The story of Retex Panels
RETEX Panels, which manufactures construction panels from recycled textile waste, has a unique pair of founders who could not be more different. “We call ourselves complimentary, not different” laughs Toomas Allikas, the CEO of RETEX, which he started back in 2019.
From the outside, Toomas seems like a big, ambitious and driven entrepreneur. He started his first company at the age of 19 and since then has launched and sold over a dozen businesses. Yet with a little closer look one sees he is a different kind of businessman. “I realized that my entrepreneurial skills could be used to start a great business while at the same time solving some major challenges that we have in our society” says Toomas, “like textile, plastic and rubber waste!”
Michael Vasileff, the other founder, is the quiet one who does not seem like a hungry, go-getting entrepreneur. “I spent 25 years in the financial services industry with big companies around the world, the last thing I ever expected is to start up a waste reprocessing business with a guy from Estonia!” Yet from the moment these two met they knew something big was going to happen. “I knew from my investing experience working with entrepreneurs that Toomas has something special and realized I had to grab the opportunity to work with him!” says Michael, so he packed his bags at Merrill Lynch and the rest is history.
RETEX started with an idea Toomas had in a Climate-KIC accelerator several years ago when he looked at piles of textile waste, plastic and used car tires. At that time the EU had just come out with their new program for a circular economy and was looking for answers to reduce waste. “I knew that there could be a business turning waste into useful products. By nature, I am a problem solver, and I set out to solve this problem” he says matter of factly. The result was the concept of taking shredded textile waste and mixing it with a strong adhesive, then pressing it together to form flat panels. “The panels I made by hand were surprisingly strong and I was convinced that the new material can be used in construction” and the idea of RETEX as an eco-friendly construction panel took off.
The business has come a long way since those days, the panels will be manufactured in a 16,000m2 factory in Finland which requires 40,000 tons of textile waste yearly. “We found very good major industrial strategic partners who believe in our mission of solving the textile waste problem in Europe. Our goal is not just to operate a successful business but to have a major positive impact on society at the same time, I think the two go hand in hand” states Toomas.
To make this impact RETEX is launching four products in their first year:
- RETEX Panel, a strong, waterproof, load bearing material that can be used in the interior or exterior of buildings, foundations, flooring and even roofing.
- RETEX Composite Panel, like the RETEX Panel but thinner and lighter, used for decorative purposes, framing, doors, table tops, furniture, and other uses with a flat surface.
- RETEX SIP Panel – a structural insulated panel where RETEX mixes shredded textile fiber with foam insulation. This is used as outside wall panels for modular buildings and other structures for colder climates in particular.
- RETEX EcoTile – “a simple idea with a million uses” made from granulated textile waste, plastic and car tire rubber formed into the shape of bricks, roofing tiles, interlocking paving stones, and many other materials.
“All our products align with RETEX’s core mission of using technology to innovate new building materials by recycling waste” states Toomas. “This is the future for our planet, getting away from the single-use thinking of re-using our existing resources.”
As for Michael, he is quietly planning the next steps for expansion and new products. “Don’t let appearances fool you” says Toomas, “without him none of this would have happened.” So the two founders, like their new panels, are a successful combination of two unlikely components. This means that going forward RETEX should have a strong and bright future.