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Winner Spotlight: The Squirrelz Is Upcycling Its Way to Big Profits from Waste

It was by accident at first. We visited a factory and saw a lot of goods that were defective—but clean and potentially reusable. We found doctors scrubs that are made in China for the U.S. market. They’re colorful, sturdy, washable cotton. We turned them into handbags and cross-shoulder overnighters—a couple of different styles—and realized that nobody in China knew how to sell products like this that have impact and a story behind them.

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In Shanghai alone, there are 6,000 apparel-manufacturing factories. These factories produce just a fraction of the merchandise that consumers see on store shelves—but they also produce a hefty number of defective products that never make it to store shelves at all.

Until now. In Shanghai, The Squirrelz is an upcycling platform that partners with brands and factories to create entirely new products from defects. Founded by Bunny Yan, The Squirrelz has opened a physical storefront shop but also has big plans to develop an online marketplace for upcycled goods.

Yan’s pitch won the cities category at Challenge Cup Beijing, earning her a trip to D.C. for Challenge Festival this May. Following the pitches, we caught up with Yan to chat about her background and where she plans to take the company in 2015.