Founders Esther Smit and Loes Stapper co-founded Oxious because they saw that things should and could be different. Oxious is a Dutch company that supplies sustainable textile products from Turkey and champions good working conditions. Last year, they achieved an exceptionally high score for their B Corp certification, making them the highest scoring company producing a product. At the beginning of this year, they also launched the Oxious Talent Factory in Rotterdam’s Feyenoord district. So plenty of sustainable inspiration. We asked Esther about the challenges, telling examples and plans for the future in the promotional sector.

How did the idea for Oxious come about? Did you already have experience in the textile industry or promotional sector?


I worked for years as a public administration expert for the government, and I do not come from an entrepreneurial family, for example. In government, I held various positions, from policy advisor to project manager. In this political playing field, social interests often did not take precedence over personal interests. This frustrated me, so I opted to work in front of the classroom through an education at the PABO. Teaching was great fun, but here, too, I found that current affairs from society were not properly reflected in the teaching material. While I wanted to give meaning to current social issues.

So I started thinking about the next step and came into contact with a company working in promotional products, where I became fascinated by the quantity of products and the sometimes-short lifespan. It seemed obvious to me that you value your customers with high-quality products. Through this company, I ended up in the textile sector in Turkey. I met Loes (Stapper) six months later. She traded in textiles with her husband and that’s how the idea for Oxious came about.

In your mission statement, you state “making high-quality products that make people happy, according to the highest environmental, social and ethical standards”. How does this manifest itself in the day-to-day business at Oxious?

Oxious stands for “oxygen” and “conscious”. Oxygen refers to the cleanest possible production process. Responsible production, leaving enough oxygen and clean air for the survival of people, animals and the planet. It also refers to the people who cooperate in our production process, that they get ‘air’ through proper working conditions. Concious is that we are aware of every step in the production chain. From transport, to label production and other steps in the chain.

Initially, we sourced products from existing producers in Turkey, but later switched to recycled materials. Our existing producers did not want to switch from the status quo, and so we decided to do it ourselves. In a small village in Turkey, we set up our own production and bought our own machinery.

As it turned out, the position of women in this village was still very traditional, with women not even coming out of the house to work. In the UN’s so-called gender gap ranking, Turkey occupies position 136 out of 155 countries. That position does indicate how low Turkey scores on average. Women are considerably more disadvantaged when it comes to financial independence. We produce in a small village, where the craft originated and where that traditional division of roles was still very much in place.

It seems to me a great challenge to break this traditional division of roles that has existed for years and provide opportunities. How did you approach this?

We started with the hammam towel. A product that requires a lot of handwork and knowledge of the material. In the business model of existing products, they put the cloths on the women’s doorstep unknotted at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day they put them outside unknotted again. This way of working creates great financial dependence among the women, because when they cannot work, there is no income either.

We started with three women. Through the local butcher and baker, we managed to find them, after which they came together with their husbands to apply. We then grew to 14 women, and three women we helped to get their driving licences. Loes would practise for the theory exam with them during breaks. You have to imagine that because of this driving licence, they were suddenly able to drive to a village further away to get a swimming certificate. But this also made their daughters see their mother’s independence, which really changed the position of these women and generations to come.

On your website, we saw that you are in the top 3 B-Corp certified companies in the Best for the World list. Congratulations, an exceptional achievement! What does this certification mean in practice and what has it given you so far?

Correct! The minimum score is 80 points, but we managed a score of 173 points, while the average of B corps is around 91. Globally, 200,000 companies are in the process of achieving this mark and around 6,000 companies worldwide have actually achieved the mark, of which we are the highest scoring company producing a product.

B corp stands for business as a force for good. We started thinking how, with what we have already built, we can use Oxious as a force for good. That resulted in the Oxious Talent Factory that we set up 5 months ago. This is a sewing workshop in the Rotterdam Feyenoord neighbourhood where we match status holders with mothers from the neighbourhood who have no education. The percentage of people living in poverty in this neighbourhood is very high, so above 20%.

Employees at the Talent Factory take training so that they have a starting qualification. They face poverty or social isolation and through the Talent Factory, we offer them a social network, colleagues and financial independence. Our mission is to employ 100 people who are currently not participating in society within five years. At Oxious, we find it bizarre that the employment potential of these people is not optimally exploited.

Hearing this, today’s society lacks a match between the potential of these people and the work that is available. How specifically does Oxious offer a solution to this issue in the textile industry?

Yes, indeed and on top of that, there is a huge textile waste mountain. In the Netherlands alone, there is 300 million kg of textile waste every year, of which only a small percentage is recycled. In the Talent Factory, we offer a repair service for textile products that are returned broken. We sort these products, repair it and send it back so it can be sold as a normal collection. We also do a bit of tailoring for small and medium-sized companies. Finally, we also work a lot with textile waste storms, including for the promotional industry.

How nice! Do you have examples of these productions?

Sure! Among other things, we reuse the material of well-known banners to make different products. This material is water-repellent and can therefore be used for backpacks, fanny packs or laptop sleeves, among other things. For the backpack, we used old shirts of the Dutch national football team for the colour and front of the backpack. But we also made laptop sleeves and bags from old football club banners.

We see that companies often have stock of merchandise that is no longer usable, due to an old logo, for example. We reuse these waste streams for new products. From shirts, for example, we also make scrunchies or hairbands.

Another example of reused banners are the picnic blankets we make. We are currently looking into whether we can also make the front of the rugs with a sustainable material. For example, with sheets from hotels, which are ecologically cleaned and repainted. The nice thing about these rugs is that the inside is filled with sheep’s wool, which is a larger surplus residual stream in the Netherlands.

So you offer both standard products made from recycled materials from Turkey (including the hammam towels) and custom products from the Talent Factory in Rotterdam. What key challenges do you encounter in terms of sustainability and working conditions?

The recycled materials used for the cloths in Turkey consist of cutting waste from the textile industry in Turkey. This puts a limitation on the number of colours available, as colours cannot be mixed easily.

It is also challenging at times to deal with all the different cultures and ways of working. But when you then see a status holder come out of his social isolation after 2.5 years and go BBQing in the park with colleagues through the Talent Factory, it gives so much energy and gratitude.

Very inspiring to see the productions, and that in the short time of 5 months. What fun developments do you expect in the near future for Oxious?

We hope to develop international productions in the near future. We also want to better map residual streams in the Netherlands so that we can bring them together in new products.

For companies, it is good to know that many tenders ask about their social return on investements, which Oxious can offer directly with our products.

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