RETEX Panels, a company specializing in recycled textile waste innovation, is launching its operations and building a factory in Finland. The company plans to disrupt the construction and building materials market with new technologies that convert textile waste into value-added products like panels. RETEX also intends to build a larger circular economy ecosystem around its new factory and to expand its operations to other European countries and beyond.
Toomas Allikas, the founder and CEO of RETEX Panels, has spent several years developing new products and materials from different types of waste. After extensive testing, it became clear to him that panels made from textile fiber held the highest business potential.
“From the beginning, our strategy has been to make a sellable product and to help tackle a global waste problem. As an entrepreneur, I believe that a project must be profitable even when solving global problems,” says Allikas.
Government support for circular economy and sustainability
Instead of starting RETEX Panels in his native Estonia, Allikas decided to cross the narrow sea separating Estonia and Finland.
“Knowing that Finland continuously tops international rankings in R&D investment, competitiveness, and transparency – and taking into consideration the entrepreneurial mindset of the Finnish business community – I decided to approach Business Finland. In only five days, their representative had met me in Estonia, validated our business concept and welcomed us to Finland,” Allikas says.
Finland was the first country in the world to prepare a national road map to circular economy in 2016, and the Finnish government actively supports new circular economy solutions.
“Finland’s excellent business environment, government support, and municipal and private partners were the main factors that attracted us here. Finland has a very developed support network for innovation and entrepreneurial activity. Furthermore, there are so many funds and investors who support new companies and startups and are willing to back new ideas and products. On an international level, Finland’s outstanding reputation provides an excellent platform to launch a global business.”
Finland’s excellent business environment, government support, and municipal and private partners were the main factors that attracted us here.
Toomas Allikas, CEO, RETEX Panels
Helsinki Business Hub paved a smooth path to the Finnish market
RETEX Panels is currently working on the plans and designs of its first factory in Finland. The company plans to base its Finnish operations there, including product development, production, sales, marketing, and customer service.
“Helsinki Business Hub introduced us to several cities in Finland, and the Uusimaa region was the best fit for us. It’s a forward-thinking, hands-on, supportive community, and logistically great for collecting textile waste from all around Finland. The factory is planned to be operational in about 14 months,” says Toomas Allikas.
Helsinki Business Hub has been tightly involved in helping RETEX Panels settle in Finland.
“We are positively surprised by how much Helsinki Business Hub has facilitated our entry to the Finnish market. We owe a great deal of gratitude to Irma Ylikangas, who opened numerous doors for us to Finnish investors, business partners, and government officials. Without this help, our path would have been much more difficult.”
The factory also holds potential for a larger circular economy hub around it. Allikas’s vision includes a world-class R&D laboratory, a complete textile waste collection model in collaboration with the city officials and a local waste management company, as well as educational partnerships with Finnish universities and research institutions.
Industry awareness drives the demand for sustainable materials
RETEX Panels will get its raw material – textile waste – from suppliers across Europe. These include waste management companies, municipal agencies, as well as retailers and manufacturers who supply the company with left-over textiles and used clothing.
The company’s products include ecological panels and paving tiles that don’t contain toxic chemicals or carcinogenic compounds. Its manufacturing process uses less energy than the manufacturing of wood panels and releases less carbon dioxide than the production of most other construction materials. The panels can be further recycled into new products.
“Our eco-friendly panels are stronger and longer-lasting than traditional products, at the same price. The public and industry awareness of the need for sustainable construction materials is growing rapidly, and it’s a significant shift,” Allikas says.
RETEX Panels has collaborated with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland as well as with large European corporate partners like Henkel, KraussMaffei, Plixxent, and Weima in product development. The company has a list of early adopter customers waiting to start testing the panels. Its future clients will include furniture manufacturers, construction companies, and private customers through wholesale distributors.
Disrupting the global construction and building materials market
RETEX Panels has currently some half a dozen employees but is planning to hire more staff in Finland soon. When the factory starts operations, the company will recruit 60 employees for manufacturing and 10–15 for sales, marketing, and support.
“When we launch the R&D and testing lab, we will need another 10 employees early on, growing probably to 50 in the coming years. We are also planning to build another two factories in Finland assuming that the first one goes according to plan, which would add 120 employees in manufacturing. So altogether, over five years, we could be hiring up to 250 employees in Finland,” says Allikas.
The company has several new products in the pipeline, including entirely bio-based materials. In the future, it also plans to research the use of nano fibers, which would bring a big leap in the strength and durability of construction materials.
“If everything goes as planned, RETEX will help to solve the Finnish textile waste problem with its three factories, which would make Finland the first textile waste-free country in the world. Once the model is proven in Finland, we will introduce it to other European countries. Our vision is to recycle 10% of the textile waste in Europe and be the world-leading structural board producer.”
From Europe, we hope to expand our business to the United States and Asia. It will all be done with the knowledge and experience gained from our first factory in Finland.
Toomas Allikas, CEO, RETEX Panels
“Our mission is to disrupt the existing construction and building materials market with new technologies that convert waste into value-added products. From Europe, we hope to expand our business to the United States and Asia. It will all be done with the knowledge and experience gained from our first factory in Finland, launched with the invaluable help of the Finnish government and support organizations. My dream is to base our European and global headquarters in Finland,” Toomas Allikas concludes.