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How your brand can upcycle

BRANDS ARE FINDING innovative ways to upcycle. whether that is utilising textile scraps, old clothes, production remnants, or deadstock fabric, they are diverting waste from landfill. Want to find out how your brand can start upcycling? See below to get

inspired.

Coyuchi 2nd Home Initiative

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Coyuchi is a sustainable lifestyle brand producing 100% organic cotton bedding, towels, and sleepwear. Located in Northern California, USA, their aim is to produce products that are good for both you and the environment. 

COYUCHI

COYUCHI IS A SUSTAINABLE organic bedding, towel, and sleepwear brand THAT IS GOOD FOR BOTH YOU AND THE ENVIONRMENT.

Coyuchi's 2nd Home Initiative aims to recycle and upcycle their linens at the end of their life. Coyuchi customers can send back their old coyuchi linens using a pre-paid shipping label and receive 15% off their next order. the linens are sent to renewal Workshop where they are cleaned using liquid C02, removing any staining, oils, and odours. these linens are then repackaged and sold at COyuchi's point Reyes, California store for a discounted price. 

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Liquid CO2 Machine at Renewal Workshop

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Point Reyes, CA store selling renewed items

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Margot Lyons, Sustainability and Production Manager at Coyuchi

In this part of the interview, I asked about Coyuchi's 2nd Home initiative and Margot went into great detail about their entire upcycling supply chain.

"What we [have] found is that our business is really suited to have product that comes back and so we partnered with a group called "Renewal Workshop". I think their partnership is key to making our particular 2nd Home program work. They are awesome. They have what's called a Tersus machine. That is a waterless liquid CO2 wash process. So it really allows for the product to be washed and really cleaned and then sold again. They have expertise in house, like managing their warranty repairs program.[They're] really good at construction and know how to do a lot of fixes to product. They [also] have a ton of space. They are located in Hood River, Oregon. They have warehouse space so that they can actually take the product back for us. They're really key to enabling us to have this 2nd Home [program]. [We're] flexible because their whole mission is to have a functioning, circular economy. [Renewal Workshop] works with a lot of apparel and mostly a lot of outdoor oriented leisure wear brands...I think as of now we're still maybe their only home partner. They want to help us experiment and grow how we utilise the materials they get back from us.

So how the process works is customers, if they choose to send their product back, it goes directly to [Renewal Workshop].They'll go through and sort out things that they think [can be renewed]. 

First off they sort by material. Labelling and 

identification is really important. Then they'll sort of do a visual check of is this something they think they can renew. They can do a

whole suite of minor repairs. They can clip threads, they can replace buttons. They can re-tie tassels, they can mend pretty small holes, both in knits and wovens, they use a stain remover.

So there's a lot of things that they do that enable our product to be renewed. Because [Coyuchi's products] are such high quality, I think our renewal rate is relatively high. What happens is Coyuchi buys that product back from Renewal Workshop and then we sell it currently at our store in Point Reyes.

 

What you really want to do is reuse the product as is, right? [Be]cause all the raw materials [and] resources that have been used to create a [bed]sheet you want to be able to renew it and sell it as a [bed]sheet, and not cut it up and make something else. So that's our first priority is to renew. We do have a couple of other buckets, which are sort of now in progress. [Because this program is new ] it'll really depend on how much product we start getting back.

 

We do have products that can't be renewed, like if it's super stained or really destroyed to the point where it's not worth going through the renewal process and having somebody take the time to repair it. And so that's actually my most exciting bucket. Basically we separated out what could be used for recycling. We are hopefully launching a recycled product within this year. That's our goal. It'll be made from Coyuchi product from this whole system that can't be renewed and will be blended with organic cotton because of the recycling process.

 

We have had a third sort of less consistent bucket for upcycling. The Renewal Workshop team- they're super crafty. They've used some of our product for projects that they have going on internally. During the [COVID-19] pandemic they used a bunch of sheets to make masks. So they internally are able to use a small portion of what we sent them to make new different products. We do see a lot of potential to expand the upcycling channel beyond [this]."

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83% of Coyuchi Products from their 2nd Home initiative can be renewed back into Coyuchi products. 97% of what has been sent can be renewed in some way.

Renewal Workshop takes discarded apparel and textiles and makes them into renewed items, recycled feedstock or upcycled materials. To improve their partners' production and the ways in which they create products in the future, they keep data on everything that goes through their system and give it back to brands. Renewal workshop is zero waste, serving its customers, retail partners, and most importantly, the planet. 

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Key Takeaways 

  • Partnership with Renewal Workshop is key to making their take-back program work.

  • Renewal Workshop sorts by material. That is why label identification of the fabric's material is so important.

  • Renewal Workshop can repair a variety of minor repairs.

  • Coyuchi's renewal rate is high because they use high-quality natural fibres. 

  • Coyuchi's first priority is to renew what customers return. If it cannot be renewed, then it is recycled or used for one of Renewal Workshop's internal programs like making face masks. 

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SABINNA

SABINNA is an ethical and small-scale production fashion brand based in east London. Their aim is to put people and the environment at the forefront of everything they do.

Sabinna items made from upcycled fabric

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Sabinna Rachimova, Founder and CEO of Sabinna

I asked Sabinna about the idea behind her upcycling initiatives and the ways in which she aims to achieve zero-waste.  

"The idea [with our upcycling program] was how can we make the most out of the resources that we've already spent? I was thinking, okay, how can we be smart about it and use everything. Nowadays it's quite a common thing for brands to make especially scrunchies from the leftovers but then we also thought [about] what other things [could] we do? And most importantly, what would be the logistics behind it? I think that's the great power that all small independent brands have, especially when they produce locally is how much control they actually have over where the fabric goes to and where it lands in the end.

 

So speaking to most of our manufacturing units that we work with closely, it wasn't a problem for any of them, not for the knitwear factory, not for anyone. They said, yeah, sure. We will collect  your fabric leftovers and keep them separately and when we deliver your order, we will deliver all these scraps with them. We had another problem for awhile because when I started the business, we didn't have an office. Then we had a shared office and then [after that] a very tiny office. So there was nowhere to actually start kind of like a production supply chain for any of the upcycled goods in our own studio, which was a bit challenging. So we had to either outsource and ask if, for example, our pattern cutter. She had a studio with her sewing machine. So we started to do the scrunchies and the headbands for example, then we thought maybe some people can do it from home.

 

We wanted to focus on transparency showing people where things are made and having a proper supply chain from day one. All these problems are not here anymore because we moved to a bigger studio... Since [then] we get all these scraps [that] are being sent back to us and we have our manufacturing corner now where we can do all sorts of things. It's kind of like a wide range of things. And obviously masks are the biggest thing, because the offcuts, especially for the size that you use, they can be tiny, which makes complete sense for us. And we can almost shred this fabric to the minimum, and use every little corner of everything.

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Another thing we do, which probably not a lot of brands do, is where we trial and where we test garments we never test them in calico. We use our old season's fabrics or our own deadstock that we don't need anymore. Because once we found the right shape, we can then recap it again and make them into accessories. So basically we never have samples after a collection or after something because it's being repurposed as many times as possible.

I do think that we need to be aware of the size of the business and also the space because obviously to upcycle something there needs to be a supply chain for that as well. People think that supply chains are only these complex things where you produce garments. But to produce offcuts, [a supply chain is also involved]. Even if it's just within your own studio it's still a supply chain. Definitely the more space you have, the more opportunities you will have to do that and actually incorporate that into your business.

We've introduced repairing services about a year ago, but simply because there was demand. It wasn't something where we came to the customers and said, you know what? We can repair your things. We had customers reaching out and saying, 'Oh, I lost one of the special glass bead buttons on my cardigan' and obviously no one else can replace them easily. And then we would send them off or someone would live in the area and they have a garment, which is not even from us but some people just don't know how sew on a button or easy things. And they would be desperate coming in and we would say, oh yes, we can do that.  Because obviously it's more than just repairing our own clothes, it's a bit of this mission to prolong life of clothes in general.

I started to give away scraps to our customers for free. And if you live in London, you just email us and then you make an appointment, you come by, you choose from what we have available and you can take it with you for your DIY projects and we encourage you to send us images of what you've done. That has been really popular during the pandemic."

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Key Takeaways 

  • Extend beyond making scrunchies and headbands with fabric scraps. Brands can also make other things like face masks and bags. 

  • Small independent brands have greater control over their supply chain.

  • Some manufacturers will collect fabric leftovers and deliver them back to brands.

  • Keeping fabric waste becomes a problem if a brand has limited storage space.

  • Garments do not need to be tested with calico. Instead, brands can test them with old seasons fabric. This fabric can then be repurposed again.

  • The more studio space a brand has, the more opportunities there will be to incorporate upcycling into the supply chain.

  • Repairing services were introduced because of customer demand.

  • Brands do not just need to offer repair services just for their own garments. Any repair should be welcome to prolong the life of garments.

  • Scraps that a brand has no use for can be given away for free to people who want to use them for their own DIY projects. 

Sabinna suggests brands look into first mile

First Mile is a London-based recycling service offering various benefits to a wide-range of businesses including textile recycling. Brands can opt for sack or reyclce box collection. Clothes are sent to third-world countires or are repurposed into new material like insulation.

REmie Studio

Remie Studio is a sustainable accessories company based in east London. Their main focus is to divert as many textiles from landfill as possible and turn fabric waste into something beautiful.

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Fabric scraps collected from local London factories

Key Takeaways 

  • Ask clothing manufacturers in your local area if you can look through their fabric scraps.

  • There is never a shortage of these scrap materials and factories are often happy to have brands take them off their hands. 

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Miette Farrer, Founder of Remie Studio 

Miette Farrer was asked about the clever ways in which she finds discarded fabric to make her bags.

"I’m based in East London, and there are obviously so many clothing manufacturers around Stratford and Bow, so you’d be surprised [that] people are actually really happy for you to just take their waste because it’s literally going in the bin. 

[The fabric I get] are pattern offcuts from those sort of places. So they are scrappy little bits that I have to sort through. [I have] hundreds of these swatches lying around. The fabrics that I get from manufacturers are literally like the corner offcuts and stuff which are still perfectly usable for what I do.

I don’t even visit that many [manufacturers]. People don’t understand how much waste these factories come up with at the end of the day. So I can just call them on any day and be like, can I come and look through your fabric bins? And they’ll be like, yeah, there’s a ton! It’s not like there is ever a shortage." 

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Putting together the fabric from fabric scraps takes a lot of time and patience. Each fabric is made from scratch and the studio tries to avoid creating as much off-cut waste as possible. 

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A Remie Studio bag

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Trashion factory

trashion factory is a not-for-profit fashion brand located in London. they take fabric that is destined for landfill and turn it into one-of-a-kind clothing.

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A one-of-a-kind upcycled set

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Olivia Lara Weber, Founder of Trashion Factory

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I asked Olivia about how she gives unwanted clothes a new life. 

"[There are two ways I get fabric]. One is because we have a studio here [in London] it's quite easy for us to just put a poster out or even just talk to our other tenants from the other studios. And then there are people walking by [who] decide to give their clothes to us rather than to a charity shop. [The second thing we do is go to TRAID]. They allow us to go through their defect cloth[ing] containers  that they would not resell and would just simply go to landfill or to waste. They're really happy to provide those to us for free because I mean, for them it's not really worth anything. I kind of really prefer going to TRAID. I can already sort out the fabrics that are really not so good [compared to] when people just bring me stuff  I end up having things that are not really usable. 

Basically it's just kind of like upcycling the garments and then all the leftovers are still patchwork and upcycled  until we can't really do that anymore. [Then we use the scraps as stuffing for pillows or something like that]."

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Key Takeaways 

  • Put up fliers or post on social media asking people to drop off their old clothes/ fabric. 

  • Visit charity organisations like TRAID to collect discarded clothes. This way brands can have more control over the type of fabric waste they are getting.

  • Any fabric scraps that are not useable can still be upcycled for things like pillow stuffing.

items made from trashion factory's sentimental service

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TRAID is a charity based in the UK that works to stop clothes from ending up in landfill. They turn clothes into resources in order to stop them from being thrown away. There are 1,500 charity clothes banks, charity shops, and home collection banks  in 191 boroughs across the UK. Together these services help to divert 3,000 tonnes of clothing waste from landfill every year. If your brand is interested in stopping by TRAID'S warehouse to look through garments that are not shop saleable, contact their team to learn more. 

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sentimental service: In addition to upcycling clothes into original one-of-a-kind garments, Trashion Factory also offers a sentimental service in which customers can give the brand their old beloved clothes and collaborate to make a new original piece of clothing.

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taiyo

Taiyo is a sustainable womenswear brand located in New York City, USA. They make all of their cloting out of deadstock fabric and recycled materials. their aim is to promote intentional living.

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Katherine Jacobson, Founder of TAIYO

"[Taiyo]  started out with designing something with the width of the fabric and the silhouette of the design in mind so that there isn't even [waste] from the design phase... [We are] eliminating that problem from the start and really thinking about how you can utilize all of the fabric so that you're wasting like almost nothing. Even when I'm doing concept development I'm using whatever I have. So nothing is wasted at all.  I have like a bag of scraps [for Fabscrap] that isn't even full yet. And I started a year ago as far as development goes.  Because you just plan ahead, then you don't really have a whole lot of waste when it comes to silhouette development. But where the real waste comes in is when you start cutting your fabric and then you go to sew it. But what are you going to do with all of the cutting straps? You're bound to have some, you know,

 

There's Pure Wastewhich we might be working with soon where they take all of the cutting scraps and make fabric out of it. That's how I eliminate all the waste. And then I'm not even using fabrics that are made for the sake of being made, you know? They're all deadstock fabric, so it's already upcycled fabric. I'm using 'thrifted fabric' and that is how I like to kind of relate it to a consumer that might not necessarily be familiar with the behind the scenes process.  I didn't want to start a brand without having a plan to make sure that this is a positive impact."

At this point in the interview, Katherine told me about how she eliminates  fabric waste throughout her supply chain.

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Key Takeaways 

  • Avoid waste from the design phase by designing with the width of the fabric and silhouette of the design in mind. 

  • NYC-based brands can utilise the service Fabscrap, which will collect deadstock and scraps to avoid fabric ending up in landfill.

  • Brands can partner with Pure Waste which takes cutting scraps and turns it into fabric.

  • A lot of fabric waste comes when brands start cutting their fabric. 

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Taiyo

 Mara Hoffman

Mara Hoffman is sustainable womenswear brand based in New York City, USA. The brand aims to reduce its impact on the environment through using natural organic fibres, recycled materials, and through participation in various upcycling programs. 

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See our fabscrap page to learn more about their

initiatives 

Chloe Guss, Production Manager at Mara Hoffman

I was able to find out from Chloe how Mara Hoffman approaches upcycling.

"We're willing to take back anything that a customer doesn't want anymore. Some of the stuff we send to Renewal Workshop and then they repair it and they send it back to us. We [have done] a couple of different things like Renewable Workshop sales. I think one of the tricky things about it is you send it from the customer to us, to Renewable Workshop, back to us, and the carbon footprint on the transportation isn't great. 

[There is also Fabscrap which is] becoming the go-to in New York for brands. So we bag up all of our all of our office scraps and give them to Fabscrap and if they're large enough then Fabscrap sells them. They have a place where you can buy. But most of the stuff is pretty small and so most of it [Fabscrap] recycles into shoddy.  But we do not work with them for our cutting rooms waste in the garment district. So currently that is still [going to] landfills.

Fabscrap charges the brands for pickup, which I completely understand. They have to [and] brands have a responsibility to be responsible for their waste. We should have to pay to get rid of it. But if you all of a sudden start getting rid of all of the waste, it's a cost, which I'm sure Mara Hoffman would be happy to absorb, but I don't know that a lot of brands would be happy with [that].. 

One tricky thing is [with giving away our fabric to places like Fabscrap] is the intellectual property because all of our prints are so  specific and our designs are really proprietary to the company. We don't sell them. So we won't sell deadstock of our prints. So that means that we end up just sitting on all this old fabric. We have like tons of rolls of spandex prints in our swim factory and we're basically just sitting on it, waiting for a technology to come out so that it can be recycled and we've had it for years."

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Key Takeaways 

  • Like other brands, Mara Hoffman utilises services like Renewal Workshop and Fabscrap.

  • Fabscrap charges brands for the pickup of their garment waste. This can be cost-intensive if brands are getting rid of a lot of garment waste. 

  • Intellectual property becomes a problem as brands do not want other people utilising their prints. This is why deadstock of prints usually ends up in landfill because it cannot be upcycled.

Knickey

knickey is a sustainable underwear brand based in New York City, USA. the brand has partnered with a New York city-based non-profit that recycles customers' old underwear into insulation to save them from ending up in the trash. 

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Cayla O'Connell, Co-Founder at Knickey

"In order to recycle with Knickey, you simply go onto our website and fill out a submission form that details how many pairs of undies you are sending back, how many socks, how many bras, tights - and we even take swimsuits. And then our server generates a prepaid shipping label, that you can print out and put on any box that you want. People reuse old Amazon boxes, they reuse Knickey boxes, sometimes a cardboard craft bag.

When we receive their recycling they get an email notification that lets them know that they have a free pair waiting for them in their cart. We want to make it super low barrier and have worked hard to streamline the process for the customer so that it is very easy to opt-in to. We're also incentivising the customer with a free pair of Knickey undies so that they're rewarded for recycling, and can normalize the behaviour. We're trying to reeducate and retrain the previous behaviour that is inherently: when you're done with a product, you just throw it out. To have people be more thoughtful about the end life of a garment, how long they use their garments for, and also what happens to them after they're no longer in their possession we consider, a huge win."

Cayla revealed the logistics behind Knickey's upcycling program.

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watch the video to see how undies are upcycled into insulation

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Key Takeaways 

  • Encourage customer's to join in by incentivising their participation. This can include a free-return label for old garments as well as a free item in exchange for their old one. 

  • Streamline the return of old garments for customers so that it is hassle-free.

  • Aim to retrain the mindset for customers that once they are done using something, that they throw that thing away.

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