Meet the Newcastle Clothing Brand Fighting Mozzies and Malaria
Newcastle startup Borne Clothing is saving locals from mozzie bites with their range of mosquito-repellent clothing, while simultaneously helping to end mosquito-borne diseases globally.
Borne Clothing was founded in 2019 during the University of Newcastle’s Grand Challenge, an annual competition encouraging multidisciplinary teams to work together on finding solutions to complex challenges.
In 2019, students had to answer two questions: How can you tackle the mosquito problem on the university campus? And, secondly, how can you tackle the global mosquito problem?
Medical students Bal Dhital and Tim Keys put their heads together with Mechatronics Engineering student Pat Prell and Graphic Design student Dan Robson.
Locally, their solution came in the form of their clothing brand that produces plain organic cotton T-shirts treated with permethrin to repel mozzies. The odour-free, anti-insect repellant fabric doesn't pose a toxic risk to humans, meaning it’s safe for everyone to wear, including kids.
Globally, the team had a bigger problem to tackle.
“Whilst mozzie bites are annoying for us in Newcastle, elsewhere they can mean a deadly disease,” co-founder of Borne Clothing Bal said.
Even now in the 21st century, 700 million people catch a mosquito-borne disease every year. Of those people, 400,000 die from just one disease, malaria. Half of these deaths are children.
“One child dies every two minutes from an entirely preventable disease,” Bal said.
“A key issue in solving the global problem is one of money with The World Health Organisation repeatedly saying that the single biggest issue in the fight against malaria is a lack of sustainable funding.”
Borne Clothing decided they’d support the fight by donating at least half of their profits to fund resources like bed nets and medications for the people who need them most.
Being an ethical company doesn’t end at profit donation though.
“Our manufacturing partner is approved by the FairWear Foundation, our garments are made from 100% organic cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard, and our carbon footprint is offset to Gold Standard criteria,” Bal said.
Borne Clothing has evolved into a fully-fledged e-commerce business, an evolution the team is enjoying sinking their teeth into.
“We’ve learned heaps since starting,” Bal said. “None of us have a background in business, so growing our social enterprise from the ground up has been a satisfying challenge. It’s hard to keep track of all the things you come across on what is a pretty steep learning curve, but one lesson has been clear: perfection is the enemy of good”.
“We’ve wasted a lot of time trying to get things just right, but ultimately the best way to learn and succeed is to make the best possible decision with the information available to you at the time. If that works, great. If it doesn’t, then fail forwards; learn quickly from your mistakes and change what needs to be changed”.
From the start, their designs have been inspired by Newcastle’s bush, beaches, and city streets but Bal said that’s not where the inspiration ends.
“Newy is a thriving coastal town, and we’ve felt a lot of support from the university and business communities,” he said.
Borne Clothing not only won prizes in the University of Newcastle’s Grand Challenge competitions in 2019 ($10,000) and 2020 ($7,500) but they also snagged the 2020 Kickstarter grant from the Macquarie Group and Social Enterprise Finance Australia ($10,000), and have been supported by the local Hunter Young Business Minds Award in 2019 ($500).
Bal said their biggest long-term goal is ensuring their social enterprise can provide sustainable support for public health interventions.
“At the start of the century, one child was dying from malaria every 30 seconds. Now, that number is one every two minutes - a fourfold improvement. Our goal is to give people even more time,” Bal said.