Circular Fashion Fund

Circular Fashion Fund

Dempstah has just been announced as the winner of eBay’s $100k Circular Fashion Fund 2024. For our first newsletter, I'll tell you what we plan to do with the award.


Despite all the new ways we can share, engage and broadcast via social media, I reckon the straightforward, self-authored e-newsletter still feels like one of the most connective– or at least the few that I read religiously do. Maybe it’s the low-fi, long-form format; fewer bells, whistles and algorithms dictating who sees what.

I'll try and make this a monthly thing, and will post each newsletter to our website soon after they've gone out by email. If you're keen to receive these and stay up to date on our progress you can subscribe in the site footer.


Following the award ceremony in Sydney, the past two weeks have been a whirlwind. We’ve experienced a fantastic outpouring of support and engagement from industry, government and press, revealing the depth of public interest in circularity and a shared desire to remedy our country’s waste crisis.

This is the first year eBay has run the fund in Australia– having successfully launched it in the UK in 2022. The fund supports emerging businesses developing circular solutions to issues affecting the fashion industry. Supported by The Australian Fashion Council, the fund totals $200k, with $100k going to its winner and $50k to each runner up, in addition to ongoing industry mentoring and support.

After working quietly and independently on Dempstah for the last few years, recognising that there is a broader community of actors out there pushing towards the same ideals feels both vindicating and energising; eBay, The Australian Fashion Council and the government's Seamless Clothing Stewardship Scheme leading the charge.

It was awesome to connect with everyone attending the event at eBay's Sydney CBD offices. The finalists– including myself, Stephanie Devine of The Very Good Bra and Belinda Paul of RCYCL– each got up to present, describing our operations and visions. Minister Plibersek and Australian Fashion Council Chair Marianne Perkovic both spoke cogently on the need to curb the growing toxicity and wastefulness of the fashion industry.

Dempstah's pitch for this award detailed the establishment of our own fibre recovery micro mill on land we own in Table Cape, North West Tasmania.


A bit of background for those hearing about us for the first time: Dempstah is a circular design practice recycling Australian textile waste back into new yarn.

Since 2019 we've been collaborating with a network of international and local mills to do this, our Hong Kong fibre recovery mill The Billie System key among them.

Working with The Billie these past five years has granted us rare access to learn about their uniquely resource-lite, waterless and highly automated approach to fibre recovery. In turn, relaying this fibre to spinning mills, including Novetex Textiles in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, China and Fibre Arts Shed in Jilliby on the NSW Central Coast, has taught us about the particularities of using this fibre to create new textiles.

I've written some juicy, nerdy blog posts about our most recent recycling consignments if you're keen for a deeper dive: including our Salvos Stores Recycled and High Tea with Mrs Woo Recycled yarns

As our understanding of mechanical fibre recovery has deepened over the years, we've constantly looked back to Australia to try and find anyone local who can replicate this process. Unfortunately we've always come up short, and it's been disconcerting to realise just how little textile milling happens onshore.

This scarcity puts Australia in a precarious position. Recycling is a necessary civic service our communities should be able to rely on, but it is also a type of manufacturing. Without the necessary expertise and infrastructure to develop recovery solutions for our textile waste, we're left with nothing but unhealthy stopgaps– including landfill, export dumping and offshore incineration. I'm always directing people to this 2021 story by ABC's Foreign Corespondent for a sense of how dire things are getting.

Working with international partners to learn about recovery and recycling is crucial, but relying on them alone to contend with our own waste isn't ideal long term.
We've all seen how dramatically global supply chains can be disrupted by Covid and foreign conflicts, or how regulations directing the global waste trade can shift overnight with siesmic consequences (think China's 2017 ban on plastic waste).
In our globalised world, there are certain processes we should be able to manage ourselves, with a healthy degree of self-reliance, and I believe cleaning up after ourselves and being accountable for our own rubbish is one of them.

No matter how I think about it, or how far from a circular economy we may feel at times, I always come back to the same conclusion:

We need to develop our own domestic capabilities to recovery and reuse our waste, and this micro mill will be a hopeful first step towards doing just that.

Early last year we submitted a successful development application to expand the existing shed on our Tasmanian property into a home-agri scale facility, suitable to house a garment sorting and disassembly station, storage and the necessary fibre recovery milling machinery (the process has many names depending on where you are in the world, including garnetting, fiberisation and shoddy/mungo-making).

Initially we’re keen to keep this operation very lean, sourcing just the basic equipment to turn locally collected textile waste back into spinnable fibre at small-scale.
Later this year my partner Otis and I intend to visit machine suppliers we've connected with who can supply the necessary equipment, and several other mills around the world who practice their own iterations of mechanical fibre recovery.
We're still drafting up the itinerary, but this research and sourcing trip will likely take us to China, Pakistan, Italy, India, Guatemala, France, Taiwan and Yorkshire in the UK.

This will give us the chance to see the relevant machinery up close and in action, suss out the suppliers, and clarify further fundraising targets.
From the specifications and pricing I've sourced thus far, we're seeing a massive disparity in the quality and cost of machinery available around the world. You can find basic, older fibre recovery machines for as little as $40k, to newfangled systems for over $1 million.
Contributing factors include varying levels of automation, integration, adjunct capacities (e.g. can detect and extract trace minerals/metals, can auto clean itself!) and speed and efficiency (e.g. can process 100kg an hour, or three metric tonnes a day!). They can be shiny and new or refurbished secondhand. It’s the equivalent of deciding whether to buy a rusty old dinghy or a super yacht 🚣‍♀️🚢

Wherever this path takes us, I'm excited to keep broadcasting what we're seeing and learning as we go; writing subsequent newsletters and case study articles about the recovery mills and suppliers we'll visit, and vlogging our progress on socials.


Recently I've observed a growing (albiet warranted) public cynicism towards recycling, exacerbated by the collapse of REDcycle and recent bankruptcy of Swedish chemical recycling pioneers Renewcell. The constant greenwashing Australians endure has even prompted the ACCC to crackdown on companies making misleading claims about the eco-credentials of their products and services.
Given all this, I think transparency and knowledge sharing is more important than ever when it comes to our own recycling efforts– especially to better inform the next generation of Australian designers about the realities of circular milling and textile production– processes I had no proximity to during my own education, and had to move to China to learn about.

And in the spirit of sincerity and hype-tempering, I think I'll finish on this:

While there is exciting potential in this field, it's crucial to stress that there is no technological silver bullet solution or panacea for our waste crisis, and there is no sidestepping the biggest battle of all: a cultural shift away from overconsumption.

Simultaneously, I believe improved resource recovery has a vital role to play in our evolution towards a circular economy, and our micro mill will help us explore what role mechanical fibre recovery could play in a diverse landscape of waste solutions emerging across the country.

Many thanks for reading!

For future newsletters I’m keen to dig a bit deeper into the function and history of mechanical fibre recovery, discuss new ideas for more modern, equitable and ethical milling practices and, of course, keep you well updated on our own progress and learning.

All the best,

Back to blog