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May 03, 2012

Coffee Grounds Yield Big Profits for Taiwan Company

Coffee grounds have helped turned a once struggling Taiwan firm into a thriving business - one that reports annual earnings of more than $6.6 million.

Since 2009, Singtex Industrial Company of New Taipei City has taken the waste from two major coffee store chains, for free, and used it to make shoes, jackets, pants and handbags.

The company says coffee grounds cut odors, help fabrics dry faster than normal and resist ultraviolet light. The came from the existing use of coffee grounds as odor eaters, says Singtex brand manager Chiang Po-wei.

People normally consider coffee grounds as garbage, he says, but they can actually be used effectively to cut odors in shoe cabinets, even refrigerators and smoking areas. Chiang says taking that idea to the next level, Singtex spent four years carrying out research to make it work in fabrics.

Singtex was founded in 1989 and ventured into China in the 1990s to cut manufacturing costs until the company found that its poorly trained workers were making low-quality fabrics. After pulling out of China, Chief Executive Officer Jason Chen decided to go up market, using his staff of 220 to make more expensive fabrics with a pro-environmental focus. He has done that since 1994.

One day when Chen and his wife, who is also his business partner, were drinking coffee, they began wondering whether the grounds could be used in fabrics to absorb odors. In 2006, the firm’s staff began to do research.

Today Singtex uses coffee grounds as 1.5 percent of its fabrics, with polyester as the main material. That calls for 500 kilograms of grounds per day at its Taiwan factory, which produced 10 million yards of fabric last year. That number is rising as the firm’s 100 clients want more coffee in their clothes. Clients include the shoemaker Asics, outdoor clothier Timberland and women’s underwear designer Wacoal.

Sasa Kung, the marketing manager for Timberland in Taipei, says stores around the world have raised curiosity by displaying clothing tags marked “S.Cafe,” the Singtex label. Timberland stores in Asia sell 2,000 coffee-enhanced items per year.

She says customers find it interesting to learn that coffee can be used in material for clothing or shoes, which increases their willingness to buy. She explains to customers that coffee grounds are already worked into the fabric and that the odor resistance and dilution capabilities are always inside.

The only catch is that no one can smell the coffee. It Is not even visible on the clothes. The ingredient also has little effect on prices, the Timberland manager says. But it has brought Singtex so much of a profit that the company will not state the amount in fear of stirring up jealous rivals.