Responsibility in action: Ukrainian jewellery brand uses plastic waste for sustainable fashion
Earrings made from recycled materials aren’t just attractive because of their design: They also convey the message that fashion should be environmentally friendly, and consumption should be responsible. We talk to the founder of the Re-beau jewellery brand, Maria Sorokina, about how Ukrainians are taking to such jewellery, and what new developments in the fashion industry to expect over the next five years.
From IT to sustainable fashion
Maria Sorokina, a programmer by education, has never worked as one. After graduating, she realized that she wanted to work in something she has been interested in since childhood — fashion.
“My mother really loved, and still loves, sewing,” says the founder of the jewellery brand Re-beau. “In the tough 1990s, when most people weren’t able to buy something nice to wear, my mother sewed beautiful clothes for me, my sister, and herself. For as long as I can remember, we have always had a heap of Burda fashion magazines at home. Because I used to flip through these magazines, and watched my mother trying to create something stylish from materials available to dress us all up, it inspired my interest in fashion.”
Fashion was her hobby for a long time, until Maria started sorting waste at home.
“I realized that much of what the average Ukrainian threw away could be reused,” she says. “You can make something interesting out of it, something that attracts attention. And what are the things that catch everybody’s eyes? Jewellery,” Maria says, explaining why she decided to specialize in jewellery.
In 2017, her Re-beau brand was born of this idea. The name is an abbreviation of “responsible beauty”. The designer explains that this is a social business with a specific call to action: “My earrings disseminate information about sorting, about smart consumption. They make it clear that we must use resources more responsibly and efficiently.”
Materials for the eco-brand
Maria collects the raw materials for the earrings herself, and her friends help her. Re-beau at the moment is a small-scale operation, so raw materials collected individually are usually sufficient. However, it is hard to get enough plastic of the same colour. Because of this, the designer was previously unable to plan a colour range, but she has found the answer. “I’m now in contact with a secondary raw material producer who sells ready-made ground plastic. The producer sells in large volumes — in hundredweight — while I just take a few kilos of the colours I need,” says Maria.
Such recycled material producers, according to her, often work with unused plastic: “A company may close down or stop producing a specific line of products. Then they have a lot of brand-new caps for bottles or mayonnaise jars, or brand new children’s toys. There are heaps of goods that are produced but that never reach the market or the final consumer.” Normally, these would end up in landfill sites, and add to the pollution of our environment. Using this new, but still waste material, neatly demonstrates the complexity of the circular economy.
Her use of clean, unused plastic might also help to reassure those who shake their heads in disbelief, saying: “How could one wear garbage?” According to Re-beau’s founder, such critics are more often encountered in the regions: “I remember one lady writing that she had only worn gold all through her life and would never wear anything made of plastic. But are we always aware of what things are made of? For example, when we buy a T-shirt that contains polyester, we don’t know whether it’s recycled material or not. Processing plastic bottles into polyester has become commonplace now.”
Fashion and new values in 2025
While there are sceptics in regions, the Re-beau brand creating a lot of interest in the capital. Maria has already been invited to the Ukrainian Fashion Week three times. First, to take part in a discussion about sustainable fashion. Second, to hold a master class on jewellery making, where the designer trained participants in assembling earrings and pendants from pieces of vintage vinyl records. During the third season of the Ukrainian Fashion Week, the Re-beau founder presented her accessories during an eco-project show.
“In Kyiv, people know more about responsible consumption and sustainable fashion. That’s why it’s exciting for everyone to learn more — about the design, about how everything is made, and what the philosophy of the brand is,” Maria says.
According to the UN Report on Future Possibilities, which was published this year, by 2025 the circular economy market in Europe alone will be valued at more than EUR 1.8 trillion. And the sustainable fashion market will be worth more than U.S. $150 billion.
“Recycling and reusing resources will be trendy. It offers huge potential for developing a business”
However, Maria believes that digital fashion will be even more innovative than the reuse of resources. These are clothes that do not exist in the material world. They only exist as a virtual item that you can buy and apply to your photo — you will be able “put on” a new piece of clothing online.
Such clothes may become very popular for use on Instagram, since virtually every day one will be able to show off new clothes without having to find closet space for them. The Re-beau brand founder calls this an eco-friendly step in fashion development: “Making digital dresses results in fewer carbon emissions, and less consumption of water or other resources,” she says.
“An application is made once, and then replicated and sent all over the world. Such projects are already appearing, and there will be more and more of them. The need to buy things for one event will fade away.”
The United Nations Development Program is implementing a project “Plastic Waste Management at the local level” with the financial support of the joint New World Programme of the Coca-Cola Foundation and Global Water Challenge. The project aims to minimize the negative impact and risks of plastic waste to the environment and human health through promoting responsible consumption and sustainable plastic waste management practices at the local level.
Author: Yulia Hudoshnyk for UNDP
Edited by: Euan Macdonald, Yuliya Samus, Iryna Gerasymenko, UNDP