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The Life of Textiles
Written by Jessica McIlroy - Sunday, 19 May 2013



The apparel industry has for years gotten a pretty bad wrap when it comes to manufacturing and labour standards, and of course the recent events in Bangladesh demonstrate why there should be concern. But the damage from the production of textiles themselves, before they even get to the garment factories, is often over looked.  The recent work by Greenpeace, with their Detox Campaign and the Fashion Duel, has started to bring to light the damages caused by toxins in the production of textiles. But there also the issues of energy and water needed to produce fibres and textiles, and the incredible amount of textile waste entering landfills each year.

A few Vancouver-based organizations and designers are finding innovative ways to improve the sustainability of the garment industry by focusing on textiles. Kendor Textiles was founded in 1953 with a focus on providing quality fabrics, and has now become a leader in sourcing and providing sustainable textiles. They supply the North American garment manufacturing market with fabrics made from organic cotton, recycled polyester, bamboo, hemp, merino wool and tencel.


Adhesif (Photo credit: Peter Jensen)


More and more local designers are looking at used and unwanted textiles as a source of material and inspiration. Adhesif Clothing has been creating collections made by reusing fabrics for the past ten years. The designer collective RISE Upcycling re-purposes used goods by reselling quality second-hand garments, taking apart garments and using the textiles, and everything in between. A long standing staple of vintage clothing in Vancouver, f as in frank, also creates an upcycled line called SNAP. And new comer Stevie Crowne has created a line called War Paint reworking jackets, vests and sunglasses with punk inspired embellishments.

While there are local designers sourcing only eco friendly textiles, such as Nicole Bridger, and a number sourcing used textiles, we still need to address what happens at the end of the fabric life cycle. The process to recycle fibres into new textiles continues to advance, with polyester being the most established. Canadian company Mountain Equipment Coop was one of the first retail stores to take back unwanted clothes for recycling, collecting old fleece garments. We are now seeing major retailers such as H&M launch clothing take-back programs.

debrand Services is an innovative company working to divert waste by removing branding from uniforms and corporate garments so that they can have a second life. They also collect damaged goods, obsolete and unwanted fabrics for recycling, diverting them from the landfill.


Our Social Fabric sale


Another local organization working to keep unwanted textiles from the landfill is Our Social Fabric, a non-profit established to sell unwanted and donated fabrics. Most of the fabrics are still on the bolt, and many come from manufacturers who no longer want or need them, or from the movie industry which doesn’t have a system for reusing unwanted textiles.

As in other industries, the recognition of opportunities and challenges in the garment production lifecycle has led to a number of fantastic innovations. Creativity and the development of new business models are moving us closer to a fashion industry that has a more positive impact on people and the planet.




Jessica McIlroy is a sustainability consultant with extensive experience in the renewable energy industry, climate change policy, gender equality and community development. She has worked for a number of non-profit associations and is the founder of the BC Women in Energy Network. Jessica is also working to increase the sustainability of the garment and textile industry, working as the Chief Awareness Officer for Eco Fashion Week, and contributing eco fashion pieces to online publications. Jessica holds an MSc in Environmental Sustainability, an MBA in Executive Management, a certification in Climate Change Decision Making, and has completed The Accountability Project Sustainability Practitioner Course.  



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