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Meet the alumna creating sustainable shoes from upcycled textiles

Meet the alumna creating sustainable shoes from upcycled textiles

Lili Dreyer

The mix between sustainability, entrepreneurship and design is truly unique. I would recommend Brunel to others because of the amazing teachers who are passionate about their field and because of all the opportunities you get through Brunel.

Lili, Alumni, Postgraduate

Founder and CEO, VAER Upcycled

Sustainability, Entrepreneurship and Design MSc - 2018

From Denmark

Previous Institution

Copenhagen Business School (CBS) - BSc

Tell us about your career journey since you graduated…

After I graduated, I decided to continue working on the business idea that I developed with one of my classmates at Brunel - upcycled shoes from textile waste. I was lucky to get a spot at a start-up incubator programme, where I brought VAER Upcycled (my start-up, previously known as 'Wair') into the real world. Since then, I have continued developing VAER Upcycled and it has gone much better than expected. In March 2019 we had our first successful crowdfunding campaign, so now we are producing our first collection of shoes, which is very exciting! More recently we have won the Circular Textile Challenge, an SDG Tech Award from Sustainary, and a CBS Start-up award from the Copenhagen Business School. We have also just started a big collaboration with Europcar, where we will be making a VAER x Europcar sneaker from their discarded workwear.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

It is very different from day to day. Sometimes I am out and about, pitching, having meetings and visiting possible suppliers. Other days I am sitting in front of the computer, doing accounting, answering e-mails and working on our strategy with my team. Mostly it’s a mix. I am very lucky to be a part of a Danish programme called Innofounder Graduate, which supports promising start-ups - this allows me to work full-time on my start-up even though we are still at the very early stage.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

The biggest highlight is probably the moment when we reached 100% on our crowdfunding campaign with the Wair sneakers. All the work that we had been doing the previous year - designing the shoes, prototyping, testing, finding suppliers and a manufacturer, getting samples done and revising these - every single step led us to this moment. And most importantly, it means that we are now able to save a LOT of textiles from being wasted, so it was a pretty incredible feeling.

How would you say Brunel helped you to get where you are today?

My time at Brunel helped me in such a tremendous way! Our course actively encouraged us to start our own business while we were at Brunel, and the different classes helped us with this. For instance, I used the Sustainable Design coursework to calculate the environmental footprint of traditional sneakers vs. upcycled sneakers and I used my thesis to learn how to make a scalable fashion upcycling business. Through the Brunel Entrepreneur Hub we participated in the Venture Competition and joined the Venture Crawl. All in all, it gave me the skills and opportunities to develop the idea behind Wair and the courage to pursue it after I graduated.

Why did you choose to study at Brunel and why would you recommend Brunel to others?

I have always been a big sustainability nerd, so I knew that I wanted to study something with sustainability after I finished my bachelor’s in Business Administration. I wanted to create new solutions that can change the world - so I just typed ‘sustainability + entrepreneurship master’ into Google - and the course at Brunel was one of the first results. The mix between sustainability, entrepreneurship and design is truly unique, and I was sold within 5 seconds of reading about the course on the website. I would recommend Brunel to others because of the amazing teachers who are passionate about their field and because of all the opportunities you get through Brunel.

What is your best memory of studying here?

That is such a difficult question - I have so many amazing memories from my time at Brunel. If I can mention a few - meeting some of my best friends, Pitching Wair at Brunel Venture Competition, playing for the Brunel Futsal and Football team, participating in the Venture Crawl in the red buses and meeting my awesome teachers who have taught me so many amazing things.

If you could give one piece of advice to new students, what would that be?

Use all the opportunities you get and try out new and exciting things. In Denmark, we don’t have the same university culture, so I was stoked to see so many awesome clubs, organisations, events and learning opportunities at Brunel. So, my best advice is to enjoy your time; university is kind of like a bubble, so don’t be afraid to test and fail - this is your opportunity.

What would be your top tip or advice for new graduates as they begin their career journey?

With the risk of sounding very cliché, follow your heart and don’t be afraid to do something risky that is different than everyone else is doing. When I graduated, I wanted to get a “normal” job (something within the lines of sustainability consultancy) before I started Wair. Now I am so happy that I got rejected for all the positions I applied for - if I had gotten one of those jobs, I wouldn’t have been where I am with Wair today. And even though my family and friends were sceptical in the beginning, it just felt so right so I knew that I had made the right decision.


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