The Future of the Textile Industry is Circular
If nothing changes, by 2050 the fashion industry is on track to consume a quarter of the world’s annual carbon budget, dump 22 million tons of microfibers in the ocean, and burn 300 million tons of petrochemicals every year. Yet that’s not a necessary cost in order to clothe—even fashionably—every person on the planet. The current industry relies on non-renewable resources to mass produces clothing and gear which are, ultimately, destined for the landfill.
However, this wasteful system is changing from the inside out, thanks to a rapidly growing repair economy. Manufacturers like Patagonia, REI, North Face, and Eileen Fisher know that repairs are the “next big thing”; consumers are showing a strong preference to buy environmentally friendly products (72% say it’s a priority); and repair facilities like ourselves are scaling in order to grow with the industry needs.
HOW IT WORKS
The outdoor clothing industry is moving toward a circular economy, which is a closed-loop system with minimal waste. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a circular economy is three-fold: it keeps products and materials in use, designs products in a way that reduces waste and pollution, and prioritizes the use of renewable and recyclable materials. In relation to the outdoor clothing industry specifically, this entails three parts:
- REDESIGN: waste is merely a design flaw, not an inevitable consequence of production. Since 80% of environmental impacts are determined in the design stage, a significant portion of waste can be eliminated by using sustainably sourced materials, creating quality, long lasting products, and designing for repair.
- REPAIR and RE-COMMERCE: extending the life of a garment by just 90 days reduces its environmental impact by 30%. Repairs are a critical component to keeping items in use longer and out of the landfill—and they’re not just happening at the grassroots level. Innovative manufacturers like Patagonia, REI, and North Face are partnering with repair facilities and ecommerce platforms to sell re-furbished clothing and gear at a discount.
- RECYCLING: scaling textile-specific recycling facilities is crucial so that clothing can actually be repurposed when it’s worn out. Currently, only 13% of textiles are recycled, and of those 12% are completely downcycled into rags, insulation, mattress stuffing and the like with no further lifecycle in mind. Columbia Outerwear, for example, partners with I:CO, an international textile recycling company to offer its customers a drop-off site for used clothing and shoes of all brands.
MORE THAN AN INDUSTRY; IT’S A GLOBAL MOVEMENT
The good news is this movement is already here—and its growing 21x faster than the traditional retail market. As an industry, we are rethinking the lifecycle of clothing and gear and challenging the norm of throwing stuff “away” (because, really, where is “away”?). In our local community alone, Rugged Thread has kept 30,000 pounds of textiles out of the waste stream, mostly by fixing zippers and patching holes on tents, backpacks, jackets, pants, and luggage.
Some brands are hesitant to endorse repairs or sell their re-furbished items at a discount for fear of reducing sales. Yet time and time again, the opposite has shown to be true. Consider Patagonia, for example: since launching their repair program in 2005, profits surged 300% and annual growth revenues increased 14%. If that’s not incentive enough to get on board with the movement, CEO of Yerdle (the re-commerce platform for REI and Patagonia) states that, “the used business is happening whether a brand promotes it or not. So the real question is, does a brand want to partake in what is happening in a consumer-driven economy?” Pretty exciting stuff, especially considering the environmental and social impact!
RUGGED THREAD’S ROLE
At Rugged Thread, we’re helping pave the way for the new repair economy in Central Oregon and across the nation. Since our inception, Rugged Thread has kept over 30,000 pounds of textiles out of the waste stream, mostly by fixing zippers and patching holes on tents, backpacks, jackets, pants, and luggage. We are starting a new, high-skilled vocational training for sewing repair technicians here in Central Oregon to ensure we pay our employees living wages. Additionally, we’re working to make repairs as accessible as possible by accepting shipping orders and offering pick-up/drop-off locations around Bend with partners like REI of Bend.
The popularity of fixing clothing and gear is gaining traction nation-wide, and we’re already seeing the growth in our shop: since last year, we’ve tripled our monthly revenue and doubled our national shipping orders. We’re excited to be expanding our partnerships, customer base, and investors in the coming months.
The circular economy relies on collaboration between everyone—designers, manufacturers, retailers, repair facilities, re-commerce platforms, and individual consumers. Here are a few things we can all do:
- Be conscious about the social and environmental costs of what you buy. Consider buying used or purchase quality items designed to last and be repurposed.
- Keep clothing and gear in use and out of the landfill. If its broken, fix it!
- When tired of your old stuff, ensure that its next home isn’t the landfill. Remember that donating broken items to thrift stores is just a feel-good path to the incinerator. Here’s a couple options of what to do with it instead:
- Get it fixed before donating to an organization that will benefit from it like Oregon Adaptive Sports, Outdoor Outreach, or Bethlehem Inn.
- Donate it to a repair facility like Rugged Thread to use for training purposes.
- Send to a clothing specific recycling program like Columbia ReThreads or North Face Clothes the Loop. Both accept clothing and shoes of any brand in any condition at all of their outlet locations.
- Get it fixed and then sell at a consignment shop like Gear Fix, Gear Peddler, or Latitude 44.