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Impact 0357: A soft spot for linen wastage: saving the environment one sheet at a time

Rachel Lim · 22 February 2022
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Rachel Lim, 21, is the co-founder of Linens N Love, a social enterprise that aims to mitigate linen wastage in hotels by helping them repurpose them. She is passionate about environmental sustainability as well as empowering youth to connect with and give back to their local communities. Today she answers some questions about her cause!

Tell us more about what you do!

As co-founder and COO of Linens N Love, we help hotels mitigate their linen wastage (such as bedsheets, pillowcases and towels) by repurposing their linens for charities in need or by upcycling them into items like tote bags and pouches. 

The linens are first separated – those that are in relatively good condition and meet the demands of our charity partners are sent to these charities as a donation. The remaining linens are sent for upcycling into items that could be used as fundraising for our charity partners. 

As a youth-led organization, we aim to empower and support youth in driving their own initiatives to impact their own communities. Some ways we support youth are by encouraging them to plan their own donation drives and creative events that can help mitigate hotel linen wastage in a meaningful and impactful manner. 

We also conduct educational workshops for students to help them understand the importance of sustainability, but with a special emphasis on the hospitality industry and linens, which are often overlooked environmental issues for the general public. These workshops are an opportunity to develop leadership skills and team-building, as we get students to engage with our hotel and charity partners, and organize the deliveries of linen donations from the hotel to a respective charity.

What inspired you to start this?

Linens N Love originally started in the US in 2014. When my co-founder May came to Singapore, we decided to form a team to participate in HULT Prize, a business-pitching competition that challenges university students to solve global issues with a scalable idea. 

The competition was held in NUS, and our team won the national rounds. After the competition, we realized that our idea, whilst not tested in the Singapore market, had the potential to become a reality. 

Personally, I decided to continue to develop our model and adapt it to the Singapore market because I realized it was a relatively unknown issue in Singapore. I was surprised to find out that hotels incur immense amounts of linen wastage every year, throwing away linens simply due to a small tear, coffee stain or because the sheets have “expired”.

Have you faced any challenges so far? And how did you overcome them?

Since our organization technically started in the US, as our co-founders May and Vivian began the work there, we had difficulty adapting our work to Singapore due to cultural differences in the way hotels operate.

When we tried to start the same social enterprise here, we realized that we couldn’t approach Singaporean hotels the same way May and Vivian had in the US. The US team could easily call up any hotel manager and arrange for a linen donation delivery, but in Singapore, hotels are less comfortable with that sort of arrangement. 

Because of this, our approach to reach out to potential hotel partners in Singapore had to be different to that in the US. After some time, we realized a few things about hotels in Singapore. 

Firstly, local hotels, especially chains, often operate on a centralized system, which means that all the related hotels had the same procedure for handling their used linen. Secondly, unless we had a long-term partnership proposal or a large ad hoc delivery event, it was difficult to convince hotels in Singapore to accommodate on-demand delivery organized by students, unlike what the US team were able to do.

These learnings fundamentally changed the way we approached hotels in Singapore. For instance, we would approach the central corporate group of the hotel chain, not individual hotel managers. Essentially, our business model remained the same – we match the linen donation given by a hotel partner to a charity in need. However, in order to create a similar sort of social impact that we had in the US, we had to adapt our approach to potential partners to convince them to contribute to our cause.

If you could share one piece of advice with your fellow youth, what would it be?

Don’t let yourself be held back by the lack of confidence in your abilities or experiences. My journey thus far in the social sector has been rewarding because I’ve gained more experience by trying new things. By getting out of your comfort zone, you are bound to meet people that inspire you to do better. You’ll gain experiences on the way, but you won’t get them if you are too afraid to try.

What are your hopes or plans for the future? What do you want to see or perhaps do?

I hope to see Linens N Love (LNL) grow beyond Singapore and the US to become a global youth-centric brand. Within Singapore, I hope to mobilize more youth to explore their creativity. Before I joined LNL, I didn’t know there were so many things you could do with linens. You’d be surprised. Other than recycling them, you can even use them for collaborative painting classes or learn to make tote bags, coasters or pouches as presents for friends and family. Our team is still exploring ideas and we’re always open to any suggestions! 

At LNL, we emphasize that each piece of discarded linen deserves a second life. The longer we make that second life, for example by transforming an old towel into something useful, the more marketable content and meaningful messages we can create for our corporate partners, volunteers and any other party that contributes to our cause. Creative youth can help us expand this story.  

Of course, part of the story is that we also impact local communities in ways that they find meaningful and self-fulfilling. I believe my role is to share my experiences in hopes that they may inspire someone to take a leap of faith in putting their ideas to reality.

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