householders chickens to eat their garden waste!

We can also look to a lot of indigenous cultures, where there is very little waste in the first place. For me, it was a trip to Nepal, many years ago that inspired this project. In a year, a household of six of us threw away less than one dustbin of rubbish because we reused and repaired everything.


Last year, I won the UK Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the School for Social Entrepreneurs and Lloyds Bank / Bank of Scotland for my plans to scale up the impact of my work through a network of Remakeries campaigning for wider change.

Edinburgh-RemakeryThis meant a huge amount for the vision to be celebrated, to think that people can really see the benefits of a model that creates jobs, helps build community and gets people really thinking about preventing waste – not just cutting it down.

It’s so important that we think about where things come from and where they go to and the impact of consumerism if we’re really to make a difference. I’m delighted to have won this award, and I’m delighted for the whole team as the project represents so many people’s hard work.

Coming up

I have 65 current enquiries for new Remakeries. I’m currently creating the website for the new company, juggling funding applications, business enquiries, recruitment and looking at expansion plans in Scotland the USA. It’s very exciting, very busy but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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