Everyone has thrown away old clothing at some point, which presents a question: where does it all go? SOEX is a German-based international company that recycles used textiles.
Roubik Aftandilians ’74 has been involved with the company since 2008. “They were looking for a CEO to manage and expand the US business,” Roubik recalls. The job neatly combined his Masters in urban planning from Harvard University with his 22 years of experience in fashion, managing his own clothing and swimwear company for 10 years and a large textile firm for 12 years.
Every year worldwide, SOEX sorts and grades approximately one billion items of clothing into three categories: re-wear, where items are sorted for distributors in developing countries; re-use, where items find a secondary usage, such as carpets cut up to create bath mats; and recycle, when items in too poor a condition are recycled into carpet underlay, insulation for automobiles, and the construction industry. “I strongly believe that one of the best ways to recycle is to extend the life of a product,” he says, “and we also must recycle items that have no life left in them otherwise they end up in landfills.”
SOEX is also involved with an affiliated company called I:CO (short for “I collect”). “The idea is to return your clothing to where you purchased it once you no longer need it,” Roubik says. H&M has included this in a worldwide agreement; even the H&M in Lugano has a collection box for unwanted clothing, which is then processed via SOEX.
Roubik’s worldly consciousness stems from his TASIS days. “In one short year, TASIS and especially Mrs. Fleming had a major impact on my life,” he recalls. Roubik’s parents sent him to London from Tehran, Iran at age 16 to study English, math, and science. But he had always dreamt of attending a US university, so “in 1973 my father met Mrs. Fleming in Tehran and decided that I should attend TASIS before continuing my higher education in the US.
In summer of 1975, a year into his undergraduate studies at Syracuse University, he was asked to work at the TASIS Summer Program. Along with his roommate (and still best friend) Ali Massoudi ‘74, Roubik chaperoned 30 children from the ages of 10 to 16 from Tehran to Lugano. “It was during that summer that I had the pleasure and good fortune to spend many hours talking with Mrs. Fleming about multiculturalism, the educational philosophies of the US vs. Iran, and the Middle East, as well as life in general. For me, this was the icing on the cake.”
TASIS and Mrs. Fleming have shaped the way Roubik has lived his life. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t thank my father for sending me there,” he says. Roubik says he was blessed to have a very supportive family; however, he wasn’t used to receiving support from people outside of his family. “When encouragement is received from teachers, coaches and successful educators such as Mrs. Fleming, the positive impact is hundred fold.”
Roubik Aftandilians '74 with Mrs. Fleming in the 70s