The Renewal Workshop
There’s no doubt that the fashion industry is changing. While, for some of us, it may not be changing as quickly as we’d like, there is proof that consumer behavior is shifting, the role of the designer is growing and technology is at the forefront.
Below are six experts in the sustainable fashion industry, sharing the projects they’re most excited to watch in 2017.
“There’s this incredible ecosystem of business resources, services and programs set up to help fashion brands incorporate more sustainable practices into what they’re doing, and it wasn’t that way even two years ago. Some to watch are Factory45, Startup Fashion, ProjectEntrepreneur and TrendSeeder.
I am also paying close attention to the necessary interconnectedness of sustainability in fashion, where you see companies like Evrnu partnering with Levi’s and The Renewal Workshop teaming up with multiple brands to present new ways of thinking about the lifecycle of the clothes we wear.”
– Lorraine Sanders, Founder of PressDope by Spirit of 608 and host of the Spirit of 608 podcast
“I’m really excited about the emergence of sustainable undergarment brands. It used to be that there were so few choices that you could feel good about. Now they’re popping up everywhere and range from the fancier styles of NAJA, which has a women-focused social mission, to the fun styles of La Vie En Orange, which recycles your t-shirts into cute cotton undies.”
– Nicole Giordano, Founder of Startup Fashion
“This year, I’m excited by brands that are blurring the traditional boundaries of fashion. New brands like Kirrin Finch are filling a void for (proper-fitting) menswear-inspired womenswear as established companies like Burberry make mixed gender shows a fixture of fashion week.
In addition, the concept of quality clothing that purposefully endures through sizes and seasons is resurfacing among sustainable lines: Sotela designs dresses that span several sizes while the made-to-order brand DeSmet rejects the fashion calendar to release just one piece per month over the course of the year.”
– Elizabeth Stilwell, Creator of The Note Passer and Co-Founder of the Ethical Writers Coalition
“From yeast-based synthetic spider silk to hybrid fabrics that convert solar power and movement into electricity, fashion innovation will continue to soar to new heights in the new year. But I think that more low-tech pursuits such as knitting, crocheting, and sewing will also see a resurgence, particularly in these uncertain political times, when getting down to brass tacks and working with our hands will bring a more visceral level of comfort.
I’d keep my eyes peeled, in particular, for organizations such as the Craftivist Collective, which uses the art of craft as a vehicle for “gentle activism,” and Knit Aid, which provides refugees with lovingly hand-knit blankets, scarves, gloves, and hats. On a personal note, I’m currently knitting my fourth Pussyhat Project hat for the upcoming Women’s March on Washington. It’s easy to surrender to feelings of hopelessness, but we can rally everything we have against the tide of tyranny and hatred. There is strength in numbers, and it can begin with a single stitch.”
– Jasmin Malik Chua, Managing Editor of Ecouterre
“I’m excited to see Increasing alternatives to leather come to the market. Right now most faux leather ‘vegan’ options are plastic-based, which of course is not compostable. But with pineapple-based and even mushroom leather alternatives becoming available, I’m hoping we’ll start to see more and more of them available on a larger scale!”
– Rachel Kibbe, Founder of Helpsy
“Because of where I stand in the fashion space, I’m lucky to see sustainable startups launching new projects on a regular basis. The ones that I get really excited about are pushing the boundaries of branding, storytelling and marketing to say something different about what it means to be an ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainable’ apparel brand.
Some of the companies that stand out right now are Girlfriend Collective that opted out of traditional advertising and used their budget to get their product into the hands of their customers. Peche Lingerie is pushing the boundaries of the lingerie industry by making undergarments for every “body” and defying gender norms. And then there’s mompreneur brand SproutFit that is challenging traditional sizing for infants and toddlers by making garments adjust as the baby grows.
If I’ve learned anything over the past several years working with sustainable fashion startups it’s that the companies that get people excited are the ones who tell a different story. It’s those unique stories that I’ll be keeping my eye on this year.”
– Shannon Lohr, Founder of Factory45
*This story first appeared on The Huffington Post
During their years working inside the apparel industry, Nicole Bassett and Jeff Denby watched masses of perfectly usable textiles stockpile in dumpsters. They were fully aware that this was a national trend. In 2014, more than 16.2 million tons of textile waste was generated, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Of that, 2.6 million tons were recycled or composted, 3.1 million tons were combusted and 10.5 million tons ended up in landfills.
Recycling more of these materials would have the equivalent carbon footprint impact of removing one million cars from roads, which largely motivated Bassett and Denby to launch the Renewal Workshop.
The Cascade Locks, Ore.-based operation helps brands address textile waste. So far the organization, which launched last September, works with five brand partners who send apparel to Renewal’s 7,500-sq.-ft. space.
“We are trying to figure out solutions for warehouse and distribution centers to deal with returned or damaged products they can’t resell,” Bassett says. “We are refurbishing clothes to put back in the market. But we are also beginning to focus on recycling and upcycling fabrics for other uses once clothes reach the end of their life.”
Filling a Void
Material recovery facilities have difficulties processing textiles and brands have limited resources to dispose of what does not sell or gets returned to them. As a result, textiles, with a recycling rate of 16.2 percent are among the least recovered materials.
The startup is addressing the recovery issue by working within the scope of an organized supply chain.
“Recyclers do not have infrastructure to efficiently collect directly from brands or to process,” Bassett says. “So we created a space to collect and organize materials, based on its value, prioritizing higher value items. This would be renewed apparel that can be resold in its original form.” Renewal cleans, quality reviews, repairs and adds a Renewal Workshop label signifying the clothes are refurbished.
As the company’s volumes increase it will focus on materials that will need more work to be salvaged.
“If something’s too damaged to be sold in its original form but has valuable parts we will move it to an upcycling area where we can make something else out of it,” she says. “Finally, when it’s not salvageable we would put it into our recycling area, where it’s organized by material type, and we will send it to recyclers who will turn it into a new yarn.”
e-commerce Opens Up Business Opportunities
The company sells renewed apparel on an online marketplace.
“What’s exiting is ecommerce has allowed access to used clothes all over the country,” Bassett says. “So I don’t have to hope it shows up in my local thrift store. And customers are comfortable buying online, especially if they know there is a quality control process in place.”
Currently the site is filled with a few thousand items, and brand partners’ shipments come in quarterly. The clothes then go into a large washer. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is used to conserve water. After detergent is added, the CO2 is converted to liquid, enabling the detergent to more easily penetrate fibers. After the cleaning process the liquid is converted back to gas so the clothes don’t have to be dried.
Ibex, an outdoor clothing company in White River Junction, Vt., is among Renewal Workshop’s partners. The manufacturer was already taking back its products from consumers who were done with them and sending what was reusable to charities. If a garment was ruined, the company tried to recycle the garments. But that proved too labor intensive. So material was piling up on the retailer.
“Renewal has provided opportunities to dispose of products properly but, more important, they provide a solution to refurbish, repair and resell products,” says Keith Anderson, vice president of marketing for Ibex. “We appreciate this because … we use fine grades of Marino wool, so there is a lot of value in the fabric and manufacturing.”
Ibex workers must still receive materials and separate what can be refurbished from what cannot.
“What’s different now is we stockpile returns for Renewal, palletize and ship in a consolidated way versus having to store and find outlets for each bucket ourselves. It’s a one-stop solution,” says Anderson.
“We see value in the products returned to us,” he says. “And especially in the days where there’s a focus on a circular economy, we see [Renewal’s model] to be an elegant solution to putting our clothes back into that circular economy.”
*This story first appeared on Waste 360
As part of Circulate’s collaboration with the Disruptive Innovation Festival, we’re featuring insight from some of this year’s Open Mic contributors in advance of their performance at the DIF. Find out more at thinkdif.co, and don’t forget to tune into this session live at 18:00 GMT on November 11th.
The problem in the fashion industry isn’t fashion itself: it’s the harmful impact of creating that fashion and the waste generated when that fashion is landfilled instead of circulated indefinitely.
So for those of you who love clothes there is hope. We don’t have to fear fashion as an ugly bad habit, but something that can be reinvented through innovation and dedication.
What if the clothes we wore improved the lives of the people who made them and the environment in which they were produced? What if when we were done with our clothes they continued to live long and full lives with others until one day they were turned into new resources?
Fashion is going through a transformative change right now. More than ever before, brands, customers and the media are highlighting the problems and solutions the industry is grappling with. Ever since the 1990’s the stories of human rights abuses have been brought to light, and each year apparel companies are attacked for those abuses. Now environmental and animal welfare issues are included in those stories. The more transparent the supply chain gets, the more customers are demanding to know “who made my clothes”. Campaigns like Fashion Revolution drive continued attention to the subject. This is a good thing.The more each of us learn about the issue and what we can do to update our buying behaviors to promote better supply chain practices, the more the industry will shift.
As the options for buying more ethical clothing increases, the attention is also moving towards the amount of clothing we buy and what do we do with our clothes when we are done with them. Currently Americans now buy five times as much clothing as they did in 1980. That’s a lot of clothes.
Trying to fix the apparel industry is more than a daunting task. It is a systemic change that needs to happen. But it isn’t quite as scary when you look at it through a circular economy lens. In fact, looking at it through this lens creates a beautiful, simplistic path for design, production and use of a product. Now we have to integrate that beautiful simplicity into an archaic industry. Luckily there are many working on this, slowly creating solutions that patched together will produce an incredible web of change. Designing differently is already happening as companies start to create products that can actually get recycled. The Cradle to Cradle’s Fashion Positive program is creating a library of Cradle to Cradle materials. Apparel brands are creating systems for collection and processing, and recycling technologies are evolving from ideas to implementable solutions.
The Renewal Workshop fits into this new model well, providing brands and retailers the infrastructure and manufacturing ability to create a new model of business. One where clothing is assessed at its highest utility and kept there. All the resources that went into making a dress in the first place should be conserved and maintained. The renewal process does this assessment and identifies clothing that through cleaning and repair are resold again to a certified standard. While higher priced items like cars and electronics have a history of strong used sales channels, we are now in a time where other products can begin exploring this.
Fashion is a statement of who we are. We make conscious choices every day about what to wear. Some of that based on function, and some of it is a statement of our personalities. The need and interest to wear clothing is not going away, so new innovations need to happen to ensure that there is an industry to provide us these clothes.
The way we make clothes is one part, the next part is the care and thought about how we use the clothes made, then we must innovate what we do with those clothes when we are done. While we might get bored of a piece of clothing, the clothing itself might not be done and so with an investment in circular systems we will ensure the value of those products are able to live on.
*This story first appeared on Circulate News