The Coolest Company in China: Bringing Sustainability to Retail Through Open Innovation

The Coolest Company in China: Bringing Sustainability to Retail Through Open Innovation


Question: What do a bunny and a squirrel have in common?

Answer: They are both responsible for changing the way global retailers think about sustainability in China.


Meet ‘the Squirrelz’, the coolest Chinese company I have ever met. The Squirrelz has an online platform that sources waste rejects from factory floors to designers who then repurpose that waste. This unique process of upcycling creates products like courier bags made from defective medical uniforms, mechanical waste cufflinks, and more.

Now, meet Bunny Yan, the hip CEO and founder of ‘the Squirrelz.’ She has a design background and is clicked-in to the future of retail. “Consumers around the world are becoming more socially aware. 60% are willing to pay more for a product that has a social or economic impact,” says Bunny. “China is the largest generator of industrial waste, with 1-5% factory production being rejected every day. I saw the perfect opportunity to make real change in the world while feeding my passion for creative, inspired design.”

Sustainability and upcycling are a fast-moving trend in retail. In the last five years, the product tag word “upcycle” went from 7,000 instances to 300,000 on the popular marketplace site Etsy.

The beauty of the Squirrelz is that it helps every party along the value chain. Factories can recoup on losses from mistakes, designers can purchase materials at a huge discount, and consumers can be fashionable and socially responsible. Win-win-win.

“We can increase factory net income by 20% by removing rejected product. At the same time, we are lowering the costs for designers by up to 80%, all while making healthy margins on our materials platform and our consumer website,” Bunny says.

The Squirrelz is a recent graduate of an accelerator program in China that helps develop models of open innovation as a way of approaching the market. As part of their exercise of looking outside of their own walls to innovate and collaborate, the Squirrelz has developed relationships with New Balance and Toms, and was invited to the White House to the Emerging Entrepreneur Event hosted by President Obama in May of this year.

“When people in the West think of China, oftentimes there are concerns around our production practices and waste,” says Bunny. “We hope to change this view in a big way by developing the first-of-its-kind ecosystem producing socially positive outcomes through sustainable methods of waste reduction.”

The Squirrelz is a shining star in China that has a strong passionate team. They exude a big, purposeful message with global reach. Members of the GRIN can’t wait to see how a Bunny and a Squirrelz will continue to change the face of retail.

More about the Squirrelz:


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