Singaporean Nick Lim, ’04, set out to recycle clothing in China. He achieved much more.
- By October 10, 2019
- Social Impact
Nick Lim, ’04, had been working in finance for almost 20 years when he decided it was time for a change. It was 2013, and Lim was living in Shanghai, China’s most cosmopolitan city, but one that is often plagued with pollution as well as excess consumption.
He was at a point in his life and his career where he was reflecting: “What do I want to do that gives me fulfillment and meaning? Well, what do I really care about?”
The thing that came to mind? Sustainability. “It was always about the environment to me, ever since I was a kid. It’s always been something that was very important and very dear to me.”
Lim looked around at a number of initiatives in China and decided to focus on clothing. “It made a lot of sense then and makes a lot of sense now because people throw away a lot of clothing. Fast fashion has created a lot of waste, so we thought: let’s find a way to recycle [clothes],” he said.
With recycled clothing as its focus, baosquared was born, named in honor of Lim’s mother. The company has since set up 27 collection boxes, organized numerous events across Shanghai for residents to drop off unwanted clothes and shoes, and has collected 51 tons of clothing as of July 2019.
“I’ve discovered over the years the rewards of work, not in monetary terms but in terms of fulfillment.”
But while its initial focus was recycling, baosquared very quickly became about something greater. As Lim began to spend more time in its warehouse sorting clothes, he noticed many of the items being donated were either brand new or nearly new.
“There are a lot of poor people around China who do not have access to good, new, clean clothing,” said Lim. “We put two and two together and thought maybe the best way to deal with some of the clothes—those in very good condition—was to donate to people who need them.”
Baosquared began to reach out to local organizations in some of China’s poorest regions, such as Yunnan in the far southwest, and Gansu and Qinghai in the Tibetan plateau, and decided its best choice was to donate to schools, orphanages, and disaster recovery areas.
But baosquared didn’t want to simply drop off large quantities of unused clothing, leaving the community or school to dispense items. The company instead makes a detailed list of every child who receives donations and tries to match each item to their profiles. It also works to make sure that each child gets the same number of items, which it presents as gifts instead of charitable donations.
As he visited these rural communities, Lim noticed that the children often need more than just clothes. Students would attend modern and newly built schools, but lack many important supplies needed for their education.
“I give a lot of credit to the Chinese government for the amount of investment and amount of work they have done to build schools in the most remote areas in China to ensure these kids have a school to go to to receive [their] education,” Lim said. “The problem is that while the schools are new, the classrooms are new, the desks and chairs are new, the children still come from extremely poor families with very little means. As soon as they walk out of the school gates and they walk home, they have very little to eat, very little to use, very little to wear, no toys, no nothing.”
So baosquared began to reach out to major brands who manufacture their products in China to donate slightly defective or excess inventory (that would otherwise have been destroyed), from toys and clothes to stationery and shoes. Its 21 corporate partners now include VANS, Timberland, Old Navy, and Gap, and together they have helped more than 6,700 children across six provinces.
Baosquared also works with major companies to hold team-building exercises in their offices and organize trips to some of the communities where donations are made. These kinds of corporate social responsibility programs give employees of corporate partners a direct experience of the impact of their contributions and provide much of the funding for baosquared’s operations.
Lim has his sights set on the United States for his next big environmental project. He hopes to collaborate with fellow Booth alumni and business partners in the food and beverage industry to address the chronic use of disposable plastic and paper cups and bottles at restaurants, cafés, and fast-food chains.
“It’s been a very rewarding experience and one that I never thought I would have gone into coming out of business school,” said Lim. “I’ve discovered over the years the rewards of work, not in monetary terms but in terms of fulfillment, a sense of meaning and purpose, and the ability to make a positive social impact.”