Hi everyone! I’m Spiffy, your favorite interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference on gender equality. Today I’m going to learn about UN SDG 12: Responsible Consumption & Production, and how Atom Nguyen, co-founder of TômTex, is bringing sustainable commercial materials to the world. Let’s see how he’s doing it!
Spiffy: Welcome Atom, it’s wonderful to have you with us today. I’m very curious about your company! Can you tell us what challenges you’re addressing through TômTex?
Atom: It’s great to be here, Spiffy! Our revolutionary bio-based materials offer a sustainable, accessible, and practical alternative to currently available commercial material options. The production of textile materials, such as vegan leather and traditionally produced animal leather, is a major cause of environmental destruction and greenhouse gas emissions due to its usage of toxic materials like polyurethane. Food waste (wasted coffee grounds and seashell waste), when properly processed and repurposed, can be a viable source of raw material with great characteristics for the circular economy.
Spiffy: Wow, this sounds amazing! What motivated you to develop bio-based materials?
Atom: When I was a kid, every day after school, I helped my family with their small business of producing food and selling it to local supermarkets. I witnessed firsthand how wasteful the food packaging was. I was very upset that I did not know how to solve the issue as a kid and that I really wanted to make a difference to preserve the environment. Coming to the US to study, I met my best friend, Uyen, in San Francisco. Knowing that we both shared a passion for sustainability, we started TômTex in 2020 to make environmentally positive changes, especially in the leather manufacturing industry.
Spiffy: You’ve touched on it a bit, but how else are you working to make the world more equitable?
Atom: TômTex materials help minimize the impacts on the environment. There are several key characteristics that set us apart. Our process is transparent and minimizes the usage of toxic chemicals. Our products are 100% compostable, recyclable, and versatile. There is no tanning process involved in the production of our materials, and we boast sustainability without fabric backing.
A prototype photo of TômTex material that was recently developed. (Image courtesy of Atom Nguyen)
Spiffy: I’m really blown away, Atom. I’m curious if you’ve reached any milestones lately? What kind of impact do you think it might have?
Atom: Well, Spiffy, we were recently nominated as one of the 28 finalist startups for the LVMH Innovation Award 2021. With this nomination, we have an opportunity to work with top fashion brands to find solutions for better materials applied in the fashion industry and we are able to help educate customers' shopping behaviors on affordable and responsible fashion consumption.
Spiffy: I always ask entrepreneurs about failure. What about you, Atom, can you share about an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up?
Atom: TômTex was not the first business idea that I worked on with Uyen, my co-founder and best friend. We had tried to launch many other projects. Our very first business was to help manufacturers reach consumers directly without going through any brands, in order to cut down the cost for both sellers and consumers, and reduce the emission caused by transportation and inventory waste. Despite many failures, our passion to make the world a better place was the fuel to keep us running until we launched TômTex.
Spiffy: Is there anything unexpected you’ve learned from someone recently?
Atom: I recently started volunteering at StartOut, an LGBGTQ+ non-profit organization. The experience was completely different from my initial expectations. My team members have always been super welcoming and supportive. They have been very helpful to me, not only in getting to know other members but by providing resources and support with TômTex. Honestly, I believe that I've received more than I could offer. One of the StartOut members recently shared this with me, “As you grow, your family is a person or group of people who will always love and support you unconditionally.” And I could not agree more.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Atom: Take time to find your passion. It will be the key to your success. Everyone makes progress at their own pace. Take good care of yourself, physically and emotionally!
Spiffy: Thanks for those important reminders, Atom. I think you’ve inspired many of our audience members to take the plunge and pursue their passion. It’s been an honor.
Atom Nguyen, the co-founder of TômTex, is a gay tech geek turned entrepreneur with a passion for sustainability and equality. (Nominated by StartOut. First published on the Ladderworks website on June 28, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.