Eco-Hero Bunny Yan

Inverting the Waste Paradigm for Fashion

Perhaps you have seen Bunny: she was a lupine fixture at Town Square’s SummerStarz events, where she led hi-jinx Cosplay Swaps for the Guardian of the Galaxy and Grease movie nights. Or perhaps you’ve seen her in midwinter on the streets of Greenpoint, wearing her signature fluffy leopard onesie.  “I get cold easily,” she explains, “Onesies are warm & comfortable. For the winter, it’s just so easy to slip one on!”

Bunny — the nickname is a reference to her energized demeanor — is the sort of entrepreneur the future needs. Born in Shanghai, raised in New Jersey, and a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, Bunny began her career in design, traipsing around the tidepools of the New York fashion world, before decamping to Shanghai.

As the de-facto manufacturing base for the American — and global — fashion industry (look at your shirt tag recently?), Shanghai is at the frontlines of waste.  With one to five percent of all manufacturing resulting in factory error, Bunny grew to appreciate–literally!–all of the waste that she noticed piling up around the fashion Industry. “These people are throwing out or grinding down these materials or these finished products where the defect might just be that the garment’s dye is a little too dark or too light,”  she noticed. “ So we start seeing a half million t-shirts, ten containers of fabric, thirty tons of buttons — a ridiculous amount of things!”

To all this waste, Bunny conceived a unique solution: UNWASTE!

“Unwasting is the basic concept of inverting the waste.  Upcycling, recycling, repurposing: adding value to otherwise discarded materials” she explains. And so, in 2013, she applied her concept to the world of retail, opening a shop called “the Squirrelz” in Shanghai. Featuring upcycled items and crafts (think, stylish shoulder bags made from defective t-shirts; clutches from misprinted packaging) Bunny’s boutique sold both IRL and online, collaborating with all manner of fellow unwaste artisans.  The name was applied in honor of her co-conspirators tendency to collect their raw-materials, like so many wasted acorns.

Bunny in her Shanghai store

The attention that this shop garnered soon drew the attention of the Shanghai design world, including the respected Chinaccelerator program, and presently Bunny found herself expanding on her unwasting idea, to develop an website (think: Etsy, but Upcycling), disseminate upcycling tricks and tools, and, in a swirl of good fortune, even getting within 20 feet of Barack Obama, as the 2015 Chinese representative of the 1776 Challenge Cup event.


Upcycled Bags at the Squirrelz

Five years on, and the Squirrelz has evolved into a consulting business which connects unwasting entrepreneurs to the waste that is their raw materials. Now based in New York, Bunny works tirelessly to promote an alternate ecology for the future through efforts such as her Fabric Swap Meets, speaking on FIT alumni panels, and hosting a frisky new #EcoAF podcast and video blog.

“As a small designer, especially coming out of school, when you start learning about sustainability, and all the stats out there tell you how wasteful the industry is, but they don’t give you a solution to anything.” she laments. ‘So we are providing a solution—this is exactly what you need to do. Everything you get from Squirrelz, you’re contributing to—directly contributing to—reduced waste in the landfill. So that’s something that resonated a lot more, why I wanted to keep doing this.”

For more information about Bunny and the Squirrelz, follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.