Profiles in Regeneration: WooJin, 23, UK
In the next five to ten years, we must transform our way of life into one that can be sustained by nature.
Young people all around the world are working to build a regenerative future. At 23, WooJin Joo is one of those people. She wants to repurpose fishing nets, which make up a large portion of our oceans’ plastic and pollution, into necessary equipment.
Regenerative Futures: How are you feeling right now?
WooJin Joo: I am feeling excited and a little overwhelmed! I am back in school at the Royal College of Art as it has reopened its doors for the first time since the lockdown! Although there is still a lot to figure out in the day-to-day running of the campus, I am very excited to be back in school and creating again in a studio setting.
RF: What’s a secret your search history can tell us about you?
WJ: I discovered that I am actually allergic to wheat but I love bread and peanut butter, and I constantly search for flour-free bread recipes to find a good flourless bread that I’ll be happy with.
RF: What are you reading/learning about at the moment?
WJ: I am currently reading a book called You and I Eat the Same by Chris Ying. The book discusses the similarities of culinary culture across the world, and how food shows the history of ordinary people. I am fascinated by the stories behind things that we often overlook.
RF: Who is your favorite human and why?
WJ: My favourite human is my grandmother. She grew up in the days when North and South Korea were still actively at war. After the war, when she got married, she and my grandfather had to jump into all sorts of businesses to survive. Being raised by her, I loved listening to her childhood storie. Even at 80, she still cooks, cleans, and studies Buddhism, and at the end of each day, she says “I lived today well.” She is the most humble, loving person I know, and so she is my favorite human.
RF: Which key moment inspired you to start your project?
WJ: I was inspired to start the project when I first visited Madagascar as a marine conservationist volunteer. A small island off of Madagascar, in one of the most remote places on Earth, was covered with plastic trash—which really sparked my passion for fighting marine pollution. While researching this issue, I discovered that discarded fishing nets are one of the biggest sources of the marine plastic issue. It has been reported that 46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is composed of ghost fishing gears. As a textile designer, I wanted to find ways I could help raise awareness and create solutions that could aid in regenerating our marine ecosystem.
RF: In two years’ time, what would success with your project look like?
WJ: In two years’ time, the success of this project would mean finding effective ways to extend the product life of discarded fishing gear, or end the use of fishing gear altogether. I am looking to collaborate with NGOs that rescue ghost fishing gear and repurpose these nets as either material for textile art pieces that could help raise the awareness on the issue, or as materials for functioning products.
RF: If you could focus a large percentage of government funding on one industry or project for the next five to ten years, which would you choose and why?
WJ: I would choose to focus this government fund on shifting to a circular economy. That means finding ways to prevent valuable materials turning into waste in production and consumption cycles, and investing in energy sources that won’t exacerbate the climate crisis. Post-COVID, we need to reconsider what “norm” we are trying to return to, because the way of life we were used to before the pandemic is not what we should aim for. Extremely wasteful lifestyles and polluting production practices are things we need to avoid. [In the next five to ten years, we must transform our way of life into one that can be sustained by nature.]
RF: What is the best and worst thing about the education system in your country?
WJ: The best thing about South Korea’s education system is the high education rate. Most [students] complete their free primary-school and middle-school education, and Korea has one of the highest literacy rates at 97.9% However, the worse part of the education system is the high competition. All students across the nation try to enter the few top universities, and pre-university education is entirely focused on making students successful candidates. This leads to high investment in private education, and stopping students from exploring other paths outside of conventional education.
RF: Do you have a message for anyone your age living in the year 2060?
WJ: Appreciate nature and the wildlife that everyone has fought to pass on, and make sure to pass it on to the generations to follow.
RF: What inspires or frightens you most about the future?
WJ: I have read reports that our generation is the last generation to get to experience real nature, and we are also the last generation that can halt climate change. It has been reported that 60% of wildlife population has already disappeared. What frightens me is that if we don’t act fast enough, we’ll lose our diverse wildlife, being able to walk in the woods, the chance to understand unexplored deep-sea creatures, and much more. But I’m inspired by grassroots movements across the world led by people who are willing to give up everything they have for a cause they believe in. People who are willing to act, even if the facts in front of them are daunting.
To learn more about Regenerative List finalist WooJin Joo, click here.