From coffee grinds to beech trees – turning waste into wearables


The Lezé the Label fashion line uses sustainable materials exclusively.

Posted 2021-05-18

First published by the Globe Content Studio.

Entrepreneur Tanya Lee’s commitment to a healthy planet was evident when she reinvented both her fashion and textile lines into ethical, sustainable businesses.

“We don’t compete on prices, we compete on quality and consistency,” says Lee, who credits UBC Sauder School of Business for giving her the business acumen she needed to seek out solutions to turn waste into wearables.

Five years ago, Lee received a Master of Management degree from the Robert H. Lee Graduate School at the UBC Sauder School of Business, and two years ago, co-founded Lezé the Label. The e-commerce boutique sells pyjama-inspired work clothes for women, made out of sustainable fibres, such as recycled coffee grains and plastic bottles.

Entrepreneur Tanya Lee, managing partner of the Taiwan-based manufacturer Tobimax Textiles and co-founder of Canadian brand Leze the Label, says she honed her financial business skills while studying at the UBC Sauder School of Business.

“Before attending UBC Sauder, I had no idea how to look at anything from a business perspective,” she says.

Lee, 30, who also holds a B.A. in Sociology, says that even learning basic accounting was “huge.”

“Mastering financial acumen was one of the many valuable things I took away from my time in grad school.”

She says the UBC Sauder “tool kit” taught her to assess her ideas based on facts and figures to effectively leverage her instincts and passions. “Even if I’m really married to an idea, but the numbers don’t work, I need to deepen my understanding to make the right decisions.”

Lee’s road to sustainable fashion was paved in part because of her family’s legacy. After graduating in 2015, a job alongside her father and uncle was waiting for her at Tobimax Textiles, a family business located near Taipei, Taiwan. As managing partner, she transformed Tobimax into an ethical textiles and garment manufacturing company with operations around the world. Between 90 and 100 per cent of its manufacturing is in sustainable fabrics. The social enterprise also has women in 80 per cent of its leadership roles.

“Back then we did polyester,” she recalls. “That was what Taiwan was known for because plastic was really strong.” Today’s fabrics include textiles made from beech trees, recycled polyester, coffee grinds, fishing nets and plastic bottles.

“I was drawn to sustainable textiles because I grew up watching the fashion industry,” she says. “And on a personal level, I have so many clothes I just don’t wear, and it just becomes waste. I was inspired by my curiosity to turn waste into clothing.”

“Tobimax provided me with the network, resources and knowledge to be creative in the materials that we use,” she says.


We can use waste to make more things. We don’t have to use raw materials.


Tanya Lee, Business alumna and fashion entrepreneur

Data from Statistics Canada shows that municipalities spend a collective $3.2-billion each year managing 34 million tons of waste produced in the country. Canada ranks among the worst offenders globally in waste generation, according to the Conference Board of Canada, producing more garbage per capita than 16 other OECD nations.

Bottle Waste

Hardisty says that it’s entrepreneurs like Lee whose business models are providing the solution by preventing waste to begin with.

“She’s taking what was formerly waste and turning it into a new product. That’s something that can last and be sustainable,” he says. “We need to transition to a circular economy where we are reducing waste [by] using it as input, and we need more responsible business leaders like her to tackle this planetary crisis and the other pressing issues of our time.”

The business professor teaches a new first-year BCom course that was introduced in September and includes several units on sustainability, making the subject standard learning for many of the school’s business programs. “It’s smart training for business leaders,” he says of the course curriculum. “For business to be successful, we need to take care of the world.” Businesses that embrace sustainability practices are, in fact, more profitable in the long run, he adds.

The school also offers a course at both the undergraduate and graduate level on how to develop personal creativity to bring innovation to life in an organization, which helps equip students to become well-rounded leaders.

He offers several proof points, including greater efficiency of resources. Although it may take some upfront investment, he explains, it saves money over the long-term by reducing costs. Ethical companies also do better at attracting high-value employees who are prepared to take a lower salary for non-monetary benefits, such as happier and more fulfilling work lives. This leads to less turnover and millions in savings through reduced human resources costs.

“The value of sustainability showed up for me in the school’s encouragement of creativity,” says Lee. “There’s so much waste around the world. We can use that waste to make more things. We don’t have to use raw materials.”

“The problem can only be solved with innovation.”

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