Big fashion companies send ‘ruined’ clothes to Cascade Locks for a chance at a new life
By Jordan Hernandez | For The Oregonian/OregonLive
Apparel companies often end up with piles of garments whose quality wasn’t up to usual production standards. Perhaps their hem or stitching is inconsistent, or they’ve suffered rips or holes along the way.
Many big companies now send their discards to Cascade Locks, where The Renewal Workshop
can fix them.
The company takes discarded apparel and textiles and repairs them for sale at a slight discount. If the garment isn’t recoverable, the materials are then recycled. The Renewal Workshop collects data on everything that flows through its factories, and those numbers are to partner brands to help them improve the production and design of future products.
The goal is a zero-waste system that squeezes value out of what has already been created as a way of serving customers, partners and the planet.
Jeff Denby and Nicole Bassett founded The Renewal Workshop in 2015 as a response to what they saw as broken business model of the apparel industry. There was an overflow of clothing and garments ending up in landfills due to the rise in large fast-fashion companies. Denby and Bassett saw an opportunity for companies to grow their revenue without using any more resources — and to reduce waste along the way.
They built their first factory in Cascade Locks in 2016. Bassett, who lives in Hood River, was looking to expand the company from a smaller warehouse and needed a location with proper manufacturing space. Cascade Locks had what she was looking for in terms of space and location.
The company also opened a second factory in Amsterdam in 2019.
Both Bassett and Denby bring expertise in apparel, manufacturing and logistics. Basset worked at brands including Patagonia and Prana, managing their sustainability and social responsibility programs, while Denby worked in manufacturing before founding an organic cotton apparel company, Pact.
The Renewal Workshop employs 42 workers at their Cascade Locks location. Every day, they receive shipments of defective products from their brand partners, who are their sole customers. Those items are cleaned, repaired and inspected and made available for resale on “recommerce” websites set up by The Renewal Workshops’ clients, for which the company also boxes and ships repaired items to buyers.
“It is unique for brands to allow someone else to fix their products,” Bassett said. “We invested a lot into developing repair standards so that brands could feel confident in the quality of the work we do so that they can stand behind their products being sold as renewed.”
With both companies benefitting from the resale and brand goodwill, The Renewal Workshop has been able to grow its profile and attract new clients. Its partners now include Carhartt, Pottery Barn, Champion and New Balance.
While apparel is a significant industry in Oregon — home to national brands like Nike and Columbia Sportswear, as well as Adidas’ North American headquarters — apparel manufacturing is rarer, accounting for just 930 jobs at 70 businesses statewide in 2020.
And to have those jobs in a city like Cascade Locks is even rarer, said Dallas Fridley, a regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department.
“Small communities in rural Oregon, like Cascade Locks, do face challenges in attracting startup businesses and businesses looking for room to expand,” Fridley said. But he said that Cascade Locks benefits from advantages that other small communities lack, like easy access to an interstate and the Bridge of the Gods providing a Columbia River crossing to Washington.
And the Port of Cascade Locks has been active in economic development, particularly by providing space for businesses based in Hood River and other parts of the Columbia River Gorge to expand.
Like most businesses, The Renewal Workshop had to adapt its practices during the pandemic, due to the proximity of workers within their warehouses, as well as the economic hit the retail industry took due to lack of sales and production shortages. Since The Renewal Workshop depends on their brand partners to fix their garments, they were affected by the lack of sales from big retailers.
(Read More on Oregon Live
The Myth of Sustainable Fashion - Harvard Business Review
Few industries tout their sustainability credentials more forcefully than the fashion industry. Products ranging from swimsuits
to wedding dresses
are marketed as carbon positive, organic, or vegan while yoga mats made from mushrooms
and sneakers from sugar cane
dot retail shelves. New business models including recycling, resale, rental, reuse, and repair are sold as environmental life savers.
The sad truth however is that all this experimentation and supposed “innovation” in the fashion industry over the past 25 years have failed to lessen its planetary impact — a loud wake up call for those who hope that voluntary efforts can successfully address climate change and other major challenges facing society.
Take the production of shirts and shoes, which has more than doubled in the past quarter century — three quarters end up burned or buried in landfills
. This feels like a personal failure of sorts. For many years, I was the COO of Timberland, a footwear and apparel brand that aspired to lead the industry toward a more sustainable future. The reasons for the industry’s sustainability letdown are complicated. Pressure for unrelenting growth summed with consumer demand for cheap, fast fashion have been a major contributors. So too are the related facts that real prices for footwear and apparel have halved since 1990
with most new items made from non-biodegradable petroleum-based synthetics.
To fully understand just how drastically the market has failed the planet in the fashion industry, let’s look more closely at why sustainable fashion is anything but sustainable.
The precise negative environmental impact of the fashion industry remains unknown, but it is sizeable
. The industry’s boundaries spread globally and its multitiered supply chain remains complex and opaque. Thanks to trade liberalization, globalization, and enduring cost pressures, very few brands own the assets of their upstream factories, and most companies outsource final production. “There are still very, very few brands who know where their stuff comes from in the supply chain, and even fewer of them have entered into active relationships with those suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint,” says environmental scientist Linda Greer.
This complexity and lack of transparency means estimates of the industry’s carbon impact range from 4% (McKinsey and the Global Fashion Agenda) to 10% (U.N.) of overall global carbon emissions.
Like all industries, fashion is nested in a broader system. It is a system premised on growth. While serving as an executive in the industry, never once did a CFO ask me if the business could contract to yield a more durable customer base. Nor did I ever hear from a Wall Street analyst making a pitch for Timberland to prioritize resilience ahead of revenue growth. This unyielding pursuit of growth, of “more,” drives strategies that are specific to the fashion industry. Because it is hard to make a better performing or more efficient blouse, handbag, or pair of socks, to motivate consumption, the industry pushes change. Not better — just different, cheaper, or faster.
Combine the imperative of growth with accelerating product drops, long lead times, and global supply chains, and the result is inevitable overproduction. Notwithstanding improvements in technology and communications, predicting demand across tens of styles that are launched seasonally is much easier than doing the same for thousands of styles released monthly. Therefore, fashion inventories inevitably accumulate, and 40% of fashion goods are sold at a markdown
. “The urge to sell more and get consumers to buy more is still in the DNA of the industry,” says Michael Stanley-Jones
, co-secretary for the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion. “Clothes have a very short life span and end up in the dump.” The speed of this hedonic treadmill
continues to ramp up exponentially. Five years ago, McKinsey reported
that shorter production lead times enabled by technology and revised business systems enabled brands to “introduce new lines more frequently. Zara offers 24 new clothing collections each year; H&M offers 12 to 16 and refreshes them weekly.” This acceleration and proliferation of “newness” served as a constant draw to bring consumers back to sites and stores.
This level of speed already seems outdated and quaint. Shein (pronounced She-in) is now “the fastest growing ecommerce company in the world
.” According to SimilarWeb, its web site ranks number one in the world for web traffic in the fashion and apparel category. Selling tops for $7, dresses for $12 and jeans for $17, Shein makes Zara and H&M look expensive and slow. To deliver on low price points for fast changing styles, these “real time” brands rely on fossil fuel-based synthetic materials that are cheaper, adaptable, and more widely available than natural materials. As a result, polyester has grown to become the number one synthetic fiber and now represents more than half of all global fiber production. It is derived from nonrenewable resources, requires a great deal of energy for extraction and processing and releases significant byproducts
. (Read More on Harvard Biz Review
Vintage e-tailer Thrilling wants to solve Hollywood’s clothing waste problem - Glossy.co
Fashion and the film industry are joining forces to clean up Hollywood’s wasteful habit.
In an interview
with sustainability-focused agency Eco-Age, costume designer Sinéad Kidao (who worked on the set of 2019’s “Little Women”) said, “On any given project, [costume designers] buy or make more clothes than the average person will own in a lifetime.” While the fashion industry is guilty of wasteful practices, with 85%
of the textiles thrown away in the U.S. being dumped or burned, other industries like film also contribute to the overproduction of clothing and the linear economy. However, as the conversation around sustainability moves between the silos of fashion and film, companies are seeing the opportunity for better collaboration between the two that prioritizes the planet.
Thrilling, a 4-year-old e-commerce platform selling clothing from U.S. vintage stores, partnered this week with renowned costume designer Ruth E. Carter on a unique proposition aimed at combatting the clothing waste in the film industry: Under Thrilling’s new program called Vintage Studios Service
, stylists can access clothing from over 1,000 vintage stores in the U.S.
“I know how integral clothing is to the essence of storytelling, and how often costume designers and stylists rely on secondhand or vintage [clothing] because of its versatility, expressiveness and, often, its relative affordability,” Shilla Kim-Parker, CEO of Thrilling.
According to Parker, Hollywood spends nearly $1 billion on new clothes for various projects every year, and Refinery29 has stated
that the film industry wastes 2.5 million pieces of clothing annually. Producers and distributors of new clothing make it extremely easy to access, including fast fashion companies that sell cheap garments with fast delivery. “Imagine the impact if that money went to indie vintage shops instead. [Vintage Studios Service] is as easy as traditional sourcing options with major brands.”
Typically, costume designers buy clothes off-the-rack or borrow them from fashion brands, often for a fee, if the budget allows or if they have close contacts. Alternatively, they have clothing made specifically for a film. With Vintage Studios Service, they can access Thrilling’s inventory and other styles via the company’s sourcing associates. The stylist purchases or rents the styles, depending on the source. Thrilling handles the expedited shipping and logistics, and there is no fee for the service. Ninety-five percent of Thrilling’s partner vintage stores are also women- and/or POC-owned.
Ruth E. Carter, who is serving as a brand ambassador for Thrilling’s first Vintage Studios Service campaign, has agreed to use the service for her projects in 2022. The campaign imagery on Thrilling’s site features vintage looks from Thrilling that are inspired by Carter’s films, showing the role fashion plays in cinema. In 2019, Carter won the Academy Award for her work on the Marvel action film “Black Panther,” making history as the first Black woman to receive an Oscar for costume design. In addition, she’s worked on a number of award-winning films.
Talking about the campaign and the launch, Carter highlighted the importance of supporting BIPOC businesses working in the sustainability space. “Thrilling does all the heavy lifting of sourcing and shipping. This was an ideal fit, as [Thrilling] is a BIPOC-owned vintage small business that was interested in my industry and supported other small businesses around the country. The concept of shopping vintage online just really works. And it’s the niche that we costume designers and stylists need, especially now.”
There are not many programs that take back clothing that was used on sets or by smaller studios. Brooklyn-based green production partner Earth Angel is one company focused on facilitating more sustainable production practices. Larger studios can rely on wardrobe warehouses, but with filming often occurring in areas outside of L.A. and New York, access to these is limited. For Carter’s “Black Panther” production, she was able to return the clothing used
to one of the warehouses for garment storage.
Thrilling’s solution could be a significant step for the Hollywood garment industry. “We are focused on creating a platform that fulfills any need for clothes,” said Kim-Parker. “In the next year, we’ll be focused on innovating our core app technology that our stores and sellers use to digitize their inventory.” (Glossy.co